Ushering in the New Year with expressions of hope and resolve about how India might initiate domestic reform and follow that up by promoting world peace one wrote among other things: “As the only nation in the world where the Sunni and a sizable Shiite communities live in peace and harmony India’s Muslim leaders can play a unique role as peacemakers in the Middle East as they mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran.”
I had earlier pointed out with some pride how the Sunni-Shiite rivalry has been contained in India unlike in other parts of the world. Even in neighbouring Pakistan terror and killing between both sects is frequent. I traced India’s unique relationship that exists between Sunni and Shia to the traditional Hindu way of life which is markedly different from the nonsensical fundamentalist version of Hinduism propagated by a fringe element. However, I was perhaps indiscreet because I wrote that too soon.
A short while later during last week there was violence between Sunnis and Shiites in Lucknow. Last Wednesday night a sectarian clash between the two communities broke out in the city’s old quarter resulting in firing causing the death of two and injury of nine. The immediate cause of the clash was the tension between two rivals dealing in the real estate business. One of them belonged to the ruling BSP party and was a former member of parliament.
But was this violence purely the result of a business rivalry or was it ignited by vested interests representing hostile foreign powers? Communal riots are replete with examples of vested interests fomenting violence. Fifth columnists are most adept at exploiting genuine grievances and igniting violence. Most often the participants in the violence remain ignorant of whose interest they really serve.
It is acknowledged fact that the Sunni-Shiite violence in Pakistan is actively promoted by rival Middle East powers. Might it be that foreign powers are turning their attention to India where a sizable Shiite community uniquely lives in peace with their Sunni brethren?
Lucknow’s Assistant DG of Police (Law and Order) Mr. Arun Kumar told media that the police knew the reasons for the clash but he did not elaborate. According to one police officer the riot was unusual because the attackers had obviously come prepared and knew who they wanted to target. Without being alarmist would it not be prudent for the leaders of Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities in India to become alert and intervene to ensure that such clashes do not spread? Should not security agencies also probe the matter fully to ensure that subversion by foreign powers is not at work? There would be no dearth of hostile foreign forces eyeing Sunni-Shiite accord in India with disfavor.
That such alarm is not too fanciful becomes clear from what Shiite leaders themselves seem to indicate. A protest demonstration against terrorism and the beheading of our soldiers on the border was organized by the Shia community in Delhi last Sunday. The leader of the demonstration, Mr. Qamar Rizvi, said:
“Over 2000 innocent persons have been killed in Pakistan over the last twelve months by extremists. And now it seems the patrons of the same extremist ideology have opened their violent campaign in India as well. We vehemently oppose it.”
After the terrorist attack in Baluchistan which cost 100 Shiite lives, followed by the recent clash in Lucknow, Mr. Rizvi’s allusion seemed obvious. The significance of Sunni-Shiite accord in India should not be minimized. Our incompetent government does not know how to exploit this advantage for promoting global peace. But would not hostile foreign powers with a different agenda recognize its potential and try to nip it in the bud?