Mahabodhi blasts: Why our netas can't keep politics out

There is more than a touch of disingenuousness to Congress leader Digvijaya Singh's too-clever-by-half tweets that sought to politicise the blasts at the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya while simultaneously appearing to come across as high-minded. Like someone who has a good lawyer and knows the extent to which he can defame people without actually crossing the legal line, Digvijaya Singh sought to link the blasts to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's exhortation to Bihar BJP workers to teach Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar a lesson and to Modi's aide Amit Shah's pledge that his party was committed to building a Ram temple at Ayodhya.

"Is there a connection?" he wondered, and responded himself to say: "I don't know."

For a man who thinks nothing of shooting his mouth off - and whose comments have  frequently been "disowned" by his own party - that counts as a pretty lame response. It's as if,waiting for the "loose cannon" to roar thunderously, all we got was the piffling whimper of a blunderbuss.

Digvijaya Singh: too clever by half.PTI

Digvijaya Singh: too clever by half.PTI

Appearing on a string of late-night television talk shows, where he was accused of "politicising" the Mahabodhi temple blasts, Digvijaya Singh trotted out another limp defence. His tweets, he claimed, were intended as an ironical counter-point to BJP spokespersons' attempt to blame Islamist groups for the serial blasts at the iconic Buddhist place of worship. Noting that a connection had been sought to be made with the blasts and the massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar at the hands of hardline Buddhist leaders, he asked:"Aren't they suggesting a Muslim involvement without full investigation?"

But even here, Digvijaya Singh was being less than honest with the facts, and the motives in his case, particularly given his record of knee-jerk responses with many terror attacks in the past, point to the perverse playing out of politics.

The fact of it is that the Delhi Police did put out the information that interrogations of Indian Mujahideen operatives had yielded the information that the home-grown terrorist group had reconnoitred the Mahabodhi temple for a possible attack. Several rounds of alerts had been issued to the Bihar police.  It was this that the media - and BJP leaders - had highlighted and amplified to draw pointed attention to the failure in this case of law enforcement officials to act on credible alerts.

The cause of the investigation is, of course, not particularly well-served by idle speculation about the identity of the terrorists, but in this case, it wasn't just idle speculation. For Digvijaya Singh to establish a false equivalence between credible intelligence-based warnings specifically about the Mahabodhi Temple and his own cynical, motormouth indiscretions (even if they were carefully worded to suggest that he was only raising a legitimate question)  is  doubly disingenuous.

As diplomat and strategic analyst G Parthasarathy noted on a CNN-IBN panel discussion late on Monday, if names like that of the Indian Mujahideen keep coming up whenever terrorist incidents occur in India, there may be a compelling case for it. "We must," he added, "understand the world and the situation to our west." There is great turmoil in the Islamic world, which is being cleaved between the Shias and the Sunnis.  There is, in addition, a growing Salafi radicalisation in our region extending from Turkey to Indonesia, and India cannot remain unaffected, he noted.

Even the connection with Rohingyas, added Parthasarathy, had come about because of the incident last year in which Islamist groups had taken out a protest rally in Mumbai to condemn the killings of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.  "Across the border (in Pakistan), Shias are being slaughtered every day, and yet these groups picked on Myanmar killings," he added, pointing to the selective invocation of Islamist rage. And likewise, a radical organisation in Bangladesh that was targeting Buddhist and Hindu places of worship had received support and solidarity from Islamists in West Bengal.

Media groups and analysts like himself owed it to to the people to frame terror incidents in its appropriate context by giving the back story, Parthasarathy emphasised. That doesn't of course give the licence to target any community, but candour of discussions on national security issues required that the dots be connnected in a meaningful and responsible way, he added.

It is in this context that Digvijaya Singh's - and in a larger sense, the Congress' - establishment of false equivalences rankles. Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and his predecessor in that office, P Chidambaram, have in the past showed an excessive - and disproportionate - eagerness to sound off against "saffron terror" in order to score polemical political points that compromised the integrity of terror investigations. Shinde was compelled to eat his words, but as Digvijaya Singh's most recent comments show, the Congress still thinks it's fair game to fish in those muddied waters...