I can’t stress enough that we need to give more weightage to the special Friday prayers held in parts of the country to show mourn the terrorist attacks in Bombay. We’ve been saying for a long time that we wish the moderate faction of Islam would be more vocal and visible – and now we need to highlight this trend – so that other Muslims who have not yet voiced their disapproval will. I don’t think need doubt any ones intelligence and bother to spell out why.
The tide has to change. After the attacks, the gut reaction of many was that they were scared the fallout would be communal violence. Indians have shown great sense in distinguishing an attack on India by foreign terrorists and attacks between Hindu/Muslim factions within the country. This is vital, because it allows us to examine the situation at hand without further endangering the country by having to deal with communal violence as well.
We visited a village outside Bombay. It seemed people there had watched the attacks on TV, but most of them did not really understand the significance of what had happened. A few of them understood from the news that Pakistan is implicated and still seemed far removed from any urgent emotions. The rest seemed unaffected by what they had seen.
What struck me though, was that while the villagers may not have been able to understand the enormity of what had happened, they had all seen it live on TV. In fact, as I peeped into the many colorful houses, I could see TVs and fridges in almost all of them. In fact, our search for a village had been a challenge, because many farmers have sold their lands and concrete structures are replacing them. There is enough construction work in the area to bring home the fact that little India is rapidly urbanizing. And that means that the distance they have from events in the big city is slowly going to shrink. What this means is that the largely urban anger we are seeing will slowly penetrate to the hinterland. As yet, it is a work in progress, but television will be a huge catalyst in attitudes changing as much as the landscape changes.
But as news channels feed more Indians, what message do they wake up to? It is not just the news anchors I am referring to, because we all know that politicians use the media for their ends too – good or bad.
During our visit to Ahmedabad, Simon asked Narendra Modi his reaction to the news item that Modi’s frenzied speeches were used in the training camps to charge up these young boys. Deadpanned, Modi told him that he had no idea about any of it. Later, he turned to me and asked me if I’d forgotten about Godhra as yet or not.
Modi also categorically stated that he was ready to help the government in its fight against terror. “At a time of war, there is consensus,” he said.
But was there something he was not telling us? In highlighting security in his campaign speeches (will he undoubtedly well) will he be tempted to cut this “India problem” into little pieces of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Christian.
What could allow this division is another factor – as yet a non-entity – which Shashi Tharoor brought up this morning when we spoke to him: if any proof emerges that there were Indians complicit in planning the attacks – and those happen to be Muslims whose sympathies lie with extremist factions – then the danger of using that knowledge to play politics will lead to a very volatile and most certainly violent situation. So I have to ask, do we have it in us to further distinguish extremist elements from the majority of Indian Muslims as we have distinguished between international extremist Muslims and the general Muslim population back home. Quite a mouthful, I know, but a question to ponder.
But you see, the moment you ask this question out loud – “will politicians use the Bombay attacks to incite communal violence” – you expose the hypocrisy of such a electoral strategy.
We talked to people along the way, quite literally. Stuffing ourselves in a local train, we journey to a small village outside Bombay. While on the train we found people eyeing our camera equipment, and then quickly offering their analysis of the situation. I was heartened to find that within the confines of that box, many diverse voices came out. A young man, studying for his MBA, told me that he did not link these attacks to religion at all. It’s all about economics, he told me, and these young boys who fall prey to terrorist dogma only do so because they are poor and this is a quick way to earn money for their family. It’s quite true – if reports are to be believed then the captured terrorist told the authorities that his family was promised Rs 1.5 lakhs (a little under $3000) for his services. That is the extent of this deep poverty that breeds discontent, he told me. This is not the first time, it won't be the last.
But we might just come out of this stronger.