The first time I met Sushilkumar Shinde was in 1988 when he inaugurated my wife Kahini’s debut solo art exhibition in Mumbai. He was then a cabinet minister in Chief Minister Sharad Pawar’s Maharashtra government.
Twenty-five years and several ministerships later, including the chief ministership of Maharashtra, Shinde has climbed swiftly up the political ladder. He is known to be affable and a consummate party loyalist. As Union Home Minister, however, he has not distinguished himself.
When parliament convenes for the Budget session on February 21, he will be in the eye of a storm for his remark that “the RSS and the BJP were promoting Hindu terrorism through their training camps.”
Were they? Obviously not. For if they were, Shinde (and the Congress) would have fallen all over themselves to reveal evidence for those terror camps. They haven’t.
Instead, Shinde has given Pakistan another excuse to justify terror-equivalence with India: We run terror camps but so do you. We did 26/11 but you did Samjhauta.
This kind of self-inflicted damage must be put an end to. Of course Shinde should apologise for his patently false statement and retract it – or immediately give evidence to substantiate it. If he does so, a matter as serious as an allegation by the Union Home Minister that the principal opposition party runs terror camps must be prosecuted by the government, with attendant witnesses and evidence, in a trial court.
But of course it won’t be because Shinde will offer in parliament a half-apology and a half-retraction: just enough to save face and satisfy the opposition. The matter will eventually peter out as parliament takes up other issues such as the AgustaWestland helicopter pay-offs and – lest we forget – the Budget, apart from several important bills including food security which could be the UPA government’s electoral lifeline for 2014.
That is why the government will do whatever it can to avoid a disruption of parliament. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath’s offer of a JPC on the AgustaWestland deal is a pre-emptive move to ensure the session passes smoothly.
But the matter of “Hindu terror” must not be allowed to slip into the crevices of our collective sub-conscious till another outrageous statement is made on the subject.
How serious an issue is Hindu/Saffron terror? Examine the question rationally. Four specific terror attacks over the past several decades can plausibly be traced back to extremist Hindutva elements who were former members of the Sangh parivar: Malegaon (2006), Samjhauta Express (2007), Mecca Masjid (2007) and Ajmer Sharif (2007). All these cases are sub-judice. The accused have remained in jail for several years. Contradictory evidence implicating the banned SIMI and Indian Mujahideen (IM) has been produced by, among others, the United Nations.
The total number of fatalities in these four attacks was 127. In contrast, a single jihadist-underworld terror serial bomb attack in Mumbai in March 1993 killed 257 people.
Just as terror can’t be identified with a religion, the number of terror strikes and fatalities is no basis for comparison of different ideological shades of terrorism. All terrorism is obviously bad – whether it results in one fatality or a hundred.
But it is important to underline that unproven “Hindu terror” attacks have been just four over several decades. All four occurred between 2006 and 2007. There were none before. There have been none since.
The attempt to seek equivalence between jihadist and Hindu terror is as fraudulent as Pakistan’s constant attempt to achieve “terror-equivalence” with India on the basis of one unproven Samjhauta Express terror attack by Indians against dozens by Pakistani state-sponsored terror strikes on India.
Shinde’s apology in parliament this week should make clear that he rejects such equivalence. He should focus on dismantling terror camps in Pakistan and PoK, not imaginary ones run by the RSS and the BJP. The Sangh parivar may have many infirmities – and I have sharply criticized these over the years in print – but promoting terrorism isn’t one of them.