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Radicalisation in India, An Exploration: Where the author asks bold questions

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New Delhi, Nov 18: Radicalisation in India has been a key concern. The agencies, the government have rated this as one of the top problems.

The trend normally has been to view terrorism as a multi casual event. However, after 9/11, radicalisation, i.e. the belief in an extremist political or religious ideology has attracted the attention of counter-terrorism community across the world as one of the necessary causal factors of terrorism.

Radicalisation in India, An Exploration: Where the author asks bold questions

Radicalisation in India, An Exploration, authored by Abhinav Pandya is a fascinating read. Pandya, a Cornell University graduate in public affairs, is a policy analyst specializing in counterterrorism, Indian foreign policy and Afghanistan-Pakistan geopolitics. He has written for the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), a premier think tank of India in national security. For VIF, he has written critical papers on post-ISIS terrorism-scenario, terror- financing and the use of bitcoins in terror financing.

Pandya digs deep into the problem and covers almost every aspect of this menace called radicalisation in the 236 pages.

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To this date, there is no global consensus even on the definition of terrorism. The discourse on terrorism is still haunted by the old dictum of 'one man's terrorist being another man's freedom fighter'.

Overall, the trend has been to view terrorist violence as a multi-causal event- a result of several factors such as poverty, civil wars, ungoverned territories, unemployment, perceived marginalisation, human rights abuses, deprivation and an acute sense of injustices accompanied by a range of facilitating conditions that result in terrorist violence. However, after 9/11, Radicalisation, i.e. the belief in an extremist political or religious ideology has attracted the attention of counter-terrorism community across the world as one of the necessary causal factors of terrorism says Pandya.

Though radicalisation-based approaches have a significant presence in the current discourse on terrorism, there is also a tendency to knowingly avoid its exploration and elucidation, either out of the fear of wading into politically dangerous waters or due to lack of awareness and insight. However, it is increasingly being realised by the counter-terrorism community that the war on terrorism cannot be confined to the traditional domains of law enforcement, security and terror financing.

With the rise of AQ and now ISIS, Jihadi Terrorism has emerged as a phenomenon having strong roots in the theological discourse which is used to radicalise a potential terrorist either online or through in-person contact. Therefore, the war on terror or rather the engagement has to be multipronged, focusing on the role of theology and the psychological states which respond to such religious indoctrination. The efforts need to focus on preventing individuals from becoming terrorists. For that, one needs to begin with the study of the phenomenon of radicalisation caused by extremist religious discourse.

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Pandya says that the dominant trend in discourse on radicalisation-based approaches has been to argue that the phenomenon of radicalisation is a result of deprivation, poverty, corruption, ungoverned places, civil wars, and repression at the hands of state authorities, discrimination, marginalisation, human rights abuses, perceived sense of injustices, personal crises and the yearning for identity and a sense of belonging. The mainstream narrative downplays the role of the extremist Islamist ideologies such as Wahhabism, Salafism, and Deobandism in jihadi radicalization and terrorism.

Radicalisation in India:

Pandya through his book attempts to explore the phenomenon of radicalisation in India, where counter-terrorism approach has primarily focused on military and law-enforcement measures. The study of Islamic radicalisation has by far remained on the sidelines. While it is highly encouraging that even with the world's third-largest Muslim population, merely 104 youngsters have attempted to join ISIS from India, yet this may be a mere tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Most of the research work of the Indian scholars and policy specialists are focused on those individuals who got radicalised through online channels and attempted to join ISIS.

However, India and the other South Asian nations are going through a different kind of radicalisation that happens in the remote rural and urban areas of India through Tablighi activity and Wahhabi missionaries.

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Purportedly, these do not seek to destabilise the country or support terrorism, but in a very subtle manner, it nurtures extremism and separatist and exclusivist mindset. There is a strong need to study the contours of the above-mentioned ongoing radicalisation in India.

In several quarters, it is argued that there is no concrete evidence for direct linkages between Islamic radicalisation and terrorist violence.

However, the author. suggests that even if the idea of radicalisation is de-hyphenated from the central debate on terrorism, the menace still needs to be studied and tackled in its own right.

Because, even if one discounts the possibility of it leading to major terrorist violence, one cannot deny the fact that it generates a separatist, exclusivist, orthodox, rigid and a hateful mindset which is highly detrimental to the communal harmony and peace in India.

In a multicultural and multi-religious country like India, a vast mass of population getting under the sway of an extremist ideology can be extremely dangerous.

