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Sabrang
Sabrang

ISI -The demon we feed

Teesta Setalvad 01 Aug 2000


Illustration: Amili Setalvad

The picture, as those incharge of keeping a watch on our borders see it, is  truly grim. The intention of our neighbours, in their assessment, has never been nastier. “The ISI is a frightening reality today,” says Vibhuti Narain Singh, IG, intelligence, Border Security Force.

The merciless manner in which Pakistan–backed insurgents recently butchered close to a hundred innocent Hindus in J & K — simply to throttle what looked like the first hopeful steps towards a solution of the Kashmir problem by the Hizbul Mujahideen — is an indicator of what the bloody—minded in our neighbourhood think of peace.  

But keeping Kashmir on the boil until the “unfinished business of Partition” is completed and the “humiliation of Bangladesh” avenged is only one part of the “strategy of internal encirclement” and the “doctrine of a ‘thousand cuts’ dividing India like the Balkans” that the ISI/Pakistan is assiduously working on. That is the assessment of intelligence reports, copies of which have been made available to Communalism Combat.

The elements of the ISI’s nefarious and multi–pronged game–plan are:

Madrassas for jehad
The way madrassas — traditional educational institutions, similar to pathshalas — have been redefined in Pakistan in recent years to act as breeding ground for producing mujihids willing to kill and die in the name of Islam is by now well-known. The ISI, according to the intelligence reports, now has a similar plan in mind for India.

Since 1992, madrassas and mosques have mushroomed in large numbers all along India’s borders – from Gujarat and Rajasthan in the west, to UP in the North, Bihar and West Bengal in the East and Assam in the Northeast. Funded with money suspected to have come from Saudi Arabia and even the ISI directly, these madrassas and mosques have been built and are being run by Muslim organisations with a worldview that is “pan–Islamic”, not “Indo–Islamic”.

Muslim organisations influenced by the highly orthodox Wahabi philosophy — the Tablighi Jamaat, the Jamaat–e–Islami, the Jamaat–e–Ulema, Ahle Hadees — have all been named in the intelligence reports as being in the forefront of this resurgence.

In the assessment of intelligence personnel, at best, these madrassas will breed a whole generation of Muslim youth armed, with a fundamentalist mindset but ill—equipped with this–worldly education or any skill to help them find a job. In the worst case scenario, such youth with no means of livelihood will tomorrow prove to being fertile recruiting ground for the ISI.

The perceived security threats:
  • “Organise(d) minority community through a chain of madrassas”.
  • “The muftis/moulvis/imams may be replaced by highly fanatic agents of ISI in near future”.
  • “In future these affected madrassas may provide shelter to hard core militants as was the case in Golden Temple, Amritsar, during the militancy in Punjab”.
  • “Madrassas may be used to spread propaganda and subvert the minds of masses”.
  • “Considering the change in the demographical pattern of West Bengal and some NE states (see below), a day might come when some fundamentalists may make a demand for a separate country, e.g., Punjab and J & K”.
  • “Intelligence agencies already claim that there are many pupils from Kashmir having links with pro–Pakistan outfits”.
  • “These madrassas and mosques may soon become an efficient launching pad for ISI agents/operations”.
  • “Youth could be subverted so much that a day might come when they think of religion first and country later”.
Fishing in troubled waters  
“ISI has been fishing in troubled waters of Northeast in the recent past by exploiting these dissatisfied and already well–armed insurgent groups. The motive behind ISI’s involvement in Northeast needs a comprehensive study and analysis. Is it the more obvious motive of fomenting disruptive activities in already troubled Northeast region or the greater agenda of converting the Northeast region into an Islamic pocket making Assam their stronghold?”

Enrolling India’s Muslims
“ISI is trying to establish its bases in Hyderabad, western Uttar Pradesh, north Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, parts of Tamil Nadu, besides Mumbai suburbs”. The arrest of many members of the Deendar Anjuman for their alleged involvement in the recent bomb blasts in AP, Karnataka and Goa with the intent of spreading ‘nifaque’ (hostility) between Christians and Hindus, appears to be a new link in this ominous chain.
Bases in Bangladesh, Nepal; more Muslims in the border districts:

The ISI is making full use of the highly porous and unmanned borders between India and Bangladesh, and India and Nepal, to train militants and to push men, arms and ammunition and counterfeit currency into India.

Having launched its ‘Ops Santan’ in August 1996 to gain a foothold in Nepal, the ISI is claimed to have already accomplished its short–term objective: “to include approximately 18,000 trained men into the area who have already begun operation from Nepal. These include Bangladesh refugees, Pak and Afghan nationals”.

Intelligence reports add that Pakistan is also well on its way to meeting its long–term objective in the area: bringing about demographic changes in the region. “In 1970, Nepal was known as the only country with 100 per cent Hindu population. In 1991, this came down to 80 per cent and presently it is 70 per cent. In 30 years, 30 per cent non–Hindu population has been infused”. (The source of statistics is not mentioned in the report).

As for Bangladesh, “ISI is banking on strong communal and political support base for its activities in Bangladesh and Northeast”. The intelligence report says that though there has been a crackdown on some of the training camps and sanctuaries of insurgents from the North East after Begum Shaikh Hasina’s return to power in 1996, “insurgents and ISI continue to operate brazenly in Bangladesh”. The ISI enjoys the support from fundamentalist groups like the Jamaat–e–Islami, which is in the opposition now, and the government fears that “these fundamentalist groups will unleash large-scale violence if they are pushed beyond a certain point”.  

In the assessment of intelligence personnel, at best, these madrassas will breed a whole generation of Muslim youth armed, with a fundamentalist mindset but ill–equipped with this–worldly education or any skill to help them find a job.

The continuing and unchecked flow of illegal immigrants of Bangladeshis into West Bengal and Assam is working to the great advantage of the ISI, according to intelligence agencies, in two ways: it helps the ISI aim of seeing demographic changes in the border districts and it provides excellent cover for the ISI to operate under.  

If the intelligence reports are even partly true, it would be difficult to disagree with IG Narain’s claim that the ISI is a “frightening reality” for India today. Readers of Combat and others who are familiar with the impeccable credentials and integrity of an officer like Narain would necessarily take his concern with all the seriousness that it deserves (See his interview). Nonetheless, given the gravity of the situation, the assumptions and the information put together by the BSF intelligence machinery need to be carefully scrutinised?

The most jarring aspect of some of the state–level intelligence reports Combat has access to is the fact that several of the intelligence personnel seem to be looking at the emerging scenario in the border areas with their backs turned to India. They therefore, fail to see the full picture. And, in some cases, there is no escaping the fact that the officers concerned with preparing specific area reports are infected with strong anti-Islam and anti–Muslim prejudice.

Interestingly, all the project presentations on the growth of madrassas and mosques in the border areas of Gujarat, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Assam take the year 1992 as their reference point. Why 1992? ‘After demolition of Babri Masjid’, one of the reports mentions very matter of factly.

