AHMEDABAD: Police in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat faced widespread criticism on Thursday after staging an anti-terrorism exercise featuring “militants” dressed up as Muslims.
India Today reported on Thursday that video footage gained from a drill conducted in the town of Surat on Saturday showed ‘terrorists’ dressed in the traditional skull cap as it is known and widely associated with the Muslim community in India.
The exercise earlier this week was in preparation for a January 11-13 investment summit in Gujarat, whose speakers will include US Secretary of State John Kerry as well as Modi himself.
Modi, who is leader of the Hindu nationalist BJP, was chief minister of Gujarat during an outbreak of communal violence in 2002 which killed more than 1,000 people. Most of the victims were Muslims.
Kamal Faruqui of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board termed the mock drill “atrocious and highly condemnable”.
“It is profiling the Muslim community which is very bad. They should apologise, otherwise they should be taken to the court,” Faruqui told NDTV news channel.
The former ruling Congress party called the incident an act of religious intolerance by a “failed administration”.
Police initially tried to brush off the criticism, saying the skullcaps were used “to give them a different look”. But they later apologised for an “avoidable situation”.
“Mock drills were carried out in 10-15 locations. This should not have happened; it was an avoidable mistake. We assure you that if someone deliberately made the mistake, we will take action against them,” local plice chief Pradeep Sejul said.
Mehboob Ali Sufi Baba, Gujarat BJP’s minority cell president, said the incident only served to stereotype the Muslim community.
“This type of act sends a wrong message to the masses,” Baba said.
The incident comes after a series of events seen to be raising communal tensions in the country. Concerns about religious intolerance in secular India have grown since Modi came to power in May, fuelled by reports of Muslims and Christians being forced or induced to become Hindus far-right Hindu groups allied with the ruling BJP in mass conversions.
The events are called “homecomings,” with organisers saying they were reconverting people whose ancestors had once been Hindu.
Some of the Muslims converted in the city of Agra, though, later said they’d either been offered allurement to convert or threatened with violence if they did not.
The simmering religious issues have boiled over into parliament, with opposition lawmakers all but shutting down the legislature over charges that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had done little to stop the ceremonies.
Modi has been critised for not addressing the issue head-on.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2014.