India has faced its fair share of terrorist attacks dating back to its creation in 1947. The former British Raj was a complex region with large Hindu and Muslim populations. The eventual division into a ‘Muslim’ Pakistan (West and East – the latter becoming Bangladesh in 1971) and a ‘Hindu’ India may have seemed like a good idea at the time but tensions have remained high for the most part ever since.
Terrorist incidents, many of which were planned by violent extremists in Pakistan, are legion, far too many to list. Perhaps the best, and most lethal, was the 2008 Mumbai attacks, a series of assaults that were carried out by members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist organization based in Pakistan. Twelve coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days across Mumbai led to the deaths of 164 people.
In light of this atmosphere of extremism, India, like any other nation, has both the right and the duty to defend itself. That Pakistan has played a role in many attacks does complicate matters since that country, and India, both have nuclear weapons: fears that an armed conflict between the two neighbors could escalate to an exchange of nukes keep many national security officials awake at nights, I’d wager.
But at the same time, not all of its terrorism comes from Pakistan. And not all of it is Islamist in nature. A growing number of attacks originate in the majority Hindu community and it appears that the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not too concerned. This apathy may stem in part because those behind the attacks are amongst his greatest supporters, including many in the ruling BJP Party.
There are many acts of religious/nationalist violence attributed to these players. Most recently, extremists have been behind riots at an Indian University that were linked to a controversial new citizenship law, one that shows the Modi government is beholden to extremists.
This piece of legislation allows New Delhi to grant expedited citizenship to minorities from three neighboring Islamic countries who entered India by Dec. 31, 2014: critics say it marginalizes Muslims in the country as part of Modi’s larger Hindu nationalist agenda. The flashpoint of all this is Assam State in India’s northeast, where in 2018 the president of the BJP compared what he called ‘Bangladeshis’ living there to ‘termites’ and threatened to deport anyone who could prove residence dating back to 1971. On Jan. 21, India’s top court deferred a hearing on cases challenging the constitutional validity of the law.
Wait, there’s more.
The Modi government has also changed the status of Muslim-majority Kashmir, revoking its special status, including the right to its own constitution and autonomy to make laws on all matters except defense, communications and foreign affairs. Not surprisingly, this has not gone down well with those living there.
Last week, India’s newly recruited Chief of Defence Staff claimed that so-called “deradicalization” camps are operating in India, aimed at Kashmiris. These have evoked alarming comparisons with the internment of Uyghurs in China, where more than one million Muslims are confined to ‘vocational centers’ and mosques are razed on a weekly basis.
Some are even starting to talk of whether India is planning to create a ‘Hindu Pakistan’: by this I assume that much as Pakistan is a Muslim nation so will India become a solely Hindu one. Given that there are expected to be 300 million Muslims in the country by 2050, according to Pew, this policy would lead inexorably to violence.
On Jan. 23 The Economist wrote, “Narendra Modi’s sectarianism is eroding India’s secular democracy.” There is little doubt that narrow policies driven by Hindu nationalism/extremism will lead to more violence, including terrorism, not less. Political pandering aside, it is unclear why PM Modi would want to do this.
The great American humorist Will Rogers famously said “if you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is to stop digging.” Mr. Modi needs to put down the shovel.
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