It is a well–known fact that the Indian Muslim response to the assault on the Babri Masjid and sustained attacks on Muslims in different parts of the country before and in 1992–93, has been not a decline but an increase in the assertion of their religious identity and what might even be called ‘religiosity.’ For example, Muslims throughout the country reported larger than before attendance in mosques for namaaz after 1992.

Is it not very likely then, that for better or for worse, the growth in mosques and madrassas in the border districts is part of a countrywide pattern. But there is nothing in any of the intelligence reports to suggest that there is even a recognition of this phenomenon, leave alone an attempt to collect, compare and analyse figures from the border districts with figures from other districts in the country.

Equally well, there appears to have been no attempt on the part of the intelligence personnel to reflect on their own choice of the year 1992 as the reference point for investigation — Does not Hindutva’s stridency and belligerence have something to do with the Muslim ‘fundamentalist’ response?

To be fair, the authors of the main report on the ISI — which obviously has been whetted, if not written, by senior officials in the BSF hierarchy, unlike the state reports which have been handled by more junior personnel — does take some note of this multi–layered reality.

The main report observes at one point: “Unwittingly, certain political groups are abetting the fragmentation of India by isolation of the minorities. The ISI is exploiting this alienation to its advantage. The Coimbatore blasts were symptomatic of this painful truth. As India gets more polarised, new points of conflict will provide soft targets to the ISI”. The reference to the sangh parivar is obvious.

The fact that the same point is not made in a more blunt way has possibly got to do with the fact that the BJP leads the government at the Centre and none less than LK Advani, the man best remembered for his bloody Rathyatra, is today the Union home minister.

The concluding para of the main report on the ISI, too, is significant: “But the seeds of discord can only sprout where there is social inequity and political indifference. The government cannot depend merely on letters of protest to Pakistan or the meagrely funded counter–intelligence to meet the challenge posed by the ISI. It will be highly desirable to involve the people and build this resistance to exploitation. For that it is necessary that genuine grievances of the vulnerable sections of the society are removed and elements that have been alienated (read Indian Muslims?) brought back into the fold”.

That, however, is the perception at the top, while the reality on the ground is disturbing, to say the least. Here, for example, is one gem from the report on Gujarat and Rajasthan: “Earlier there was no rigidity or fanaticism in the minds of the Muslims of the border areas and the economic hardships necessitated perpetual inter–dependence between the communities. But (of) late, the evil influence of religious die–hards has drawn a deep wedge between the Hindus and the Muslim(s). With the Muslim fundamentalist organisations working ceaselessly in furtherance of their fanatic design, the border population is witnessing the emergence of aggressive form of a section of Muslims”.

Are the authors of this report talking of the same Gujarat which is today being increasingly described as ‘Hindutva’s laboratory’? Are they talking of the same BJP–ruled state where Muslims and Christians continue to be relentlessly hounded and attacked? How is it that the report which is replete with instances of Muslim fanaticism (“These madarsas are spitting venom for creating large–scale subversion”, etc.), does not have a word to say on what the Bajrang Dal, the VHP, the RSS and the BJP are doing and the impact this is sure to have on the psyche of ordinary Muslims and Christians of Gujarat?

Interestingly, a few months ago (April 20, 2000), at a top level meeting with police and intelligence officials in Ahmedabad the Union home minister made enquiries about the sudden growth of madrassas in Gujarat’s border districts.
At that meeting, the DG Intelligence, Gujarat, RN Bhattacharya, presented data to show that the number of madrassas in the border districts had grown but that the increase was neither less nor more than madrassas that had come up in other parts of the state. Therefore, Bhattacharya did not think there was anything noticeably worrisome in the pattern.

But, as mentioned above, the state level BSF intelligence has a very different story to tell on the “stunning growth” of madrassas in the border districts. Can one trust such a report which combines sweeping generalisations about Muslim fanaticism and extremism with shocking silence on the innumerable misdemeanours of the sangh parivar, especially in Gujarat?

The intelligence report on Gujarat and Rajasthan is clearly the worst but not the only one which reeks of anti–Muslim prejudice. Another report, Bangladesh influx in West Bengal: A Demographic Study, reads at one place: “This study relates only to the state of West Bengal with specific reference to Bangladesh Muslim illegal immigration, or to be more precise, infiltration (emphasis added) into India…It has been estimated that 6 million Hindus have left (emphasis added) Bangladesh for India for the period from 1971 to 1991 and not less than 6 million Bangladeshi Muslims infiltrated (emphasis added) into India during 1981 to 1991”.  

In their apparent anxiety over this “silent invasion” by Bangladeshi Muslims, the authors of the report even manage to muddle their statistics about the rapidly changing demographic profile of many districts of West Bengal. “In ten years, the Muslim population (of Malda) has leapt from being 15.27 per cent of the total population to being 47.47 per cent, whereas the Hindu population has come down from forming 54.49 per cent of the total population to forming 52.51 per cent”. Wouldn’t the Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena love to hear this? But, elsewhere, the same report records that the Muslim population in Malda had increased from 45.27 (not 15.27) to 47.47 per cent! A 2.2 per cent increase no doubt, but “leap” is hardly the word to describe such growth.

Where bias is not so much the problem, there remains the question of insufficient homework. The report, ‘Influx of BD (Bangladeshi) nationals in Assam and its effect, causes and remedies’, is a good example of this. “A report kept secret by government officials states that out of 23 districts of Assam, 10 districts have become Muslim majority; they are: Dhubri, Goalpura, Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Nalbari, Kokrajhar, Lakhimpur, Darrang, Nowgong, Kamrup. The districts of Marigaon, Karimganj and Nagaon are likely to become Muslim majority by the year 2000”.

If this report is to be believed, already 13 out of the 23 districts of Assam are Muslim majority! But two pages later, the same report says, “It can be clearly seen that in 1991 the percentage of Hindu population in Assam showed decline from 72.51 in 1971 per cent to 67.13 per cent in 1991 whereas the percentage of Muslim population rose from 24.56 per cent in 1971 to 28.43 per cent in 1991”. How a less than four per cent increase squares up with the “report kept secret by government officials” about Assam having almost become a Muslim majority state is not explained.

The ISI’s resolve to place Islam in the hands of fanatic butchers — who kill, maim, drug and destroy in the name of their faith — poses a critical challenge to the Indian secular state, all its institutions and functionaries.

The author(s) of the report seem blissfully unaware, or unconcerned, of the existence of well–researched arguments such as the ones put forward by Anindita Dasgupta in a paper titled, Political Myth-making in post–colonial Assam and published by Himal from Kathmandu.

Based on her analysis of census data, Dasgupta points out: “Contrary to the ‘floating’ wisdom doing the rounds in Guwahati, the percentage of Muslims in Assam remained steady at 25 per cent (of the total population) for the entire period between 1941–71 and only increased to 28 per cent in the 20 years between 1971 and 1991. (There was no census in Assam in 1981).

