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Healing Achilles Heel
The article India's Achilles Heel (October 7) by Prem Shankar Jha on the terrorist attack on the Akshardham temple is puerile academics. Jha seems to subscribe to the infamous misquote the Times of India (March 3, 2001) wrongly attributed to Narendra Modi, "To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." Jha plays down the action at Godhra, exaggerates the reaction in Gujarat and justifies the counter-reaction at Akshardham.
Why were the aftermaths to Godhra and Akshardham so different though the victims in both cases were innocent Hindus? A muted reaction to Akshardham is not a matter of the bjp's political contrivance, it is a matter of political probity by the "secularist" fraternity—which was at its vicious worst after the Godhra carnage.
Apart from the reaction of the "secularists" to these grisly incidents, there are a number of anti-parallels. The Godhra carnage was undertaken by local Muslims, not in twos, tens or even hundreds, they numbered between 1,500 and 2,000. When about 1,000 people died in the Gujarat riots, the "secularists" described it as genocide. But they will also have to devise a term when over 1,500 people conspire to roast 58 innocents. isi agents or pan-Islamists might have instigated the killing crowd but the hard fact is that all those 1,500-plus people did not sneak in from anywhere outside. They were locals, from a township with communal ill-repute since British times. In contrast, these two-heavily armed terrorists were most probably not locals but infiltrators from Pakistan. But even their operation called for meticulous planning, the execution of which was near-impossible without local accomplices. But Hindu society has long accepted the reality of local isi accomplices in this country.
A critical factor that fomented the Gujarat riots was the callous response of the "secularists" to Godhra. The condemnations from early-bird respondents a la Amarsinh Chowdhry, comrade Somnath Chatterjee, Romesh Bhandari and a large chunk of the media came with an egregious rider. They projected the heinous feat as some kind of a tragedy-waiting-to-happen and blamed the victims for their fate. Minority leaders banking upon Hindu pacifism thought it unnecessary to go public even with lip sympathy. In a macabre metaphor of Godhra, it was sprinkling petrol on the fire. But responses to Akshardham, cutting across party lines and the communal divide, spoke of sanity and maturity. The Congress, Communists and minority leaders vied with one another to condemn and condole Akshardham unequivocally. Not that I didn't expect a Congressman to blame Modi's gujarat gaurav yatra for the Akshardham tragedy or a Leftist opine that it might be a show stage-managed by the VHP/RSS as they did during Godhra. But fortunately, "secularists" conducted themselves as responsible citizens.
Only those uninitiated to the psyche of radical Islam would have been caught off-guard by the Akshardham attack. In fact, some of us had feared worse, something like the Bombay serial blasts. Crude rocket launchers were mobilised by the Muslim mobs of Juhapura, Ahmedabad, during the Gujarat riots. Later, during the Jagannath rath yatra, police had recovered a cache of illegal arms from several Muslim localities in Ahmedabad. Revenge attacks are a common phenomenon among Palestinian fidayeen, who don't operate with a Hindu mindset of forgive and forget.
For argument's sake, let me agree with Jha that Akshardham was an inevitable follow-up of the March riots. But how does he explain the December 13 attack on Parliament or the storming of the J&K legislative assembly, as both preceded Godhra and Gujarat? How does he explain the serial detonation at Coimbatore in February 1998 where L.K. Advani had a providential escape? What provoked the lethal explosions at the RSS' Chennai office in 1997? What prompted the hijack of IC-814, ironically on Christmas day and during the holy Ramzan, while jehadis had the last laugh on millennium eve? What justifies the terror assaults on Amarnath pilgrims almost every year or the Kaluchak massacre early this year?
By far the best thing I like about Jha's piece is the title India's Achilles Heel. For varied reasons, temples have been the Hindus' Achilles heel all through the Islamic age in India. The annals of the Delhi Sultanate are full of attacks on "kafiresque" Hindu temples, often on festival days. And the intellectual fraternity of the Left, from M.N. Roy to Romila Thapar, have walked extra miles to rationalise them. Akshardham and Godhra and their subsequent justifications will have to be seen in this light. And since India will continue to defend Kashmir against Pakistan's wishes, jehadis will not need Jha's analysis to justify any number of Akshardhams. To them, the mere presence of "Kafir Hindus" on the face of the globe, especially as a bulwark against Islamic expansionism, is provocation enough.
When Jha says "Akshardham was the first fruit of the poison tree that was sown last March", he is uncannily dismissive about its seed planted on February 27 last at Godhra. But the scar of Gujarat could be stretched by exactly 900 years before the inception of the RSS. Is it not the same jehadi radicalism that worked in Mahmud Ghaznavi's destruction of Somnath in 1026 to be found in Akshardham? Fifty thousand ill-equipped civilian Hindus had perished in a single day trying to defend Somnath from the proclaimed "boot-sikan" (iconoclast) in vain.
Another much too often abused cliche is that Gujarat is the land of Gandhi and so should be immune to violence. No doubt Gujarat is the land of Gandhi but it is also the land of Jinnah, who declared, "we shall have India divided or destroyed". Hence, it's time to wind up the cause-and-effect chain-reaction of terror to make a fresh beginning.
(The writer is the convenor of the BJP think tank.)