“Saffron” Terrorism

What can be said about the noise made in Rajya Sabha over Home Minister P.C. Chidambaram having expressed his concern about “saffron terrorism” while addressing top police officers in the capital city last month? Against the backdrop of a few people linked with saffron brigade having been arrested for their role in several terrorist strikes across the country, Chidambaram has a valid point. By calling on police officers to be vigilant to “counter” this face of terrorism, indirectly, he also accepted that India can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to what he termed as “saffron terrorism.” Interestingly, the MPs who opposed Chidambaram’s comments paid greater importance to religious and “patriotic” considerations than their political group known as saffron brigade, the other name for Sangh Parivar. They highlighted the religious importance of the color saffron, used in temple flags and by Hindu sadhus. In addition, they displayed their “patriotism” by pointing to the saffron color present in the national flag. Undeniably, they have a valid point too.

Of course, Chidambaram had the option of using other terms, such as Hindu terrorism, Sangh Parivar and saffron brigade, among others. He, apparently, tried to play “safe” by using the word “saffron,” which in his perception, carried minimal risk of antagonizing the entire Hindu community and the saffron brigade. There was also the option of not using the words. By simply citing the instances, in which people associated with saffron brigade have been involved, he could have asked the police to be vigilant against the groups/organizations with which these people were linked. There is a view that Chidambaram deliberately used the words “saffron terrorism” to “please” the Muslim community. This view is based on the facts that Muslims have been frequently targeted by extremists associated with the saffron brigade. Also, whenever a terrorist-incident takes place, Muslims – irrespective of whether there is substantial evidence of their involvement or not – are caught first. If Chidambaram and his supporters in the party are under the impression that simply by using the words “saffron terrorism,” he has succeeded in pleasing the Muslims aggrieved by being falsely labeled as terrorists and also the ones who have been targeted by extremists, he needs to revise his stand. How can labeling a non-Muslim group as terrorists be of any help to aggrieved Muslims, many of whom have probably lost hope of receiving any just treatment? Besides, if the home minister is serious about displaying his “concern” for Muslims, he needs to take steps to ensure that Muslims still suffering from the discriminatory approach towards them regarding terrorist-strikes are ensured fair and just trials as well as treatment.

In case, if Chidambaram is against any religion being linked with terrorism, it is imperative for him to openly say so and also ensure measures to check the ease with which Islam is linked with terrorism. The same is expected of those who have criticized Chidambaram on the ground that linking saffron with terrorism hurts their religious statements. Just as the words “saffron terrorism” hurt religious feelings of Hindus, the words “Islamic terrorism” also hurt religious sentiments of Muslims. In fact, the actions demanded by those opposed to using the words “saffron terrorism” should also be called for coining the words “Islamic terrorism.” From this angle, legal action being pursued by a Hindu sadhu against Chidambaram is to be watched for. It also raises the question as to why hasn’t legal action been sought against linking Islam and Muslims with terrorism.    

On one hand, there is no doubt that Chidambaram’s usage of the words “saffron terrorism” is at least suggestive of his ministry having finally acknowledged that terrorists linked with saffron brigade cannot be ignored any longer. At the same time, it is a little perplexing as to what prevented him from naming the organizations which are actually responsible for militant strikes, which apparently prompted him to use the words “saffron terrorism.”

Clarifying his usage of words “saffron terrorism,” Chidambaram said: “The message is that right-wing fundamentalist groups are suspected to be behind some bomb blasts. These are religious fundamentalist groups. The message cannot be lost in phrases. Perhaps, the use of that phrase has brought the message home. So, the purpose, in a way, has been served.” In this context, Congress leader Digvijay Singh’s comments cannot be ignored. In his opinion, “Saffron is associated with religion and valour. Why should we give any credit to pseudo Hindus? We demand an explanation from the RSS and VHP about the involvement of their leaders in acts of terror. The BJP must not hide behind the word saffron.” Besides, why is the alacrity with which concerned authorities have taken action against Muslim organizations, labeled as extremist, is not visible against Hindu extremist organizations? Ironically, despite their being substantial evidence of several such organizations’ role in Gujarat carnage, to date, nothing much has been said about banning the same. Why? The “purpose,” Mr. Chidambaram, has yet to be served.    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2010 on page no. 14

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