Terrorism has no religion. It has no colour. It is neither Islamic nor Hindu. It cannot even be classified into green and saffron. But yes, terrorism by Muslims and Hindus does exist, and can be more appropriately referred to as “Islamist terror” and “Hindutva terror”. The former being representative of political Islam while the latter being that of political Hinduism.
But how does Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi view terrorism? Does he approve of linking the name of a particular religion to terrorism?
Shortly after 9/11, Rajdeep Sardesai hosted a television debate on The Big Fight to discuss the repercussions of the tragedy which had claimed thousands of lives in the USA.
Narendra Modi was present on the occasion representing the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) point of the view on the subject. As the debate began, Modi delivered a shocking remark stating that despite the activities which had been going on, the Indian media was so caught up in “pseudo-secularism” that they were afraid of using the term “Islamic terrorism”. He argued that after the downing of the Twin Towers, the global media had started identifying the core problem and he would like to “congratulate” Rajdeep for being courageous enough to bring this topic to the table.
“Somwaar tak, last Monday tak, Hindustan ka media, anek kargujari ke bawajood bhi Islamic terrorism yeh shabd upyog karne ka sahas nahi karta tha kyunki unka pseudo-secularism unpar itna haawi tha ki satya bolne ki inki himmat nahi thi. Kal mangalwaar ko, last mangalwaar ko, jab duniya ke akhbaar yeh likhne lage, America ki ghatna ke baad, tab pehli baar aur main Rajdeep ke iss initiative ka main abhinandan karta hoon ki sach ko sach ke roop mein pesh karne ka unhone sahas dikhaya hai. Jahan tak Islam ka sawaal hai, uske bahut ache pehlu hai, aaj jo log hai woh Islam ka kis roop se upyog kar rahe hai yeh sawaal hai.”- Narendra Modi after 9/11
Modi’s compliments were immediately brushed off by Sardesai, who said that they did not use the term “Islamic terrorism”. They also invited a rebuke from Rafiq Zakaria (who has since passed away) who asked what terrorism had “got to do with Islam.”
In his opening remarks, Modi did say that Islam has good and bad aspects and the real question pertains to how it is being used in today’s time. But his happiness over the usage of the term “Islamic terrorism” was undoubtedly immature and incorrect.
Contrast this with Modi’s response to the Congress when Sushil Kumar Shinde made the infamous “bhagwa” or “saffron” terror charge. In a speech delivered in typical Modi rage, he asked how saffron terror can exist when the same colour was a part of the “tiranga” or the national tri-colour.
He argued that the tricolour was saluted by soldiers of the Indian army and they were not terrorists. He spoke of Swami Vivekananda and Swami Dayanand Saraswati stating that monks who sacrifice everything in search of salvation wear saffron robes.
He angrily asked the crowd, “Was Swami Vivekananda a terrorist? Was Swami Dayanand Saraswati a terrorist?” Lastly, Modi said that Hindu temples hoist saffron flags and threw yet another question at the crowd, “Are our temples centres of terrorism?”
Modi’s hypocrisy and double standards on terrorism are evident when one listens to his views on “Islamic” and “saffron” terrorism, respectively. If terrorism has no religion then how can it be termed as “Islamic” when it cannot be branded as “Hindu” or “saffron”?
In a recent speech delivered before a gathering of Christians, Prime Minister Modi said, “My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence.”
He added, “My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly. Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions.”
This is precisely what Modi hasn’t done in his previous utterances. He tends to demonise Muslims by lionising the usage of terms like “Islamic terrorism” but is enraged when he comes across the term “saffron terrorism.” Isn’t such a position overtly against minorities whom the RSS loathes?
It’s time for us to go beyond symbolism. Modi remained quiet when members of the Sangh Parivar were hogging the limelight day in and day out courtesy their incendiary remarks. Following US President Barack Obama’s criticism of religious intolerance in India and the debacle in the Delhi Assembly elections, Modi seems to have given a politically crucial message reassuring the Christian community of their safety. But this surely isn’t enough.
Modi has to outgrow his own prejudices. If extremism by a bunch of Hindus cannot be described as saffron terrorism then neither can one label the activities of al-Qaeda and ISIS as Islamic terrorism. The process of racial profiling has to be halted and the first person who needs to change his mentality is Narendra Modi.
(This article was originally published in The Huffington Post.)