Appeasement or Surrender: Where is India Headed?
“The murky campaign that scuttled Salman Rushdie’s program raises questions about its will to fight terrorism. The Gandhi family’s secrecy and diversion over issues that affect national security and world peace go beyond vote bank politics.” Dr. Navaratna Srinivasa Rajaram writes more…
The latest tiff involving the bungled program of novelist Salman Rushdie’s participation in the just concluded Jaipur Literary Festival highlights a major problem with public life in India today. Issues and policy decisions that need to be discussed in the open are handled surreptitiously with no clue as to how a decision was reached and communicated to the officials. The reason given for the cancellation was intelligence input from Mumbai of possible terrorist threat to Rushdie. But this was immediately denied by the supposed source, the Mumbai police. Why did the home minister P. Chidambaram, at the obvious behest of Sonia Gandhi have to go to Jaipur to convince Chief Minister to cancel Rushdie’s visit and later his video speech? This was too minor, almost trivial an issue to involve such a political heavyweight. What really happened and what was the fear?
Unfortunately, there is a shroud of secrecy surrounding the whole affair which seems to be the norm these days with anything involving the Congress party and its dealings. The no-longer Grand but Old Party is controlled by the occupant of 10 Janpath. Since neither Sonia Gandhi nor her ward Rahul holds press conferences or faces questions even on such vital issues as freedom and security, the motives and intentions of the government they control have to be pieced together from the statements of the party spokesmen like Digvijay Singh and trusted cabinet ministers like Chidambaram. In such a climate lacking both clarity and candor it is natural that conspiracy theories should spring up to fill the vacuum.
This is not an isolated case. The purpose of Mrs. Gandhi’s recent visit to the U.S. for what appears to have been medical treatment was kept hidden from the public and the media. The proper thing would have been to hold a press conference, explain the reason for the visit and reassure the public. The result of the secrecy and silence was an extraordinary rumor to the effect that she was perfectly healthy and the real purpose of the trip was to negotiate transfer of her and her children’s substantial assets from Swiss banks (estimated to be between $2.5 and $5 billion) to safer havens. (If there are any safer havens than Swiss banks, many might want to know.)
This obsessive preoccupation with secrecy by public servants is also not new and has not served the nation well. The result again is conjecture and conspiracy theories ranging from the pointless to the substantial. Some unofficial biographers claim that Mrs. Gandhi was born not in 1946 in Orbassano (near Turin) as she now claims but two years earlier in Luciana on the Swiss border. (Does it really matter?) There is also the story that when Indira Gandhi lost the post-Emergency election in 1977, Sonia Gandhi with her children went and sought refuge in the Italian embassy, only to be brought back on assurance of safety by her sister-in-law Maneka Gandhi. (This may have been influenced in part by the fact that when the Bangladesh war broke out Rajiv Gandhi, then a serving pilot went on ‘leave’ to Italy with his wife and children. He was the only government pilot to be granted leave.)
Some of this could be dismissed as aberrations of little consequence, but for the fact Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul happen to be two of the most influential politicians of India at a critical juncture. India occupies a pivotal position in the world today in its struggle against global terrorism. This has acquired special urgency as Egypt as well as much of the Islamic world has fallen into turmoil. To go with this Pakistan is teetering on the edge of anarchy. In the face of this grim reality, it is disturbing to see Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi embarked on a course of reckless appeasement of militant organizations that pose a threat to national security and world peace.
There are two issues here— secrecy where transparency is the need of the hour and extreme sensitivity and knee-jerk reactions to the feelings or perceived feelings of Islamist organizations including militants. The sorry episode involving Rushdie’s cancelled program under false claims of imminent threat is just one example. As the public was still digesting this episode, Sonia Gandhi’s spokesman Digvijay Singh announced that Tasleema Nasrin’s book release program scheduled for the Kolkotta Book fair had also been cancelled. In effect, the UPA Government is allowing the militants to set the agenda for what the people of India may or may not say, hear and read.
There is in fact no need of conspiracy theories. In spite of the secrecy and silence diligently maintained by the Gandhi family and its spokespersons, there is enough in the public record that reveals a pattern of behavior that accommodates, and even rationalizes intolerant behavior and a ready tendency to yield to obscurantist pressures. Facts given below are matters of record and cannot be attributed to any conspiracy theory, any more than the cancellation of the Rushdie and Tasleema Nasrin programs can. They speak for themselves.
It is a little known fact that Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s softness towards Islamic outfits has a history going back at least to 2001, the year in which the 9/11 attacks brought home the threat of Jihadi terrorism to America and the world though Indians have been dealing with it for decades. Soon after the WTC attacks, in November 2001, when the world was still recovering from the shock of 9/11, Mrs. Gandhi was asked to give a lecture at the Bin Laden family founded Oxford Center for Islamic Studies. In her talk titled “Conflict and coexistence in our age,” Mrs. Gandhi spoke vaguely, almost apologetically about extremism and fundamentalism, ‘of all religions’ without once mentioning the word “Jihad” or terrorism. The Telegraph of London called it a ‘strongly pro-Muslim speech.’
Mrs. Gandhi is not an Islamic scholar— she has not completed high school. Her party was not even in power at the time. There was no reason for the Bin Laden family or their Oxford Center to ask Mrs. Gandhi to deliver the lecture unless they felt that she could be used for damage control following the beating that the image of Islam had taken in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 attacks. They must have sensed that she might be vulnerable to pressure from extremist organizations. One may surmise that the authorities of the Oxford Center played on that fear in inviting her. The indisputable fact is that she did deliver the talk without reference to the main concern of the day.