The writer quotes census figures to show that in eight Indian states – Punjab, Rajasthan, Tripura, Haryana, Manipur, MP and Maharashtra — the rate of growth of Muslim population between 1971 and 1991 was higher than in Assam; in three other states – HP, UP and West Bengal, the growth rate was nearly the same as in Assam. Why, then, is no political party, no intelligence agency making any noise about the ‘abnormal’ increase in Muslim population in these 11 states?

Dasgupta also cites figures to show that the percentage representation of Muslims in the Assam Legislative Assembly has remained nearly constant between 1972 and now — ranging from 24 out of a total of 126 MLAs at present (19 per cent) to 21 out of 126 MLAs (20 per cent) in 1972. These figures, too, hardly suggest that a majority of Assam’s districts have turned into Muslim majority districts.

Dasgupta admits to a very large and ‘unnatural’ influx of poor peasants from the then East Bengal “which changed the demographic make up of the Valley forever”. But as she rightly points out, this migration took place between the turn of the century and 1940, and that it was a movement that at the time was welcomed by the native Asamiyas.  

While debunking the repeated but politically–motivated charge of continuing influx of Bangladeshis as “wild exaggeration”, Dasgupta makes a striking political point: “Without doubt, there are illegal foreign nationals in Assam, and a majority would be Muslim. But to write off a large Muslim community forming some 28 per cent of the total population of the state as ‘non-indigenous’, is not only simplistic, but inflammatory. In the end activism of this kind will only hurt Assam, as no polity can progress when the very basis of its self–perception is based on a fiction — that the Muslims of Assam are by and large ‘non–indigenous’.”

According to the author(s) of the intelligence reports, “the continuous influx has also given rise to a number of fundamentalist forces (reference to extremist organisations such as the Muslim Liberation Tigers of Assam, Muslim Liberation Army, Muslim Liberation Force) basically for defending the interest of Bangladeshi migrants”. But Dasgupta might have a radically different perspective on the issue because in her view: “For too long, the perceived problem of Bangla migrants has forced the minority Muslims of Assam to live under a cloud of suspicion”.  

In fact, the authors of the intelligence report make the observation at one point: “The formation of Muslim outfits in Assam was a noticeable phenomenon traced back to the early nineties…The continuous agitation over the foreigners issue and communal, ethnic clashes in which migrant Muslims were the prime victims can be construed as the main reason behind the formation of Muslim militant organisations. During 1992, the Muslim fundamentalist groups became very active in Assam on the mandir/mosque issue and the revision of electoral roles”.

One charge often levelled is that ISI-driven activities intensified in Tamil Nadu after the BJP became a political presence, and was backed by rabid outfits like the Hindu Munnani.

How should one choose between the intelligence report on Assam which merely quotes politicians and uncritically doles out statistics torn out of historical context, on the one hand, and well–reasoned arguments like those of Dasgupta that also show how politicians have a vested interest in keeping the foreigner issue alive in Assam, on the other?

Meeting the ISI’s challenge
While speaking in the Lok Sabha on April 27, 2000, the Union home minister, LK Advani gave a special call to Indian Muslims asking them to give a fitting reply to the jehad call given by Pakistan’s ISI.

If Advani, the RSS–VHP–Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena have their way, 120 million Indian Muslims will need to spring to attention and prove their nationalistic credentials each time foreign mercenaries kill innocent Hindus in the name of Islam, an ISI agent is caught peddling fake currency in the Indian market, a drug peddler is nabbed outside our colleges, or a handful of Muslims are arrested for executing an ISI-hatched plot to bomb churches with the intention of creating Hindu-Christian tension.

The diabolical game–plan of Pakistan’s Inter–Services Intelligence (ISI), today poses the most serious challenge to the professionalism and neutrality of Indian security, paramilitary and police forces. More than anything, the ISI’s resolve to place Islam in the hands of fanatic butchers — who kill, maim, drug and destroy in the name of their faith — poses a critical challenge to the Indian secular state, all its institutions and functionaries.

In the backdrop of a heightened communal discourse within Indian civil society, a discourse accorded legitimacy by politically dominant forces, the Indian security, intelligence and police machinery will be required to pass the litmus test of neutrality while gathering evidence, taking preventive measures, or nabbing the culprits. Such neutrality is the crying need of the hour, the only bulwark against the deterioration of the discourse into a virulent communal tirade.

The strident champions of Hindutva constantly seek to equate all Indian Muslims with Pakistan or the ISI. Nothing can be a more potent recipe for further alienation and disaster. The law keepers will need to guard against this danger as diligently as they need to keep a vigil on the criminal anti–India nexus.

Since influencing or altering the mindset of the Indian Muslim is an integral part of the ISI’s diabolical plot, how this strategy is being put to work certainly needs to be carefully monitored and countered. But to do this job professionally, intelligence personnel also need to reflect on the mindset with which they themselves operate. If some of the personnel engaged in intelligence gathering themselves suffer from anti–Muslim bias, they will only end up making the ISI’s job that much easier.

The very social reality of India makes compelling demands. Like it or not, India is a multifarious and diverse society, culturally and in terms of religious belief. Visions of a homogeneous Islamic ummah or the project for a Hindu rashtra will face the greatest stumbling block in this rich multiplicity that includes 160 million Dalits and 120 million Muslims, not to mention 70 million tribals. These are not insignificant numbers to trifle with.

In living with this diversity, the state and the civil society in India have shown visible strains. Its democratic and secular credentials have repeatedly been held to ransom by squads of the Hindu right wing that have transgressed the Indian Constitution which unequivocally stands for fair and equal treatment of all — regardless of caste, community and gender.

The particularly piquant situation demands ruthlessly fair dealings with home–bred fanatics like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Shiv Sena (SS), Hindu Munnani — all ideologically backed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — who are forever spitting venom against innocent Muslims, forever ready to make them pay for the sins of the ISI. (See the story on Surat riots in this issue).

The intelligence agencies need to be particularly diligent when drawing conclusions on the ‘stunning growth of madrassas’ and examining their ideological and organisational links with “pan–Islamism” and the “jehad” mentality.
As educational institutions run by religious bodies, madrassas and pathshalas have for long been a fact of life on the Indian sub–continent. Before drawing conclusions on their role and motive it is essential that the collection, collation and sifting of material be handled professionally and sensitively.

It has been a sociologically observed fact that in the past decade or so, with the growth of violence against India’s religious minorities, a dual tendency has been in evidence among Indian Muslims. On the one hand, there is a very visible and focussed movement towards education (non-religious) and vocational training. On the other, is the seeking of refuge in religious organisations for security of religious identity? (See CC, March 1999, The Enemy Within).

The possibility of the ISI and some other Muslim fundamentalist organisations attempting to replicate in India the ‘rewarding’ Pakistani experience of transforming madrassas into breeding grounds for jehad certainly exists. The recent example of the alleged role of the Deendar Anjuman sect in Andhra Pradesh with its links in Pakistan, is a clear indicator.

