Yesterday, fearing clashes, Tamil Nadu banned a rally by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Indian government recently banned the Popular Front of India for five years and arrested about a hundred of its members. Constant use of anti-terrorism legislation could fuel extremism.
Milan (AsiaNews) – Yesterday, Tamil Nadu banned a rally by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)[*], a Hindu radical group, even though it was authorised by the Madras High Court a week ago.
The ban comes just days after the Union (federal) government in Delhi banned for five years the Popular Front of India (PFI), a radical Islamist group, under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
At least 20 violent incidents were reported in the last two weeks in Tamil Nadu involving members of the two organisations, an unidentified state official told the Indian Express.
“While PFI and RSS are two sides of the same coin except for their religious identities, there is also a huge battalion of parties preparing to protest RSS rallies, so we have denied permission for protests for other parties too on October 2,” the official explained.
Without the ban, there will be “serious law and order problems if there are rival groups holding rallies and processions clashing with each other.”
This follows a large-scale operation by the central government against the PFI, with the arrest of a hundred people linked to the organisation and the Indian Social Democratic Party, the Front’s political arm.
Created in 2007, the PFI in a few years morphed into a radical and violent organisation. In 2010 a group of fanatics used an axe to chop the hand of a Catholic teacher in Kerala, for allegedly making derogatory comments in class against the prophet Mohammed.
In 2015, 13 PFI members were jailed, but until Wednesday, no state government had gone after the group despite allegations of activities related to terrorism. In June of this year, members beheaded a Hindu man in Rajasthan.
The “PFI is involved in several criminal and terror cases and has a complete lack of respect for the country’s constitutional authority. With money and ideas from outside the country (i.e. Pakistan), the PFI has become a major threat to the country’s internal security,” the Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement.
For the authorities, the Front is also linked to foreign terrorist groups like the Islamic State. In addition to the five-year ban, they froze its bank accounts and seized its assets.
The PFI accepted the decision, but accused the government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party, of creating “a climate of terror”.
Meanwhile, some members of the Congress Party yesterday called for the banning of the RSS, a fascist-inspired Hindu organisation created in 1925. Often described as a paramilitary force, its aim is to spread Hindutva, Hindu ultranationalism, promoting the superiority of Hinduism over other religions.
After India’s independence, the RSS was banned on three occasions: the first time in 1948 after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination by a RSS member, again in 1975 and then in 1992 during times of high political tensions.
Modi himself belonged to RSS in his youth and many consider the BJP its political expression since the movement claims that India is threatened by the presence of a Muslim minority (200 million people or 14 per cent of the population). Some Hindus recently accused people protesting the crackdown against the PFI of chanting pro-Pakistan slogans.
Increasing sectarian violence is spilling over into the country’s politics, pitting extremism against extremism, a situation aggravated by anti-terrorism legislation (UAPA) adopted by the central government a few years ago.
Critics have repeatedly blasted the central government for using the law to suppress dissent and muzzle activists and journalists who criticise the BJP's actions.
The law itself was used against Fr Stan Swamy, the 84-year-old Jesuit who fought for tribal rights and died last year in detention.
Since 2014, the year in which Modi became prime minister, the number of terrorism cases shows an overall growth: 976 in 2014, 897 in 2015, 922 in 2016, 901 in 2017, 1,182 in 2018, 1,226 in 2019 and 1,321 in 2020. Last year, however, the number dropped to 814.
Since 2019, the law has given Delhi the power to act against individuals with lack of evidence. But only 2.2 per cent of all cases reported between 2016 and 2019 ended with a conviction.
India is in a flux, but one thing seems certain: failure to distinguish between a real threat to internal security and legitimate dissent is fuelling radicalism – putting protests on hold may prove insufficient in reducing tensions.
[*] National Volunteer Organisation.