What had been an appeasement policy when Mrs. Sonia Gandhi entered Indian politics as successor to her late husband Rajiv Gandhi morphed into outright defense of militant organizations when she and her party assumed power in 2004. This has included her government diverting attention from Jihadi forces that launched attacks on Mumbai (and other places) by raising the bogey of ‘Hindu terrorists’ and other Red Herrings. Her government has filed weak cases with no evidence and trumped up charges. As a result, the counterterrorist and investigating agencies have been sent on a wild goose chase of this phantom instead of fighting real terrorists. As explained below, Mr. Rahul Gandhi has gone to the extent of misinforming the U.S. government by underplaying the threat to peace posed by the Jihadi outfit Lashkar e Toiba.
Here is a concrete example: the Student Islamic Movement of India or SIMI is a fundamentalist organization that has been implicated in several terrorist attacks in India. It played a key role in the horrific 26/11 attack in Mumbai, in which hundreds of innocent people were killed. Yet when the previous government (headed by Mr. Vajpayee) introduced a bill in the Indian parliament to ban the outfit, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi vigorously opposed it claiming that SIMI was not a terrorist organization. (In the special parliament session in 2002, Sonia Gandhi had censured the Vajpayee government for banning SIMI.) Lawyers in her party even had a stay brought, but the Supreme Court reinstated the ban by declaring SIMI a terrorist organization. All this is a matter of record.
The same accommodation of extremist obscurantist forces was in evidence in a notorious human rights case that has drawn international attention. When Imrana, a young Muslim woman was raped by her father-in-law, a self-appointed Muslim body calling itself the All India Muslim Personal Law Board issued a fatwa (ruling based on Sharia or Islamic law) that the rape had made the victim Imrana ‘impure’ (haram) and as a result her marriage to her husband stood annulled. Adding insult to injury, it directed Imrana to leave her husband and live with her rapist father-in-law as one of his wives!
There were protests all over India and the whole world reacted with shock: Salman Rushdie, himself a victim of religious persecution, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times denouncing Sharia (Islamic law) and religious bodies like the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. In the midst of this storm, Mrs. Gandhi refused to come to the aid of the victim, or even condemn the atrocity. Instead, she directed her government’s law minister H.R. Bharadwaj (the current governor of Karnataka) to issue a statement exonerating the Muslim Personal Law Board— on the ground that the government cannot “interfere” in a matter touching on religion!
This cannot be dismissed as just vote bank politics or an election gimmick. It is also a very great insult to Muslims to suggest that they support such monstrous behavior in the name of Islam and would vote for Mrs. Gandhi’s party in gratitude.
Undermining the global war on terror
Wikileaks has revealed that Rahul Gandhi personally told the U.S. Ambassador that extremist Hindu organizations pose a greater threat than Lashkar e Toiba— an ISI trained Jihadi outfit with ties to Al Qaeda. This was said in private and not in a public meeting. In effect Mr. Gandhi was lobbying the U.S. Government on behalf of the terrorist outfit Lashkar e Toiba, and by implication its close relative Al Qaeda. Mr. Gandhi has neither denied nor retracted his statement.
Neither Mrs. Gandhi nor her son Rahul has ever uttered the word Jihad or mentioned Islamic terrorism even though India has been one of the worst victims of Jihadi terrorism. On the other hand, her lieutenants like Digvijay Singh have leveled baseless charges of ‘Hindu’ terrorism against members of nationalist organizations that advocate a strong stand against terrorism. As already noted, Rahul Gandhi has sought to dilute the threat of Jihadi outfits like Lashkar e Toiba by diverting attention to non-existent Hindu terrorist organizations, even privately lobbying the United States ambassador for the purpose, in effect trying to influence U.S. policy on fighting terrorism.
Mrs. Gandhi’s acts of appeasement, amounting at times to accommodation and surrender, is seriously undermining India’s efforts in fighting terrorism by diverting and demoralizing the national security forces. The war on terror is not just India’s war or America’s war but a war for defending the freedom of all of us against the forces of tyranny and religious obscurantism. Whatever her personal fears and prejudices, they cannot be allowed to sabotage the war on terror, which is an existential struggle for the survival of freedom.
History and geography have placed India in a pivotal position in this struggle, and there is no escaping it. Those who aspire for national leadership—like Rahul Gandhi—must show courage of conviction and reassure the public. If unequal to such a challenging task one must heed President Truman’s sage advice: “If you cannot stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” But what we seem to be witnessing on the part of the ‘first family’ is the opposite of this— desire for power and position through endless appeasement, secrecy and diversionary tactics. In fact, it goes beyond appeasement as must be clear by now.
The whole thing is fraught with a tragic irony. With the history of violent deaths in her family, Mrs. Gandhi’s concern for her and her family’s safety is understandable. But this does not excuse her or her son’s accommodation and diversionary tactics that only help the obscurantist forces and undermine those risking their lives fighting them. Those whom she and her son Rahul Gandhi are portraying as ‘Hindu terrorists’ are the very ones who have to protect them. Demonizing them by placing them on the same plane as the Jihadis can only demoralize them. How long can this go on? (Surely they don’t think the Taliban or Lashkar e Toiba can protect them or the nation.)
The Muslims of India have overwhelmingly rejected terrorism by participating in the democratic process. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are doing them no favor by appeasing and protecting the Islamic militants and extremists. Far from it. As previously noted in the Imrana episode, it is a very great insult to Muslims to imply that such sordid tactics will please them and make them vote for their party. They must realize that they cannot hunt with the hounds and run with the hare. They must show their leadership qualities for standing up for what is right and not just resort to what they think is the expedient for the moment and run away from the harsh reality. That is not leadership.
At the least such appeasement and accommodation send the wrong message to the enemies of the state. Appeasement never works— that is one of the great lessons of history. Seeing this, Winston Churchill defined an appeaser as one “who keeps feeding a crocodile in the hope it will eat him last.” Is this what India wants?