At the very outset it needs to be made very clear that there is no scope whatsoever for terrorism in any society. But since a handful of people have resorted to this practice of violence it is essential to trace and examine its origin, at least in our own country. Militancy gains ground only when democratic alternative disappears.
A miniscule minority feels that bullets, instead of ballots, provide a way-out. Most analysts in India fail to realise some very important aspects of the origin of what they call Islamic terrorism – a misnomer, no doubt – as their study is influenced by that of the western public opinion-makers. They fail to realise that while the West starts talking about this phenomenon after 9/11, in India we need to go at least a decade back, that is, December 6, 1992.
Since 1946 to that eventful day India witnessed thousands of communal riots in which several lakhs lost their lives. Muslims, the main victim of the senseless violence in the country never took up guns in hand or indulged in suicide bombings. To say that there was no Islamic wave in the region before 1992 would be sheer denial of history. The February 11, 1979 Islamic Revolution of Iran not only brought Sunnis and Shias together but for the first time the West started talking of the revival of Islam as the United States was ousted from the region by Ayatollah Khomeini and his men. At the same time a great battle had been going on in the lofty mountains of Afghanistan between the rag-tag army of Mujahideen, who later got external support, and the Soviet Union, another Super Power of the time. There was enormous sympathy of Muslims for the resistance movement in that country. The defeat of the two Super Powers in the region came as a big morale-booster for the Muslims throughout the world. Both the developments took place between 1979 and 1988. In India this was the period when several big anti-Muslim riots took place in Jamshedpur, Aligarh, Moradabad, Nellie (in Assam), Meerut, Bhiwindi, etc. The Moradabad riots were unique as the police opened fire on totally unarmed Eid namazis when they went to offer prayers in the Eidgah. Yet not a single act of terrorism took place anywhere in the country and no life was lost.
Then in the late 1980s the BJP launched Ram Janambhoomi movement. Bhagalpur was not the only place to be rocked by the communal violence of 1989. Thousands of people died between 1989 and 1993 in a series of anti-Muslim riots in Bihar, UP, Maharashtra (twice in Mumbai), Gujarat (Surat especially where Muslim women were paraded naked and videographed by the BJP men), Madhya Pradesh and even in parts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
Lal Krishna Advani danced, clapped, yelled and subsequently embraced Uma Bharati to celebrate the demolition of Babri Mosque, and that too in the full public view.
It was on March 12, 1993 that bombs shook Mumbai for the first time in history. About 250 people died. Kolkata too witnessed a similar blast in an apartment on the same day and about 100 died. But the killing here could not get much publicity for reason better known to those who matter in the country.
Communal riots had been taking place in India in the past. The biased role of police was known to all, even though Congress party used to rule the country and most of the states. The other parties were too small to be counted much on the national politics.
However, by late 1980s the BJP gained much ground because of the slogan of Ram Janambhoomi. Panicked by this upswing in the BJP’s fortune, the Congress decided to adopt the policy of the BJP. Disillusioned by the soft Hindutva of the Congress and hard Hindutva of the BJP, whose cadres were on killing spree in many cities and towns of the country, the Muslims in 1989 voted for the third alternative, the Janata Dal led by Vishwanath Pratap Singh. But this experiment failed too. The Congress came to power and from 1991 to 1996, when Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister both the ruling party and the opposition BJP had been speaking the same language. While Bihar and to some extent Uttar Pradesh were lucky to have third alternative at the state level – Lalu and Mulayam – in states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, etc. for Muslims no alternative existed. Therefore, out of all the places Mumbai became the first target. In the states where there is absence of democratic alternative more youths resorted to the gun and bomb-culture. Poor Bihar, which saw the worst communal riots in 1989 in Bhagalpur and in a dozen other places, surprisingly witnessed not a single act of terrorism as Lalu phenomenon worked as a ventilator. In rich Karnataka, where there is no big history of communalism, more incidents of extremist violence took place than in Bihar.
It has been a favourite pastime of many of our analysts to thoughtlessly link the development in Kashmir with the rest of India and even world. The grievances of Kashmiris is as old as the partition of the country, but why the situation suddenly went out of control in late 1980s and continued to remain so till now.
The assembly election held in late 1980s came as a turning point in the state history. It was during this election that both the National Conference and the opposition Congress joined hands against the Islamic alliance which in fact contested election against the two. They tried to take the help of ballots and not bullets to come to power.
As the two main parties – the Congress and National Conference – joined forces, a bizarre phenomenon, no doubt, to oppose the third emerging alternative it was bound to have an impact.
Be it in Kashmir or rest of India the political scientists, the media and sociologists failed to warn the government and society about the phenomenon called the shrinking of democratic alternative. The disgruntled elements are always there to capitalise on this situation for their own end. Had there been no joint rigging by the Congress and National Conference then Syed Salahuddin would have been in the assembly of Jammu and Kashmir, as he fought the election, and not leading Hizbul Mujahideen.