Gandhi causes uproar in India with terrorism claim

Congress president says ruling BJP's exclusion of minorities could give space to groups such as Islamic State
Gandhi causes uproar in India with terrorism claim

Congress president Rahul Gandhi addresses a public meeting in Hyderabad on Aug. 14. He has been criticized by the governing Bharatiya Janata Party for linking religious and economic exclusion to terrorism. (Photo by Noah Seelam/AFP)

A political storm has engulfed India after opposition leader Rahul Gandhi linked terrorism with the exclusion of minorities.

Rahul Gandhi, president of the Indian National Congress, told a gathering in Germany that the exclusion of young people from the development process could lead to the creation of terrorist groups such as the so-called Islamic State (IS).

"It is very dangerous in the 21st century to exclude people. If you don't give people a vision in the 21st century, somebody else will. And that's the real risk of excluding a large number of people from the development process," he said.

Gandhi hit out at the government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) during his Aug. 22 speech. He said the exclusion of Dalits and religious minorities from the government narrative had created a dangerous trend. "They [the BJP government] feel tribal communities, poor farmers, lower-caste people, minorities shouldn't get the same benefits as the elite," he said.

According to recent research by the Observer Research Foundation, an independent Indian think tank, the threat IS poses to India, and South Asia in general, is as real as it is for any other major region or state.

"This does not come from an organizational pattern from the so-called caliphate or [IS leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi himself, but the ecosystem that has been created that allows open-source access to IS as a brand, which is a powerful enough tool to make global headlines at the smallest incident, committed even by a petty criminal," the research concluded.

Gandhi's speech came against the backdrop of allegations from Christian and Muslim leaders that India's government tacitly supports Hindu attacks against their people. They also accuse the government of supporting a move to turn India into a nation of Hindu hegemony by subjugating lower-caste people.

In violence-scarred Jammu and Kashmir, a Muslim-majority state bordering Pakistan, youths have been waving IS flags during protests since 2014. IS has claimed responsibility for at least three militant attacks against police in Kashmir.

The Indian government has repeatedly claimed that IS has been trying to influence Muslim youths through social media, with several arrests made in this regard.

On July 1, a young man from Allahabad town told police that IS offered to pay him US$5,000 monthly to provide information on government Intelligence.

The BJP and its allies have condemned Gandhi for his speech in Germany and claimed it showed an "infantile understanding" of IS.

BJP spokesman Sambit Patra said the party was horrified to hear Gandhi "justifying the formation of IS in Syria" and issuing a veiled threat to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that if he fails to "give vision to India, then soon someone else (read IS) would give the vision."

BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said Gandhi and his party should stop encouraging terrorist organizations like IS and al-Qaeda in India. "I do not understand the meaning of this threat … if you do not do this, that will happen," he said.

However, Saleem Ahmad Khan, an Urdu columnist based in Uttar Pradesh, said Gandhi had only warned the government about the repercussions if minorities continued to be alienated. 

The Congress leader acted as a whistleblower and asked the government to rectify the wrongs, he said. "Instead of condemning Gandhi, the BJP should see if something was wrong with their policies."

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Hindus form 966 million or 80 percent of India's population of 1.3 billion. Muslims account for 172 million or 14 percent, while Christians comprise 29 million or 2.3 percent.

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