But it is unclear from the BSF intelligence reports whether some of its authors are merely assuming, instead of establishing through proper investigation, that the education being imparted in the madrassas that have come up after 1992 are preaching love for Pakistan, the ISI and jehad?

A far more careful study of the content and teaching of madrassas is called for, for two reasons. Firstly, to prevent crimes like the one indulged in by leaders of the Deendar Anjuman sect. Secondly, to avoid apparently sweeping and unsubstantiated linkages being drawn between madrassas coming up on Indian soil with the motivation that now inspires madrassa teaching across the border. The intelligence agencies must not assume but establish, case by case, what is being taught in the madrassas this side of the border.

To equate religious orthodoxy with religious extremism, or to equate Indian Muslims with Pakistan is to play straight into the hands of the very demon we claim to be fighting. 

Such careful scrutiny is particularly required to prevent the misuse of raw or undeveloped data by overzealous law enforcement officials and self–seeking politicians in our midst.

Senior intelligence and police officials all over the country have been unequivocal on the explosive potential of the ‘competitive communalism’ that has led to religious extremism especially in the south. One charge often levelled is that ISI-driven activities intensified in Tamil Nadu after the BJP became a political presence, and was backed by rabid outfits like the Hindu Munnani. The local climate was charged enough with vitriol to induce SA Basha of the Al Umma to coordinate with other Muslim groups, gather angry and disgruntled Muslim youngsters to ‘counter’ the BJP.

The Justice Gokulakrishnan Commission that investigated the serial bomb blasts in Coimbatore in February 1998, points out that the propaganda of Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists was one of the primary reasons for the vicious communal atmosphere in Coimbatore that ultimately led to the explosions. No wonder, then, that within hours of the blasts, scores of militant Hindus set fire to shops and establishments owned by Muslims in Coimbatore.

Intelligence gathering and strategy formation on the critical question of tackling an agency like the ISI must, of necessity, focus on the activities and dangers posed by Hindu communal outfits to the social climate within our cities, towns and villages. They cannot deal, in an isolated fashion, with the resonance that the ISI finds among a minuscule section of Muslims. A small group of Muslims is enough to perform dastardly crimes. But number wise, they remain insignificant in terms of the total population of the community.

An absence of this impartial and even–handed approach poses dangers of grave misuse of the law and victimising of innocents. It also has the potential of causing deeper hurt and growing alienation.

The recent declarations by outfits like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal that they would set up security outposts along the international border to counter the ISI’s growing intrusion on Indian soil have raised alarm among defence and border security officials. Some have even gone on record saying, “Such extra-constitutional bodies cannot be allowed to function in the sensitive border areas…Once a Hindu army is allowed to come up, what is there to stop a Muslim army from being raised. This has dangerous and sinister implications.”

Welcome words, but not good enough. Our internal law and order machinery is repeatedly paralysed when it comes to tackling the unconstitutional, unlawful and inflammatory politics of the VHP and Bajrang Dal to whom the BJP party and governments provide cover.

Ill–informed and one-sided intelligence adversely affects the conduct of our police force and security agencies; in the worst cases, they reinforce existing prejudice. And lead to a repeat of situations like the incidents of gross police misconduct against the students from the Shibli National Post Graduate College (SNPC), Azamgarh and the Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), New Delhi. Both institutions, proud of their rich nationalist heritage and genesis in the freedom movement, were targeted first by the rightwing groups of the sangh parivar (the ABVP) and thereafter subjected to violent and humiliating raids by the state police. (See CC, May 2000).

A fact–finding team that visited Azamgarh, UP, found that all the arrested boys who happened to be Muslims were not allowed to sleep for four days, were beaten black and blue in the jail everyday, repeatedly forced to shout, ‘Jai Hanuman’, sodomised by hardened criminals at the instigation of some people (who used to roam inside the jail as officials but seemed to have direct links with the Hindu communal organisations) and were bailed out only by the Allahabad High Court. The lower judiciary, either fearful or sympathetic to the blatant religious persecution meted out to the young boys (like shaving off their beards) did not even defend their basic human rights!

Jamia was targeted on April 9. Reports by investigating human rights’ groups tell us that here the Delhi police took upon itself the responsibility of teaching a lesson to the ‘ISI agents’, ‘Pakistanis’, ‘anti-national’, Muslim hostelites of the university. The rampaging Delhi police, while using phrases such as, ‘Pakistan bana rakkha hae yahan’, (‘You have made this into a Pakistan!’) specifically targeted students with beards and wearing kurta-pyjama. Students, busy preparing for their examinations were flung down two storeys of the hostel, with the police shouting “Mulla ki tang pakar ke laa” (“Drag the mullah by his leg”).

The life and property of the minority community has been systematically targeted with a view to cripple their economic activity and businesses — pearl trading in Hyderabad, textiles in Surat and Hyderabad, shops and establishments in Coimbatore, the leather and timber trade in Bombay belonging to the minorities have been destroyed. The resultant ghettoisation of Indian cities and towns has made a mockery of Indian law and the Constitution.

In turn, this has led to acute despair and alienation among the minorities, a minuscule section of whom thereafter provided the ideal breeding ground for the ISI waiting in the wings for such opportunities. The serial bomb blasts in Bombay in March 1993 came fast on the heels of systematic violence and public posturings of hatred and venom by Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackeray, and an abdication of responsibility by the state.

Five years later, in Coimbatore, too, bomb blasts (February 1998) were the tragic response to the earlier brutal bloodletting against the city’s minorities by members of the Hindu Munnani helped by the state police (November 1997).
If an outfit like the ISI is to be countered effectively, the task on hand  will make severe demands on the police and paramilitary’s unflinching professionalism and neutrality. With the bloody blemishes of the recent past on their record, the moot question is, will they be able to deliver?

Senior officers within the Indian paramilitary, intelligence and police agencies have been pressing the central government to release a detailed and authenticated document on the reach and strategy of the ISI. This would minimise the chances of the communalisation of the debate and render executive and police actions more visible.

But for reasons best known to himself, Advani, who had earlier promised to place before Parliament a White Paper on the activities of the ISI in India, is now dragging his feet. It is crucial that he does come out with the White Paper so that the people of India learn to distinguish between the ISI that is a “frightening reality” and the “ISI bogey” that the Hindu right repeatedly resorts to in order to demonise Indian Muslims.

It would be an equally welcome step if the home ministry releases regular updates with lists of the persons held spying and other anti-national activities to counter Hindutva’s false propaganda that all Indians who spy or work for Pakistan/ISI are Muslims.

To equate religious orthodoxy with religious extremism, or to equate Indian Muslims with Pakistan is to play straight into the hands of the very demon we claim to be fighting.            

