As if to show that Hindu extremism too is alive and well, the Shiv Sena of Mumbai followed up the Islamic fundamentalist Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen's (MIM) attack on Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen by ransacking the offices of Outlook magazine for depicting Sena chief Bal Thackeray as a villain.
The purpose of both the Muslim and the Hindu hooligans was the same: to terrorize their critics into silence by taking the law into their own hands. In doing so, they were merely following the example of those of their ilk who had recently vandalized an art gallery in Vadodara for displaying a painting that allegedly offended the religious sentiments of both Hindus and Christians.
The leading role in the Vadodara outrage was played by supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its affiliates like the Bajrang Dal, whose earlier attacks on galleries showing M.F. Husain's paintings have forced the celebrated artist to flee India and live in exile in London.
Taslima Nasreen too is living in exile in India because of the threats to her life by fanatical Muslims in Bangladesh.
If organizations such as the MIM, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and others have remained unrepentant about their violence, the reason is the tacit support they receive from the supposedly 'secular' parties.
For example, one of the first acts of the Congress government of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy in Andhra Pradesh was to book the Bangladeshi author for outraging the sentiments of her co-religionists even as her assailants were roaming free in Hyderabad.
The reason for this curious act of punishing the victim in lieu of the culprits was the Congress' apparent belief that the average Muslim man-in-the-street was angry with the controversial writer for her comments on the plight Muslim women.
An allied reason was the Congress's reluctance to offend the MIM, which has a few pockets of support among the orthodox Muslims. It is evident that with the intensification of political competition in the present age of coalitions, no party can afford to alienate even a marginal outfit like the MIM.
That even the Left is not immune to this phenomenon of appeasement is evident from its reluctance to press the central government to accept Taslima Nasreen's request for Indian citizenship. The reason is the Salman Rushdie-type fatwa issued against her by a mullah (Muslim cleric) in Kolkata.
It is not surprising that in this atmosphere of capitulation to bigotry and militancy, one of the first comments of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad was his condemnation of both Taslima Nasreen and her assailants.
Even though some of the assailants were finally arrested before being released on bail, it is a safe bet that their cases, apart from dragging on for years, are unlikely to end in a conviction simply because witnesses to the incident will either not be unavailable or will turn 'hostile' by retracting their statements, obviously under political and police pressure.
The same story is expected to be repeated in Mumbai as well. And even if some of the Shiv Sena activists are arrested and even convicted, the masterminds behind the scene will remain untouched.
Such a course of events can be predicted because of the signs that the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which is an ally of the Congress, are not quite the inveterate enemies they pretend to be. Not long ago, none other than Thackeray expressed the view that he wouldn't mind if NCP leader Sharad Pawar, the agriculture minister in the Manmohan Singh government, became prime minister.
Besides such evidences of coziness, it is possible to guess from Thackeray's virtually unassailable position, despite his reputation as godfather and references to his complicity in the Mumbai riots of 1991-92 in the Srikrishna Commission report, that no government, whether the Shiv Sena's and the BJP's in the mid-90s, or the Congress's and the NCP's at present, can dare to touch him.
While the turning of a blind eye to such violations of the law could have been expected from a Shiv Sena-BJP government, the virtually identical stance of the Congress and the NCP suggests that these two 'secular' parties are equally unwilling to nab him for fear of offending the Hindus.
There is little doubt that such cynical acquiescence in the lawlessness of the extremists is responsible for making the anti-social elements believe in their invulnerability.
Interestingly, while the Shiv Sena and the BJP can be expected to act against the Muslim goons, given the anti-minority world-view of these two parties, the Congress (and the NCP) will hesitate to act against either the Muslim or the Hindu miscreants.
It is only now, a decade and a half after the event, that the Maharashtra government of the Congress and the NCP has reluctantly bestirred itself after being prodded by the Supreme Court to implement the recommendations of the Srikrishna Commission against the police officers guilty of inaction during the riots or connivance with the rioters.
Again, the similarity between what happened in Maharashtra under the Congress and the NCP and in Narendra Modi's Gujarat after the 2002 riots is obvious.
Yet, the Maharashtra government was far more active in the matter of banning a book on Shivaji by James W. Laine after an attack by Sambhaji brigade, a Marathi Hindu group, on the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune, where the American scholar had conducted his research.
The government's response was in line with the attitude of the fundamentalists. There was no sign of this 'secular' administration demonstrating the spirit of liberalism and intellectual freedom.
As long as the distinction between the 'secular' parties like the Congress and 'communal' parties like the BJP remains hazy, extremists of all hues will have little to fear.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com)