Exodus rumours: Forget Pak, focus on hate-mongers in India

Two facts appear to have got conflated in Union Home Secretary RK Singh's remarks late on Saturday in respect of alleged incitement from within Pakistan in the context of the recent riots in Assam - and the 'exodus' from India's metropolitan cities of people hailing from the Northeastern States fearing threats to their lives in retaliation from aggrieved Muslims.

A careful parsing of Singh's words (you can watch the video clip of his remarks here) shows that he is talking about two different channels of disinformation that fuelled the rumour-mongering that triggered the mass migration of people from the Northeastern States. The first, for which he blamed Pakistan directly, relates to websites that carried gruesome images of mass deaths in other contexts (an earthquake in Tibet in 2008, and a cyclone in Myanmar also in 2008) and passed them off as deaths arising from the recent attacks on Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and on Muslims in Assam.

Representational image. PTI

Those images went viral on social media platforms and were used by Muslim leaders in India and elsewhere who were looking to radicalise their blinkered flock by feeding a virulent sense of Muslim victimhood (as Firstpost had noted here). Most of these websites were, as Singh noted, hosted in Pakistan, and have since been blocked in India. They may or may not have been directed at provoking Indian Muslims; after all, given Pakistan's own descent into the hell-world of jihadism, there are constituencies within Pakistan too that need to kept in a heightened state of paranoia with narratives that scream "they're butchering Muslims everywhere".

There were also other images from an attack on Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar some three months ago that were being passed off as from Assam during the recent riots.

To the extent that they were indeed used by Muslim community leaders in India to stoke a "third wave of radicalisation" among Muslims - as the hate-monger Asaddudin Owaisi said in Parliament the other day -  they were mischeavous. To indoctrinated minds that don't have the sense to see through such blatant disinformation, these are like taking matchsticks to explosives. Of course, Owaisi claims that he flagged the risk of a radicalisation because he wants to avert it, but given his record of venomous hate-mongering, that claim is disingenuous.

(In an earlier time, DMK leader M Karunanidhi too used to send out dog-whistle messages to his cadres to resort to violence - while appearing to be urging them to maintain peace. In his signed newspaper commentaries in his party paper, he would urge his cadres not to burn buses; they would promptly go out and burn buses.)

(To be fair, other sides too are just as guilty of  disinformation. A recent gruesome video depicting a crowd mercilessly beating up two victims to chants of Allah-ho-Akbar was circulating on YouTube and was being peddled as showing Bodos being beaten up by Muslims in Kokrajhar. Timely intervention from journalist Sadanand Dhume - who pointed out that the video was from Indonesia and from another time - called that bluff. The video has since been pulled from YouTube, but is indicative of the kind of mischief that is afoot all around.)

The other channel of disinformation that Home Secretary RK Singh  pointed to were the "bulk SMSes" that were circulated to feed rumours about imminent attacks on people from the Northeastern States who are living in cities across India. There is nothing to suggest from Singh's words that he was blaming Pakistan for those SMSes; the government has banned bulk SMSes for 15 days in order to pre-empt rumour-mongering , and while we may disagree with the reflexive resort to ban on channels of communication, it seems a stretch to say (as some media reports  and social media commentators have done) that Singh had claimed that these bulk SMSes had originated from Pakistan.

But, in equal measure, Singh's remarks were striking for what he did not speak of: the role of Muslim leaders in India, who have played a far more incendiary role in stoking Muslim rage and triggering violence in cities across India.

First, it was Mumbai, then we witnessed random attacks in Pune and Mysore - and warnings to people from the Northeastern States in Hyderabad and Bangalore to leave by Ramzan or face violence.

On Friday, a Muslim mob rioted in Lucknow - ostensibly to protest "attacks on minorities in Assam" (reports here and here).  But they also turned on mediapersons and beat up photographers - because, one of them claimed, one of the rioters in the Azad Maidan riot in Mumbai had been arrested after being identified on the basis of a newspaper photograph!

The violence in Lucknow came right after a speech by a local Muslim leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Waizi, who called upon the community to get ready for a bigger war.

All this is indicative of a blatantly political project to inflame Muslim passions and trigger communal polarisation. It is a very dangerous game, evidently calculated to provoke a response from the other side, which can further be used to feed the sense of Muslim victimhood.

For the Home Secretary and for political leaders in the UPA to not address this grave provocation from within our borders, but merely point to websites based in Pakistan, as being the source of the recent communal churn, amounts to a dangerous reluctance to confront reality.

Pakistan sure plays dirty on many fronts, but the roots of the minority victimhood politics that are being played in India currently may be closer to home than our leaders care to admit.