Archived from Communalism Combat, August 2000, Anniversary Issue (7th) Year 8  No. 61, Cover Story 1 

ISI -The demon we feed



Illustration: Amili Setalvad

The picture, as those incharge of keeping a watch on our borders see it, is  truly grim. The intention of our neighbours, in their assessment, has never been nastier. “The ISI is a frightening reality today,” says Vibhuti Narain Singh, IG, intelligence, Border Security Force.

The merciless manner in which Pakistan–backed insurgents recently butchered close to a hundred innocent Hindus in J & K — simply to throttle what looked like the first hopeful steps towards a solution of the Kashmir problem by the Hizbul Mujahideen — is an indicator of what the bloody—minded in our neighbourhood think of peace.  

But keeping Kashmir on the boil until the “unfinished business of Partition” is completed and the “humiliation of Bangladesh” avenged is only one part of the “strategy of internal encirclement” and the “doctrine of a ‘thousand cuts’ dividing India like the Balkans” that the ISI/Pakistan is assiduously working on. That is the assessment of intelligence reports, copies of which have been made available to Communalism Combat.

The elements of the ISI’s nefarious and multi–pronged game–plan are:

Madrassas for jehad
The way madrassas — traditional educational institutions, similar to pathshalas — have been redefined in Pakistan in recent years to act as breeding ground for producing mujihids willing to kill and die in the name of Islam is by now well-known. The ISI, according to the intelligence reports, now has a similar plan in mind for India.

Since 1992, madrassas and mosques have mushroomed in large numbers all along India’s borders – from Gujarat and Rajasthan in the west, to UP in the North, Bihar and West Bengal in the East and Assam in the Northeast. Funded with money suspected to have come from Saudi Arabia and even the ISI directly, these madrassas and mosques have been built and are being run by Muslim organisations with a worldview that is “pan–Islamic”, not “Indo–Islamic”.

Muslim organisations influenced by the highly orthodox Wahabi philosophy — the Tablighi Jamaat, the Jamaat–e–Islami, the Jamaat–e–Ulema, Ahle Hadees — have all been named in the intelligence reports as being in the forefront of this resurgence.

In the assessment of intelligence personnel, at best, these madrassas will breed a whole generation of Muslim youth armed, with a fundamentalist mindset but ill—equipped with this–worldly education or any skill to help them find a job. In the worst case scenario, such youth with no means of livelihood will tomorrow prove to being fertile recruiting ground for the ISI.

The perceived security threats:
  • “Organise(d) minority community through a chain of madrassas”.
  • “The muftis/moulvis/imams may be replaced by highly fanatic agents of ISI in near future”.
  • “In future these affected madrassas may provide shelter to hard core militants as was the case in Golden Temple, Amritsar, during the militancy in Punjab”.
  • “Madrassas may be used to spread propaganda and subvert the minds of masses”.
  • “Considering the change in the demographical pattern of West Bengal and some NE states (see below), a day might come when some fundamentalists may make a demand for a separate country, e.g., Punjab and J & K”.
  • “Intelligence agencies already claim that there are many pupils from Kashmir having links with pro–Pakistan outfits”.
  • “These madrassas and mosques may soon become an efficient launching pad for ISI agents/operations”.
  • “Youth could be subverted so much that a day might come when they think of religion first and country later”.
Fishing in troubled waters  
“ISI has been fishing in troubled waters of Northeast in the recent past by exploiting these dissatisfied and already well–armed insurgent groups. The motive behind ISI’s involvement in Northeast needs a comprehensive study and analysis. Is it the more obvious motive of fomenting disruptive activities in already troubled Northeast region or the greater agenda of converting the Northeast region into an Islamic pocket making Assam their stronghold?”

Enrolling India’s Muslims
“ISI is trying to establish its bases in Hyderabad, western Uttar Pradesh, north Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, parts of Tamil Nadu, besides Mumbai suburbs”. The arrest of many members of the Deendar Anjuman for their alleged involvement in the recent bomb blasts in AP, Karnataka and Goa with the intent of spreading ‘nifaque’ (hostility) between Christians and Hindus, appears to be a new link in this ominous chain.
Bases in Bangladesh, Nepal; more Muslims in the border districts:

The ISI is making full use of the highly porous and unmanned borders between India and Bangladesh, and India and Nepal, to train militants and to push men, arms and ammunition and counterfeit currency into India.

Having launched its ‘Ops Santan’ in August 1996 to gain a foothold in Nepal, the ISI is claimed to have already accomplished its short–term objective: “to include approximately 18,000 trained men into the area who have already begun operation from Nepal. These include Bangladesh refugees, Pak and Afghan nationals”.

Intelligence reports add that Pakistan is also well on its way to meeting its long–term objective in the area: bringing about demographic changes in the region. “In 1970, Nepal was known as the only country with 100 per cent Hindu population. In 1991, this came down to 80 per cent and presently it is 70 per cent. In 30 years, 30 per cent non–Hindu population has been infused”. (The source of statistics is not mentioned in the report).

As for Bangladesh, “ISI is banking on strong communal and political support base for its activities in Bangladesh and Northeast”. The intelligence report says that though there has been a crackdown on some of the training camps and sanctuaries of insurgents from the North East after Begum Shaikh Hasina’s return to power in 1996, “insurgents and ISI continue to operate brazenly in Bangladesh”. The ISI enjoys the support from fundamentalist groups like the Jamaat–e–Islami, which is in the opposition now, and the government fears that “these fundamentalist groups will unleash large-scale violence if they are pushed beyond a certain point”.  

In the assessment of intelligence personnel, at best, these madrassas will breed a whole generation of Muslim youth armed, with a fundamentalist mindset but ill–equipped with this–worldly education or any skill to help them find a job.

The continuing and unchecked flow of illegal immigrants of Bangladeshis into West Bengal and Assam is working to the great advantage of the ISI, according to intelligence agencies, in two ways: it helps the ISI aim of seeing demographic changes in the border districts and it provides excellent cover for the ISI to operate under.  

If the intelligence reports are even partly true, it would be difficult to disagree with IG Narain’s claim that the ISI is a “frightening reality” for India today. Readers of Combat and others who are familiar with the impeccable credentials and integrity of an officer like Narain would necessarily take his concern with all the seriousness that it deserves (See his interview). Nonetheless, given the gravity of the situation, the assumptions and the information put together by the BSF intelligence machinery need to be carefully scrutinised?

The most jarring aspect of some of the state–level intelligence reports Combat has access to is the fact that several of the intelligence personnel seem to be looking at the emerging scenario in the border areas with their backs turned to India. They therefore, fail to see the full picture. And, in some cases, there is no escaping the fact that the officers concerned with preparing specific area reports are infected with strong anti-Islam and anti–Muslim prejudice.

Interestingly, all the project presentations on the growth of madrassas and mosques in the border areas of Gujarat, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Assam take the year 1992 as their reference point. Why 1992? ‘After demolition of Babri Masjid’, one of the reports mentions very matter of factly.

