Will ‘caution’ help fight terror?

BY ramanujan| IN Media Practice | 20/07/2006
The columnist was clear. The authorities were creating an atmosphere of suspicion against a target group (read Muslims)

 S R Ramanujan

The hyperboles and sweeping generalizations of the electronic media over the Tuesday horror in Mumbai are making viewers sick of the coverage. This is especially so when the security and investigative agencies have no clue as to the culprits behind the blasts and are looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. Since the top echelons of the security establishment are reported to be of the view that without the local support it would not have been possible for the conspirators behind the mayhem to accomplish their mission with such precision, the Mumbai Police are rounding up "suspects" in localities with predominantly minority population, especially those settled in the "Land of Opportunities" from across the Eastern border. That¿s where the rub lies. We¿ll come to that later.  

The 24 x 7 news channels, not having enough grist to grind, have no option except to play up every bit of police action -whether it is questioning people for any possible clues or detaining a few for interrogation or the visit of Narendra Modi to Mumbai.  In the absence of clinching evidence, what do we expect the Police to do? Should they have to sit quiet keeping the fingers crossed waiting for a miraculous breakthrough in the investigations? But, the manner in which these routine acts of the agencies, in the aftermath of such a horrendous crime against humanity, are played up on the small screen, seems to be giving a section of the print media an impression that the Police are determined to fix the minorities. The social activists take on from there to "combat communalism" and the likes of Amar Singh descend on the scene.

On the other extreme, our irrepressible Narendra Modi reached Mumbai to address an anti-terror rally in the background of the reports that out of 200 killed on Tuesday, at least 50 of them were Gujaratis. Modi attracts attention wherever he goes. The media speculation was proceeding on two fronts. One, since the Mumbai blasts 2006 is a retribution for what happened in Gujarat in 2002, it was natural the BJP deputed Modi to launch the anti-terror campaign; and two, with the Corporation polls round the corner, Modi was trying to garner the support of Gujaratis. The Mumbai tabloids threw all journalistic norms to winds in asking Modi to "go back". Well, the CNN-IBN online poll did not reflect this media spirit. However, the question is how credible such polls are because they never reveal the total number of participants on such online polls. 

Added to this, the Congress and the BJP are engaged in verbal terrorism as to who was more soft on the terrorists. Ironically, they are doing this after appealing to each other not to politicize the blasts for narrow political dividends. While the BJP finds fault with the Congress for repealing anti-terror law - POTA - the Congress turned the tables against the Saffron parivar accusing it of financing the terror network at the time of Kandahar hijack episode. 

The fallout of such a confused scenario and the possibility of a microscopic minority of the minorities coming under the scanner, upped the ante of a section of the print media. The Deccan Chronicle, edited by a doyen of print journalism in the country, came out with an edit (July 14) asking the authorities to "exercise caution" in naming the culprits without a thorough investigation. This was followed by a column "Battalion Tactics" (July 15) by the Editor¿s lieutenant Seema Mustafa.  

What remained a hint in the edit was spelt out in the column. The columnist was clear. The authorities were creating an atmosphere of suspicion against a target group (read Muslims) so that they can go in, make arrests, beat the people into submission, and hope that out of the hundreds they have arrested (and alienated) they will stumble upon one with some information.  According to her: "Two points have emerged through the government agencies during the couple of days. One, of course, is that Pakistan is involved. But one did not expect any other information. The second, and stated for the first time ever, is that local Indian Muslims are involved. Simi, a fundamentalist group of Muslim youth, has been identified as the organization - through sources, not identifiable officials - that provided the mastermind with logistical and other support. Security forces have rushed into Muslim dominated areas to arrest all young men and their mentors in an attempt to "break" the case."  

It is a different matter that the very same columnist depended in the past and will do in the future on similar "unidentifiable sources" for her "scoops" Now, she says that the pliable media allowed theories by sources to get into print. For instance, the theory that first class compartments were chosen by the terrorists as Muslims do not travel by first class.     

The Editor of the paper, in his usually highly readable Sunday column "Byline", was rather unusually beating around the bush. Like the Left which blames the economic policies and globalisation for the Mumbai horror on tracks, the Editor was also talking about "Wealth" as one of the religions and the role of "Sensexocrats". However, he came to the point at the end and he was quite candid in that. "Is this where the next terrorist is coming from - from the despair of the underclass of Mumbai? Is the Naxalaite a terrorist? Is the Naxalite a fundamentalist? These questions are urgent and relevant…..If prevention is better than cure, then it becomes the responsibility of political class and its surrogates, including media. It is they who must engage in the tough task of reducing despair, and spreading social justice along with prosperity".  

Of course, he did not elaborate as to what social injustice prompted a few prosperous and highly qualified Saudi citizens to be part of 9/11 terror in New York city. He also did not point out that, of late, those who are joining the terror network are highly qualified people and not those picked up from Malad slums.   

Further, equating Naxalism with terrorism, was he trying to say that it was a sense of despair that prompts the local minority youth to act as the foot soldiers of LeT, or ISI or Al Qauida, since poverty, exploitation and illiteracy and the resultant sense of despair are leading the rural poor to fall into the trap of Naxalites.  

By strange coincidence, both the Editor and his able deputy were in the company of Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav, in their subtle exercise to find a cause for the Simi and the misguided minority youth. The only difference was Yadav, being a politician, was blunt, and the Editor with his excellent command over his pen, was quite sophisticated in his language.


However, the daily¿s indirect support to the political philosophy of the likes of Mulayam, especially on pandering to minority interests, did not stop with Mulayam. Seema Mustafa carried it forward to Arjun Singhs and A R Antulays. She was trying to tear to pieces a report published in the Economic Times on July 15 pointing out that it was a "motivated leak". The ET report, credited to its political bureau, said "Union Human Resource Minister Arjun Singh, who is in search of political relevance, has taken his favourite pastime - RSS bashing - to new heights. At a Cabinet meeting (here) on Thursday, the HRD minister quoted a former HC judge to claim that the attack on Mumbai was masterminded by the RSS and not the jehadis."  

Mustafa¿s objection to this report, ironically, was again attributed to unidentified ministers. According to her report, "it was pointed out that ministers are sworn to secrecy so that they have the freedom to discuss sensitive issues such as the Mumbai terror blasts, and that they certainly did not expect their views to be "distorted" through deliberate plants to the media.". After taking pains to point out the sacrilege in reporting Cabinet inside stories, interestingly, she herself gave a detailed account of what happened at the Cabinet meet and what was the stand of A R Antulay and Arjun Singh at the meeting. Of course, she gave the journalistic escape route to her sources saying that Arjun Singh refused to speak and that Antulay was not available for comment. Insiders in the profession know what it means! 

India has 150 million Muslims and 99.99 percent of them are law abiding citizens with no criminal record. .01 percent may have been misguided and fallen into the trap of jihadis and there could be many reasons for that; but neither social justice nor despair is among them. Jihadi terrorism is a global phenomenon and it is a misinterpretation of the holy Quoran on Jihad that has been attracting the misguided youth, not just in India, but even in those countries where social justice and deprivation are not the issues. Why then this pressure tactics to throw a protective shield around the likely culprits among a small section of the minority youth? Why not a reality check on ourselves?



Contact: s_ramanujan9@yahoo.co.in  

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