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Rahul Gandhi needs to ask himself how he wants to frame secularism: in terms of fear or hope.
Rahul Gandhi's claim in Indore on Thursday, that Pakistani intelligence agencies have approached young Muslim men who lost members of their families in the communal violence in Muzaffarnagar, is troubling — and not just in the way Gandhi intended it to be. Surely, intelligence inputs of such a sensitive nature are not to be bandied about in this manner? It seems immature at best, and irresponsible in fact, to turn them into a throwaway line for an election campaign speech. And then, there is the question of how Gandhi came by this information. According to Gandhi, an unnamed intelligence officer who met him a few days ago told him so. The implication here — that has unsurprisingly been seized upon by the opposition BJP — is that the Congress vice president is or has been briefed by India's intelligence agency or agencies. Why should a party functionary, who is not part of the government, and one who incidentally loses no opportunity to paint himself as the outsider to the system, if not its rebel, have that power and privilege? The Indore revelation gives fresh ammunition to those who accuse Gandhi of exercising power without responsibility.
Gandhi's assertion is disturbing at another level. It panders to and borrows from a political idiom he strenuously seeks to repudiate. In painting the riot-ravaged Muslims of Muzaffarnagar, still grappling with fear and displacement as they huddle in relief camps, as potential recruits to jihad, Gandhi ends up recasting the victims as suspects. This is terribly unfair. By all accounts, terrorists have indeed invoked the 2002 riots in Gujarat and the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 as twisted justification for their acts. But in not drawing a clear line between the community and its fringe, and in fact in blurring the distinction between the two, Gandhi's words go against his own protestations of principled secularism. In today's context, the challenge for the true secularist, as for the right-thinking citizen, would be to dispel the grotesque associations between the Indian Muslim, Pakistan and terrorism. By suggesting that an insecure minority might be a dangerous minority, Gandhi, on the other hand, appears to be reinforcing the stereotype.
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