It is a well–known fact that the Indian Muslim response to the assault on the Babri Masjid and sustained attacks on Muslims in different parts of the country before and in 1992–93, has been not a decline but an increase in the assertion of their religious identity and what might even be called ‘religiosity.’ For example, Muslims throughout the country reported larger than before attendance in mosques for namaaz after 1992.

Is it not very likely then, that for better or for worse, the growth in mosques and madrassas in the border districts is part of a countrywide pattern. But there is nothing in any of the intelligence reports to suggest that there is even a recognition of this phenomenon, leave alone an attempt to collect, compare and analyse figures from the border districts with figures from other districts in the country.

Equally well, there appears to have been no attempt on the part of the intelligence personnel to reflect on their own choice of the year 1992 as the reference point for investigation — Does not Hindutva’s stridency and belligerence have something to do with the Muslim ‘fundamentalist’ response?

To be fair, the authors of the main report on the ISI — which obviously has been whetted, if not written, by senior officials in the BSF hierarchy, unlike the state reports which have been handled by more junior personnel — does take some note of this multi–layered reality.

The main report observes at one point: “Unwittingly, certain political groups are abetting the fragmentation of India by isolation of the minorities. The ISI is exploiting this alienation to its advantage. The Coimbatore blasts were symptomatic of this painful truth. As India gets more polarised, new points of conflict will provide soft targets to the ISI”. The reference to the sangh parivar is obvious.

The fact that the same point is not made in a more blunt way has possibly got to do with the fact that the BJP leads the government at the Centre and none less than LK Advani, the man best remembered for his bloody Rathyatra, is today the Union home minister.

The concluding para of the main report on the ISI, too, is significant: “But the seeds of discord can only sprout where there is social inequity and political indifference. The government cannot depend merely on letters of protest to Pakistan or the meagrely funded counter–intelligence to meet the challenge posed by the ISI. It will be highly desirable to involve the people and build this resistance to exploitation. For that it is necessary that genuine grievances of the vulnerable sections of the society are removed and elements that have been alienated (read Indian Muslims?) brought back into the fold”.

That, however, is the perception at the top, while the reality on the ground is disturbing, to say the least. Here, for example, is one gem from the report on Gujarat and Rajasthan: “Earlier there was no rigidity or fanaticism in the minds of the Muslims of the border areas and the economic hardships necessitated perpetual inter–dependence between the communities. But (of) late, the evil influence of religious die–hards has drawn a deep wedge between the Hindus and the Muslim(s). With the Muslim fundamentalist organisations working ceaselessly in furtherance of their fanatic design, the border population is witnessing the emergence of aggressive form of a section of Muslims”.

Are the authors of this report talking of the same Gujarat which is today being increasingly described as ‘Hindutva’s laboratory’? Are they talking of the same BJP–ruled state where Muslims and Christians continue to be relentlessly hounded and attacked? How is it that the report which is replete with instances of Muslim fanaticism (“These madarsas are spitting venom for creating large–scale subversion”, etc.), does not have a word to say on what the Bajrang Dal, the VHP, the RSS and the BJP are doing and the impact this is sure to have on the psyche of ordinary Muslims and Christians of Gujarat?

Interestingly, a few months ago (April 20, 2000), at a top level meeting with police and intelligence officials in Ahmedabad the Union home minister made enquiries about the sudden growth of madrassas in Gujarat’s border districts.
At that meeting, the DG Intelligence, Gujarat, RN Bhattacharya, presented data to show that the number of madrassas in the border districts had grown but that the increase was neither less nor more than madrassas that had come up in other parts of the state. Therefore, Bhattacharya did not think there was anything noticeably worrisome in the pattern.

But, as mentioned above, the state level BSF intelligence has a very different story to tell on the “stunning growth” of madrassas in the border districts. Can one trust such a report which combines sweeping generalisations about Muslim fanaticism and extremism with shocking silence on the innumerable misdemeanours of the sangh parivar, especially in Gujarat?

The intelligence report on Gujarat and Rajasthan is clearly the worst but not the only one which reeks of anti–Muslim prejudice. Another report, Bangladesh influx in West Bengal: A Demographic Study, reads at one place: “This study relates only to the state of West Bengal with specific reference to Bangladesh Muslim illegal immigration, or to be more precise, infiltration (emphasis added) into India…It has been estimated that 6 million Hindus have left (emphasis added) Bangladesh for India for the period from 1971 to 1991 and not less than 6 million Bangladeshi Muslims infiltrated (emphasis added) into India during 1981 to 1991”.  

In their apparent anxiety over this “silent invasion” by Bangladeshi Muslims, the authors of the report even manage to muddle their statistics about the rapidly changing demographic profile of many districts of West Bengal. “In ten years, the Muslim population (of Malda) has leapt from being 15.27 per cent of the total population to being 47.47 per cent, whereas the Hindu population has come down from forming 54.49 per cent of the total population to forming 52.51 per cent”. Wouldn’t the Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena love to hear this? But, elsewhere, the same report records that the Muslim population in Malda had increased from 45.27 (not 15.27) to 47.47 per cent! A 2.2 per cent increase no doubt, but “leap” is hardly the word to describe such growth.

Where bias is not so much the problem, there remains the question of insufficient homework. The report, ‘Influx of BD (Bangladeshi) nationals in Assam and its effect, causes and remedies’, is a good example of this. “A report kept secret by government officials states that out of 23 districts of Assam, 10 districts have become Muslim majority; they are: Dhubri, Goalpura, Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Nalbari, Kokrajhar, Lakhimpur, Darrang, Nowgong, Kamrup. The districts of Marigaon, Karimganj and Nagaon are likely to become Muslim majority by the year 2000”.

If this report is to be believed, already 13 out of the 23 districts of Assam are Muslim majority! But two pages later, the same report says, “It can be clearly seen that in 1991 the percentage of Hindu population in Assam showed decline from 72.51 in 1971 per cent to 67.13 per cent in 1991 whereas the percentage of Muslim population rose from 24.56 per cent in 1971 to 28.43 per cent in 1991”. How a less than four per cent increase squares up with the “report kept secret by government officials” about Assam having almost become a Muslim majority state is not explained.

The ISI’s resolve to place Islam in the hands of fanatic butchers — who kill, maim, drug and destroy in the name of their faith — poses a critical challenge to the Indian secular state, all its institutions and functionaries.

The author(s) of the report seem blissfully unaware, or unconcerned, of the existence of well–researched arguments such as the ones put forward by Anindita Dasgupta in a paper titled, Political Myth-making in post–colonial Assam and published by Himal from Kathmandu.

Based on her analysis of census data, Dasgupta points out: “Contrary to the ‘floating’ wisdom doing the rounds in Guwahati, the percentage of Muslims in Assam remained steady at 25 per cent (of the total population) for the entire period between 1941–71 and only increased to 28 per cent in the 20 years between 1971 and 1991. (There was no census in Assam in 1981).

