BY INDER MALHOTRA
To their credit the Mumbai police controlled Saturday’s (August 11) horrendously violent protests against the treatment of Muslims in the riot-ravaged Bodo region of Assam rather fast, and have not allowed lawlessness to return to the ‘Maximum City.’
Various Muslim organisations that sponsored the protest have apologised for what happened though it is hard to believe their protestations that the youth that unleashed the reign of violence and arson, including molestation of women constables, had “nothing to do” with them. The police have arrested at least 23 of the alleged culprits, thanks to CCTV cameras that unlike those in Pune during the recent blasts, did work.
Failure to see trouble
However, this is as far as the performance of the security authorities can be commended. Their failure to anticipate the scale of trouble and to make adequate arrangements to cope with it is surprising. Especially because as admitted by official sources, intelligence agencies had given them timely warning of prevailing anger among the Muslim community and its looming consequences. Maharashtra’s Chief Minister, Mr Prithviraj Chavan has stated that the violence was “premeditated” and perhaps there was “outside interference” and a “foreign hand” behind it.
While the truth will be known only after the investigations are complete, three unusual features of the gory goings-on merit attention. First, in the prolonged clashes the police suffered more than the rioters. Two men were killed when the police had to open fire to prevent the situation from spinning out of control. But of the 63 persons injured seriously, no fewer than 58 are police personnel. The condition of eight of them is critical.
Secondly, along with the police, the media was the special target of the well-equipped goons who complained that it did not give adequate coverage to the Assam outrage. Media persons were thrashed and OB vans of TV channels burnt, as were a large number of police vehicles, a few of them with policemen locked inside who were somehow rescued. Life in entire South Mumbai grounded to a halt and the rampaging rowdies had no difficulty in taking over suburban trains.
The third notable element in the worrisome succession of events is significant. On day one all official pronouncements said that the rioters were protesting against the plight of Muslims living in the autonomous district of Assam administered by the Bodo Territorial Council. Only the next day it was revealed that the virulent protest was as much against the killings in Myanmar of Muslims called Rohingas as against the happenings in Bodoland. By this time the gruesome videos and other material circulated through the social networks had come to light.
On this score intelligence and security agencies - which are under the care of a Union Home Minister who is entirely new to the job - must pay heed to what a former intelligence past master and now outstanding security analyst, B Raman, has pointed out: The month of Ramzan, now on, is the time when Muslims across the world try to consolidate their solidarity and intensify their protests against the oppression of their co-religionists anywhere. This had begun with the observance of the last Friday of the holy month as the International Day of Quds (Palestine). After the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, at the suggestion of Imam Khomeini, it was agreed by the Umma that Yom-e-Quds should cover all countries where Muslims are subjected to atrocities.
In recent days some have asked, pertinently: how did anger against Myanmar’s oppression of Rohingas become so widespread in this country when the Indian media, without suppressing the news, had covered it with restraint? The simple answer is that there is the Internet, the word of mouth and the images on the TV channels of the Arab countries that can be easily viewed by whoever wants to do so. Moreover, while radicalisation of this country’s large minority has so far been limited, extremist Wahabi and Salafi organisations in some foreign countries have, of late, been busy spreading their tentacles here. Only the other day in the Lok Sabha the Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen’s Mr Assaduddin Owaisi declared that if the Assam madness remained unchecked, radicalisation of Muslims would follow. Any Hindutva backlash to this would aggravate the situation, not abate it. It should be the job of the security agencies to take care of this menace fairly and transparently.
Ending Assam storm
This brings us back to the imperative of promptly ending the highly explosive state of affairs in Assam, which is reminiscent of the infamous Nellie massacre of 1983, and restoring normalcy. But this is easier said than done. It is not for nothing that the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh’s earlier visit to the victims of the storm did not produce the desired result. Fresh violence erupted to make matters worse. The Congress president, Ms Sonia Gandhi has rushed to the spot, with the Home Minister, Mr Sushilkumar Shinde in tow.
The bitter truth is that the trust deficit between the two sides to the seemingly unending ethno-religious conflict is too deep to be overcome easily. No wonder both Muslim and Bodo refugees in 273 makeshift camps, whose number could be anything between two and four lakhs are reluctant to return to their homes and villages that have been burnt to ashes.
Sadly, at a time when the entire national leadership should unite and try to pacify the hatred-filled groups in Assam, the two mainstream parties, the Congress and the BJP, are at each other’s throat. As happens with every other problem under the sun, the Assam issue has also become an unrestrained Congress-BJP slugfest. For the saffron party the sole problem in Assam is the illegal immigration from Bangladesh, allegedly encouraged by the ruling party anxious to play “vote bank politics.” It doesn’t occur to it that not every Muslim living in Dhubri district next to Kokrajhar, the Bodo domain, is a freshly arrived Bangladeshi immigrant. There are descendants of locally born, Assamese speaking Muslims and of immigrants from East Bengal during the 1901-47 period when India was undivided.
To be sure, huge illegal immigration from East Pakistan first and since 1971 from Bangladesh has taken place and yet the Congress pretends as if the change in Assam’s demography has nothing to do with its variegated and overlapping conflicts. Is the Indian political class, even at the highest levels, incapable of doing better than this?