It is my earnest hope that this study will be beneficial in providing substantial insight into the phenomenon radicalization scenario in India and that it would be useful for further academic research on the subject. The objective is to strengthen the understanding of a complex phenomenon like radicalization having multiple aspects such as social, geopolitical, religious and political, of the senior and junior level police officers, intelligence officers, civil society groups and civil servants, in a highly simplified manner.

Further, the outputs of this study will be immensely useful in developing an effective counter-radicalisation and de-radicalisation policy which is within the context and relevance to the specific needs of India. The current global scenario in Jihadi terrorism strengthened in its capacity to influence young minds through social media and mass media has the potential to radicalize a large segment of our youth population. And, this can generate social unrest and be highly detrimental to economic growth and the democratic ethos of India. It is the right time to monitor, track and detect radicalization activities and neutralize their potential for disruption through an effective counter-radicalization strategy.

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It is hoped that the case studies will help in knowing the psychology of a terrorist's mind, involved pathways, and underlying networks both local and transnational, the influencing factors such as the social milieu, political and economic conditions and the role of the coordinators involved in the process. The study will also be beneficial to the legal fraternity in developing a robust legal apparatus to address the challenges of radicalization and terrorism.

From Kerala to Kashmir:

Pandya says that Islamist radicalisation in Kerala is multidimensional. For those with purely theological yearnings, religious lectures and classes are there providing justification for Jihad and caliphate.

And for young minds with intellectual yearnings and interest in political philosophy; JeI gives a political and Marxist framework to Jihad. For those young minds seeking thrill in technology and adventure, engaging social media content is there and for those weak and vulnerable young minds searching identity and anchorage, there is a strong infrastructure for conversions and indoctrination.

Stanford University's counter-extremism project, "Spiders of Caliphate" studied the social media networks of ISIS and found that in South Asia, there were two nodes of ISIS (Facebook community of ISIS followers) one in Afghanistan-Pakistan and the other one in Bangladesh. India is more or less missing in that network of nodes.

The counter-extremism project has concluded that ISIS cannot be called a success in India. The total number of Indians who subscribed to ISIS was minuscule. Even a small entity as the Maldives sent 200 fighters to ISIS. There was no large-scale sophisticated ISIS-led attack in India and not even a proper lone-wolf attack, typically characteristic of ISIS.

What hindered the progress of ISIS in India? An exploration will bring forth several reasons-

Firstly, it appears that ISIS did not accord the same level of priority to India and South Asia as was accorded to the Western and the Middle Eastern world. In Kashmir, the organization named ISJK (Islamic State in Jammu and Kashmir) existed but it did not find much traction.

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The core of Islamist ecosystem of Kashmir is today, constituted by hardline religious and fundamentalist organizations such as Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Hurriyat Conference, Jamiyat Ahle-Hadith (JAH), Tablighi Jamaat (TJ), Tahreek-ul-Mujahideen (TUM), and local-cum-Pak sponsored terrorist organizations like Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), Al Badr, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM, Islamic State of Jammu and Kashmir (ISJK), Ansaar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGUH), transnational terrorist groups like Al Qaida (AQ), ISIS, Pak-based 'charity' groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Pakistani establishment controlled by ISI.

The second layer comprises of mosques, social media, extremist literature, prisons, a vast network of Over Ground Workers (OGW), Gulf-based charities and individual donors, and Zakat collections, educational and charity institutions, lay followers, and cadres present in the state's institutions (academia, civilian administration, and the police forces).

Having reviewed the structure and nature of JI operations, it becomes clear that a successful crackdown on JI is a highly ambitious project. However, this course of action is still considered inescapable and is highly recommended, sooner the better. How often, has one heard the argument that Pakistan controls the militancy in J&K, which is true. Hence, we need to neutralize Pakistani's main instrument of terrorism in Kashmir and that is JI.

Final thoughts:

Radicalisation is an oft-spoken about a subject in India today. Pandya's book published by the Pentagon Press LLP is detailed and a much-needed one in the absence of any deep or concrete research on the subject.

After reading the book one could say that Pandya has covered almost every aspect and it is clear that his grip on the subject is remarkable. Radicalisation, politics, ideology, terrorism are all very complex subjects. This is where the author scores as he simplifies these issues with much ease, while also not losing track of seriousness of all these subjects. The book is bold and asks questions about the radicalisation in India.

To sum it, the book Radicalisation In India, An Exploration is a must-read as not many get the subject right incorrect perspective as Pandya does.

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