The writer quotes census figures to show that in eight Indian states – Punjab, Rajasthan, Tripura, Haryana, Manipur, MP and Maharashtra — the rate of growth of Muslim population between 1971 and 1991 was higher than in Assam; in three other states – HP, UP and West Bengal, the growth rate was nearly the same as in Assam. Why, then, is no political party, no intelligence agency making any noise about the ‘abnormal’ increase in Muslim population in these 11 states?

Dasgupta also cites figures to show that the percentage representation of Muslims in the Assam Legislative Assembly has remained nearly constant between 1972 and now — ranging from 24 out of a total of 126 MLAs at present (19 per cent) to 21 out of 126 MLAs (20 per cent) in 1972. These figures, too, hardly suggest that a majority of Assam’s districts have turned into Muslim majority districts.

Dasgupta admits to a very large and ‘unnatural’ influx of poor peasants from the then East Bengal “which changed the demographic make up of the Valley forever”. But as she rightly points out, this migration took place between the turn of the century and 1940, and that it was a movement that at the time was welcomed by the native Asamiyas.  

While debunking the repeated but politically–motivated charge of continuing influx of Bangladeshis as “wild exaggeration”, Dasgupta makes a striking political point: “Without doubt, there are illegal foreign nationals in Assam, and a majority would be Muslim. But to write off a large Muslim community forming some 28 per cent of the total population of the state as ‘non-indigenous’, is not only simplistic, but inflammatory. In the end activism of this kind will only hurt Assam, as no polity can progress when the very basis of its self–perception is based on a fiction — that the Muslims of Assam are by and large ‘non–indigenous’.”

According to the author(s) of the intelligence reports, “the continuous influx has also given rise to a number of fundamentalist forces (reference to extremist organisations such as the Muslim Liberation Tigers of Assam, Muslim Liberation Army, Muslim Liberation Force) basically for defending the interest of Bangladeshi migrants”. But Dasgupta might have a radically different perspective on the issue because in her view: “For too long, the perceived problem of Bangla migrants has forced the minority Muslims of Assam to live under a cloud of suspicion”.  

In fact, the authors of the intelligence report make the observation at one point: “The formation of Muslim outfits in Assam was a noticeable phenomenon traced back to the early nineties…The continuous agitation over the foreigners issue and communal, ethnic clashes in which migrant Muslims were the prime victims can be construed as the main reason behind the formation of Muslim militant organisations. During 1992, the Muslim fundamentalist groups became very active in Assam on the mandir/mosque issue and the revision of electoral roles”.

One charge often levelled is that ISI-driven activities intensified in Tamil Nadu after the BJP became a political presence, and was backed by rabid outfits like the Hindu Munnani.

How should one choose between the intelligence report on Assam which merely quotes politicians and uncritically doles out statistics torn out of historical context, on the one hand, and well–reasoned arguments like those of Dasgupta that also show how politicians have a vested interest in keeping the foreigner issue alive in Assam, on the other?

Meeting the ISI’s challenge
While speaking in the Lok Sabha on April 27, 2000, the Union home minister, LK Advani gave a special call to Indian Muslims asking them to give a fitting reply to the jehad call given by Pakistan’s ISI.

If Advani, the RSS–VHP–Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena have their way, 120 million Indian Muslims will need to spring to attention and prove their nationalistic credentials each time foreign mercenaries kill innocent Hindus in the name of Islam, an ISI agent is caught peddling fake currency in the Indian market, a drug peddler is nabbed outside our colleges, or a handful of Muslims are arrested for executing an ISI-hatched plot to bomb churches with the intention of creating Hindu-Christian tension.

The diabolical game–plan of Pakistan’s Inter–Services Intelligence (ISI), today poses the most serious challenge to the professionalism and neutrality of Indian security, paramilitary and police forces. More than anything, the ISI’s resolve to place Islam in the hands of fanatic butchers — who kill, maim, drug and destroy in the name of their faith — poses a critical challenge to the Indian secular state, all its institutions and functionaries.

In the backdrop of a heightened communal discourse within Indian civil society, a discourse accorded legitimacy by politically dominant forces, the Indian security, intelligence and police machinery will be required to pass the litmus test of neutrality while gathering evidence, taking preventive measures, or nabbing the culprits. Such neutrality is the crying need of the hour, the only bulwark against the deterioration of the discourse into a virulent communal tirade.

The strident champions of Hindutva constantly seek to equate all Indian Muslims with Pakistan or the ISI. Nothing can be a more potent recipe for further alienation and disaster. The law keepers will need to guard against this danger as diligently as they need to keep a vigil on the criminal anti–India nexus.

Since influencing or altering the mindset of the Indian Muslim is an integral part of the ISI’s diabolical plot, how this strategy is being put to work certainly needs to be carefully monitored and countered. But to do this job professionally, intelligence personnel also need to reflect on the mindset with which they themselves operate. If some of the personnel engaged in intelligence gathering themselves suffer from anti–Muslim bias, they will only end up making the ISI’s job that much easier.

The very social reality of India makes compelling demands. Like it or not, India is a multifarious and diverse society, culturally and in terms of religious belief. Visions of a homogeneous Islamic ummah or the project for a Hindu rashtra will face the greatest stumbling block in this rich multiplicity that includes 160 million Dalits and 120 million Muslims, not to mention 70 million tribals. These are not insignificant numbers to trifle with.

In living with this diversity, the state and the civil society in India have shown visible strains. Its democratic and secular credentials have repeatedly been held to ransom by squads of the Hindu right wing that have transgressed the Indian Constitution which unequivocally stands for fair and equal treatment of all — regardless of caste, community and gender.

The particularly piquant situation demands ruthlessly fair dealings with home–bred fanatics like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Shiv Sena (SS), Hindu Munnani — all ideologically backed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — who are forever spitting venom against innocent Muslims, forever ready to make them pay for the sins of the ISI. (See the story on Surat riots in this issue).

The intelligence agencies need to be particularly diligent when drawing conclusions on the ‘stunning growth of madrassas’ and examining their ideological and organisational links with “pan–Islamism” and the “jehad” mentality.
As educational institutions run by religious bodies, madrassas and pathshalas have for long been a fact of life on the Indian sub–continent. Before drawing conclusions on their role and motive it is essential that the collection, collation and sifting of material be handled professionally and sensitively.

It has been a sociologically observed fact that in the past decade or so, with the growth of violence against India’s religious minorities, a dual tendency has been in evidence among Indian Muslims. On the one hand, there is a very visible and focussed movement towards education (non-religious) and vocational training. On the other, is the seeking of refuge in religious organisations for security of religious identity? (See CC, March 1999, The Enemy Within).

The possibility of the ISI and some other Muslim fundamentalist organisations attempting to replicate in India the ‘rewarding’ Pakistani experience of transforming madrassas into breeding grounds for jehad certainly exists. The recent example of the alleged role of the Deendar Anjuman sect in Andhra Pradesh with its links in Pakistan, is a clear indicator.

