Everyone knows Afzal Guru was hanged to checkmate the BJP; competitive communalism claimed the poor man’s life. But the subtext is equally important. It seems that the Congress government despatched him to the gallows secure in the knowledge that a Kashmiri’s execution wouldn’t alienate ‘mainstream’ India’s Muslims or make a dent in the party’s Muslim votebank.
Barring “terror modules” on the home ministry’s radar, Indian Muslims are by and large not swayed by Afzal’s or Kasab’s cause. Muslims in Meerut, Murshidabad or Malegaon are hardly sympathetic to Kashmiri separatism. There is even unease among Muslims over Pak-aided Kashmiris killing Indian soldiers and getting killed in the bargain. The Indian army in Kashmir has captured or shot dead mujahideen from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt, Sudan and Chechnya. But has anyone from Bengal, Bihar or Tamil Nadu waged jehad alongside the Kashmiris? Sonia Gandhi’s and Manmohan Singh’s words are worth recalling. Sonia categorically stated in 2004: “Indian Muslims don’t do Al Qaeda,” while Manmohan told CNN in 2005, “I take pride in the fact that although India has 150 million Muslims, not one has been found to have joined the ranks of Al Qaeda or participated in the activities of the Taliban.” True enough, there wasn’t a single Indian among the Islamists captured by US-led forces in Afghanistan. And Delhi still insists that no Indian was involved in the 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
So far, so good. So one can safely say the Taliban and Al Qaeda are not magnets for India’s Muslims who have, thank God for that, also steered clear of Kashmir’s jang-e-azadi. But how valid is the Congress presumption that Afzal’s hanging hasn’t dented the Muslim goodwill which proved useful in 2004 and 2009?
Ordinary Muslims don’t back Kashmir’s secessionist war or global jehad but this opportunistic judicial killing may have touched a raw nerve, primarily because wounds inflicted in several recent incidents by a partisan state are still open. Instead of dismissing the hanging as just punishment for conspiring to attack Parliament, due to their own victimisation Muslims may start viewing it as state vengeance against a co-religionist. A convicted terrorist Afzal may have been but the denial of namaaz-e-janaza, or funeral prayers to the family, hasn’t endeared the Congress to any religious Muslim. I would reckon that most Muslims want Afzal’s Tihar grave to be promptly opened and the mortal remains handed to his family for a proper burial with Islamic rites. If Muslims have never been moved by the cries of azadi in Kashmir, Kashmir’s political establishment too hasn’t batted an eyelid when Muslims were massacred in Bhagalpur or Nellie. The National Conference didn’t storm out of the NDA after the Gujarat pogrom. Farooq and Omar—Delhi’s stool pigeons—didn’t give a damn! But emotions stirred by Afzal’s hanging have the potential of bridging the chasm.
The author is deputy editor, Outlook; E-mail your columnist: abdi AT outlookindia.com