Sonia Gandhi's Reluctant War on Terror (2)
[The second of two articles. The first article may be found here.]
Sonia Gandhi's softness towards Islamic Fundamentalists runs the risk of making India an attractive destination for the Jihadis. As noted in the previous article, Sonia Gandhi, though not officially a member of the government has the responsibility for keeping the ruling coalition afloat. Her principal coalition partners—the Communists and Islamic power brokers—are in a position to make demands which she is not in a position to reject. As a result, her power and influence are constrained by the compulsions of coalition politics.
In addition to this concern for political stability, as with General Musharraf, there appears also to be an element of concern for personal safety. Weighed down by the history of political assassinations in her family, one of her concerns is not to jeopardize the government protection that she and her family now enjoy, or take positions that may give offense to Islamic fundamentalists.
This is reflected in the softness of her responses even in the face of extreme provocation by Islamic groupss. In a recent election, Ram Vilas Paswan, one of her allies and a cabinet minister, paraded an Osama Bin Laden look—alike to appeal to Muslim voters. Mrs. Gandhi maintained a discreet silence.
International Muslim organizations have also played on her fears and used her for their propaganda purposes. In November 2001, when the world was still recovering from the shock of the 9/11 attacks, 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 about extremism and fundamentalism, 'of all religions' without once mentioning the word Jihad or terrorism. Mrs. Gandhi has never once uttered the word "Jihad" or mentioned Islamic terror in public even though India is one of the worst victims of Jihadi terrorism. The Telegraph of London called it a 'strongly pro—Muslim speech.'
Mrs. Gandhi is not an Islamic scholar— she has not even graduated high school. There was no reason for her to be invited to such a high profile institution, at such an inopportune time except its propaganda value. This proved suicidal for her party in the Gujarat state elections where the Congress was trounced. Adding to her troubles was a terrorist attack on a train that killed scores of passengers, mostly women and children. There again she failed to denounce Islamic terror.
It was the same story again when on July 5, 2005 (two days before the London bombings) a band of Muslim terrorists armed with grenades and AK 47 rifles attacked a temple complex at the sacred Hindu site of Ayodhya. Thanks to the vigilance and the speedy response of the security forces, all the terrorists were killed before they could do serious damage. Still there was a gun battle lasting hours and a soldier was killed, but the intended holocaust of Hindu devotees was averted.
Mrs. Gandhi did not outright condemn the terrorist attack. All she did was to issue a weak statement appealing to the people to "stand as a rock against the divisive forces." As was the case after the London blasts, there was talk of "backlash." Teesta Setalvad, a Muslim activist close to Mrs. Gandhi cautioned that the attack on the Ayodhya temple should not be labeled as Jihad. As usual, Mrs. Gandhi did not use the word Jihad.
Her appeasement policy came to the fore again in a 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 ruling that the rape had made Imrana 'impure' (haram) and that her marriage to her husband therefore 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 in The New York Times denouncing Islamic courts and the Sharia (Islamic code). In the midst of the storm, Mrs. Gandhi refused to intervene or even condemn it. Instead, she directed her government's law minister H.R. Bharadwaj, said to be her closest advisor, to issue a statement exonerating the Muslim Personal Law Board— saying that the government could not "interfere" in a religious matter.
Emboldened by Sonia Gandhi's softness, Islamic organizations worldwide have begun to channel their prospective trainees to madrasas in India. While Indian embassies and consulates have standing instructions to deny visas to students seeking admission to madrasas, of late they are coming under pressure from politicians and officials close to Mrs. Gandhi to wave objections and issue student visas. While Pakistan has announced a policy of expelling foreign students from its madrasas, Mrs. Gandhi seems to be following the opposite course.
If this trend continues, with Sonia Gandhi on the path of appeasement, India, like Pakistan, may become a problem area in the global war against terrorism. When that happens, the threat will be far greater because, unlike with Pakistan, India's subversion will be covert and the world is totally unprepared for it.
Considering her family's history of tragedies, Sonia Gandhi's fear of Islamic terror is entirely understandable. She is protected, however, by the Indian public and the security forces, both of which are victims of Jihadi terrorism. Unlike General Musharraf, Mrs. Gandhi is enjoying immunity from scrutiny because of her association with India's people and its security forces.
War against terror is not just India's war or America's war; it is a world war. It is time for Sonia Gandhi, arguably India's most influential politician, to take a firm and unequivocal stand against Jihadi terror and declare which side she is on in this existential war for the survival of freedom and civilization. That would be displaying leadership worthy of her high position.
N.S. Rajaram is a mathematician and historian of science. He lives in Oklahoma City and Bangalore, India.