But it is unclear from the BSF intelligence reports whether some of its authors are merely assuming, instead of establishing through proper investigation, that the education being imparted in the madrassas that have come up after 1992 are preaching love for Pakistan, the ISI and jehad?

A far more careful study of the content and teaching of madrassas is called for, for two reasons. Firstly, to prevent crimes like the one indulged in by leaders of the Deendar Anjuman sect. Secondly, to avoid apparently sweeping and unsubstantiated linkages being drawn between madrassas coming up on Indian soil with the motivation that now inspires madrassa teaching across the border. The intelligence agencies must not assume but establish, case by case, what is being taught in the madrassas this side of the border.

To equate religious orthodoxy with religious extremism, or to equate Indian Muslims with Pakistan is to play straight into the hands of the very demon we claim to be fighting. 

Such careful scrutiny is particularly required to prevent the misuse of raw or undeveloped data by overzealous law enforcement officials and self–seeking politicians in our midst.

Senior intelligence and police officials all over the country have been unequivocal on the explosive potential of the ‘competitive communalism’ that has led to religious extremism especially in the south. One charge often levelled is that ISI-driven activities intensified in Tamil Nadu after the BJP became a political presence, and was backed by rabid outfits like the Hindu Munnani. The local climate was charged enough with vitriol to induce SA Basha of the Al Umma to coordinate with other Muslim groups, gather angry and disgruntled Muslim youngsters to ‘counter’ the BJP.

The Justice Gokulakrishnan Commission that investigated the serial bomb blasts in Coimbatore in February 1998, points out that the propaganda of Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists was one of the primary reasons for the vicious communal atmosphere in Coimbatore that ultimately led to the explosions. No wonder, then, that within hours of the blasts, scores of militant Hindus set fire to shops and establishments owned by Muslims in Coimbatore.

Intelligence gathering and strategy formation on the critical question of tackling an agency like the ISI must, of necessity, focus on the activities and dangers posed by Hindu communal outfits to the social climate within our cities, towns and villages. They cannot deal, in an isolated fashion, with the resonance that the ISI finds among a minuscule section of Muslims. A small group of Muslims is enough to perform dastardly crimes. But number wise, they remain insignificant in terms of the total population of the community.

An absence of this impartial and even–handed approach poses dangers of grave misuse of the law and victimising of innocents. It also has the potential of causing deeper hurt and growing alienation.

The recent declarations by outfits like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal that they would set up security outposts along the international border to counter the ISI’s growing intrusion on Indian soil have raised alarm among defence and border security officials. Some have even gone on record saying, “Such extra-constitutional bodies cannot be allowed to function in the sensitive border areas…Once a Hindu army is allowed to come up, what is there to stop a Muslim army from being raised. This has dangerous and sinister implications.”

Welcome words, but not good enough. Our internal law and order machinery is repeatedly paralysed when it comes to tackling the unconstitutional, unlawful and inflammatory politics of the VHP and Bajrang Dal to whom the BJP party and governments provide cover.

Ill–informed and one-sided intelligence adversely affects the conduct of our police force and security agencies; in the worst cases, they reinforce existing prejudice. And lead to a repeat of situations like the incidents of gross police misconduct against the students from the Shibli National Post Graduate College (SNPC), Azamgarh and the Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), New Delhi. Both institutions, proud of their rich nationalist heritage and genesis in the freedom movement, were targeted first by the rightwing groups of the sangh parivar (the ABVP) and thereafter subjected to violent and humiliating raids by the state police. (See CC, May 2000).

A fact–finding team that visited Azamgarh, UP, found that all the arrested boys who happened to be Muslims were not allowed to sleep for four days, were beaten black and blue in the jail everyday, repeatedly forced to shout, ‘Jai Hanuman’, sodomised by hardened criminals at the instigation of some people (who used to roam inside the jail as officials but seemed to have direct links with the Hindu communal organisations) and were bailed out only by the Allahabad High Court. The lower judiciary, either fearful or sympathetic to the blatant religious persecution meted out to the young boys (like shaving off their beards) did not even defend their basic human rights!

Jamia was targeted on April 9. Reports by investigating human rights’ groups tell us that here the Delhi police took upon itself the responsibility of teaching a lesson to the ‘ISI agents’, ‘Pakistanis’, ‘anti-national’, Muslim hostelites of the university. The rampaging Delhi police, while using phrases such as, ‘Pakistan bana rakkha hae yahan’, (‘You have made this into a Pakistan!’) specifically targeted students with beards and wearing kurta-pyjama. Students, busy preparing for their examinations were flung down two storeys of the hostel, with the police shouting “Mulla ki tang pakar ke laa” (“Drag the mullah by his leg”).

The life and property of the minority community has been systematically targeted with a view to cripple their economic activity and businesses — pearl trading in Hyderabad, textiles in Surat and Hyderabad, shops and establishments in Coimbatore, the leather and timber trade in Bombay belonging to the minorities have been destroyed. The resultant ghettoisation of Indian cities and towns has made a mockery of Indian law and the Constitution.

In turn, this has led to acute despair and alienation among the minorities, a minuscule section of whom thereafter provided the ideal breeding ground for the ISI waiting in the wings for such opportunities. The serial bomb blasts in Bombay in March 1993 came fast on the heels of systematic violence and public posturings of hatred and venom by Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackeray, and an abdication of responsibility by the state.

Five years later, in Coimbatore, too, bomb blasts (February 1998) were the tragic response to the earlier brutal bloodletting against the city’s minorities by members of the Hindu Munnani helped by the state police (November 1997).
If an outfit like the ISI is to be countered effectively, the task on hand  will make severe demands on the police and paramilitary’s unflinching professionalism and neutrality. With the bloody blemishes of the recent past on their record, the moot question is, will they be able to deliver?

Senior officers within the Indian paramilitary, intelligence and police agencies have been pressing the central government to release a detailed and authenticated document on the reach and strategy of the ISI. This would minimise the chances of the communalisation of the debate and render executive and police actions more visible.

But for reasons best known to himself, Advani, who had earlier promised to place before Parliament a White Paper on the activities of the ISI in India, is now dragging his feet. It is crucial that he does come out with the White Paper so that the people of India learn to distinguish between the ISI that is a “frightening reality” and the “ISI bogey” that the Hindu right repeatedly resorts to in order to demonise Indian Muslims.

It would be an equally welcome step if the home ministry releases regular updates with lists of the persons held spying and other anti-national activities to counter Hindutva’s false propaganda that all Indians who spy or work for Pakistan/ISI are Muslims.

To equate religious orthodoxy with religious extremism, or to equate Indian Muslims with Pakistan is to play straight into the hands of the very demon we claim to be fighting.            

Archived from Communalism Combat, August 2000, Anniversary Issue (7th) Year 8  No. 61, Cover Story 1 

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