Was Azad being egregious or facetious while drawing a parallel between RSS and ISIS?

Either way he was wrong and dangerously so
Was Azad being egregious or facetious while drawing a parallel between RSS and ISIS?
Was Azad being egregious or facetious while drawing a parallel between RSS and ISIS?
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By Advaita Kala

When Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha drew equivalence between ISIS and RSS at a conclave, one was quick to dismiss this as an intemperate comment, made with an eye on the vote bank. After all, this false equivalence has been drawn before and been ridiculed even by RSS critics. What is clear for most - pro and against the RSS - is that the organised barbarity of ISIS has no parallel. Their acts have prompted even the Al Qaeda to issue a condemnation. And yet, there was a need to draw a comparison. It is easy to repudiate these claims factually, but what is of greater concern is the “solution” this comparison implies. ISIS is perceived as beyond negotiation and redemption, its demise is the only solution.

No one is considering bilateral talks with them. At best the deliberations are over whether there should be boots on the ground or that rebels should be further armed. In the book “The Rise of Islamic State” the journalist Patrick Cockburn acknowledges the military expertise of the jihadi fighters combined with their religious fanaticism. A dangerous combination that has resulted in swathes of lands falling under ISIS control. No caves of Tora Bora for them, ISIS may not be recognised as a legitimate state by the world, but it controls enough land and people to qualify as one. Its acts of barbarity make up a horrific list of practices like beheadings, rape, burning people alive and training children to kill and behead. Horrors that it is more than willing to share with the world, via professionally edited videos. It’s appeal confounds, but exists. And it is a challenge for countries and their security apparatus to keep their youth from being lured into their web of cruelty. A web from which there is no escape.

On the other hand, in the last one month alone, we have witnessed a series of killings and targeted attacks on RSS workers. In the month of January, at a shakha in Ludhiana, Punjab, one early morning Naresh Kumar a RSS worker narrowly escaped an attack on himself, when two young men tried to shoot him at point blank range. In the month of February, Sujith a young RSS worker from Kerala, was hacked to death in front of his parents (a crime for which some CPI (M) workers were subsequently arrested. In Agra, Uttar Pradesh Arun Mahor of the VHP was shot in the head in the middle of the road after visiting a temple and on his way to open his shop. Biju an auto rickshaw driver again from Kerala, was knifed in front of the school children he was ferrying, leaving them traumatised and him gasping for life. Yesterday, a BJP worker Raju was killed in broad daylight in Mysore with a sickle. The reasons for these killings link back to their association with the RSS, and undoubtedly those who will wish to diminish the gravity of the targeted attacks on RSS workers will try and place them in context. It has happened before. But the finality of death makes it hard to explain away these violent acts with context.

Silence may be the preferred response for many but in light of what can be seen as a murderous trend of intolerance against people associated with the RSS, it can be dangerous. Can the words of a senior leader like Ghulam Nabi Azad ricochet into violent acts? Can hate speech cloaked in the garb of even-handed condemnation be ignored? Could the equating of RSS with something as horrific as ISIS, foster extreme hatred, that may inspire extreme responses? As of now we are safe from ISIS. However the equivalence suggested by someone as respected as Mr Azad might bolster ISIS support, by creating a need to combat the “ISIS-like RSS”. Did Mr Azad forget so quickly, the welcome that Congress workers received at the RSS offices in Indore (a few weeks ago) at the end of their belligerent march to hoist the Indian flag? Let me remind him that they were welcomed with sweets. Would they dare march into ISIS controlled territory and expect the same response? So far the state has dealt with ISIS sympathisers by putting them through the rigours of the law of the land. Ishrat Jahan, only recently identified as a terrorist by senior bureaucrat after bureaucrat, still finds support from sections of civil society.

But the killings of RSS workers find little to no space in prime time debate or opinion pieces, or even tv news scroll bars. No grants from governments are forthcoming for the bereaved family. They are treated as non deaths. All of these are not essential reactions, but if one were to be even-handed about the right to life extending to all, whether we agree with the ideology of the murdered or not, then this spate of killings and targeted attacks on Sangh workers from Punjab to Kerala in such a brief period of time should cause alarm. But instead we hear silence. The calls for Prime Minister Modi to speak on this, have not been heard. The body count since February is now at three, the near fatal attacks two. The voices of those erased because of unadulterated hate have been silenced, not only by death but also by willful ignorance. But this silence will speak, it may exonerate the perpetrators from the “morality” of their actions but it does not erase the act of taking a life. It speaks in the loudest voice of all, one that cannot be silenced, that of the conscience.

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(The writer is an author, columnist and screenwriter)

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