Radicalisation is one of India’s major concerns. Kerala and Kashmir face this problem the most and the fight ahead is an extremely crucial one.

In this context an in-depth and interesting book, “Radicalisation in India-An Exploration,” has hit the stands. The book authored by Abhinav Pandya, a Cornell University graduate in public affairs, who also writes for India’s premier think-tank Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) is extremely well researched. It goes into the most intricate details of radicalisation especially in the state of Kerala and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

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Pandya took time off to discuss with MyNation, his book and the challenges of radicalisation that lie ahead of India.

Tell us something about your book.

This book deals with radicalisation in India. We had chosen Kerala and Kashmir as case studies and India’s former Research and Analysis Wing chief CD Sahay was my supervisor.

Why did you choose radicalisation as a subject?

We realised that radicalisation is a very sensitive subject. The narrative is a very polarised one. The moment we speak about the subject or the modernisation of madrasas, the issue becomes a very sensitive one. The book begins with a discourse on radicalisation. We have basically spoken about the definition of radicalisation in the book. The book also deals with the general scenario and how the Wahhabis are infiltrating the education system. It also speaks about the manner in which mosques are being built.

How far back does this problem of radicalisation go?

We have gone back into Indian history and realised that there were lone wolf attacks in the 17th century as well. We have charted out the historical course as well. We realised that when the Muslim elitists began losing power, they felt alienated.

What about radicalisation in Kashmir?

We found that in Kashmir, it was not just a political separatist movement. It is also an Islamist movement. They believe in political Islam and when they support a terrorist outfit, they also have propaganda on their mind. The situation today is pan-Islamic, and the Wahhabis are making huge inroads into Kashmir. People are being asked to refrain from secularism and democracy. It is a concerning situation and needs to be dealt with on priority.

What about Kerala?

In Kerala, we have discussed a lot of activities in the book. There is a historical background and one of them is the Gulf connect. The ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the Base Movement are all operating there now. We have also dealt with how the ISI is operating in Kerala and the other southern states through its network in Colombo. We have also spoken in detail about how to deal with this problem.

How is the threat level of radicalisation in Kerala?

The threat level in Kerala is very high. The local Islamic communities resist action against the Wahhabis.

Does the book also deal with de-radicalisation?

I have spoken about de-radicalisation at length. I have given a basic structure to the government of India on how to deal with the problem. I have taken case studies of England, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh and customised it to the Indian setting. I have given the concept of Islamic radicalisation. If a big mosque comes up, we need to find who is part of the management committee, the money aspect and also keep a tab on the people from a foreign land visiting it.

Tell us more about radicalisation in Kerala?

In Kerala we need to look at the history. Islam came through the sea routes. After that there is a strong Gulf connect. In Kerala, there is a very strong religious motivation. The youth have a firm faith in the Caliphate, and they believe that this is the real destiny of Muslims. They disconnect from the locals. The radicalisation in Kerala is more dangerous than Kashmir. In Kashmir you can still talk to people and if you negotiate there is a bargaining ground. In Kerala there is no perceived instance of discrimination, but the youth still tilt towards the Caliphate.

How is the traction for the Caliphate in Kashmir?

Kashmir is now turning towards the Islamist movement. The terrorists are openly talking about this. The public belief is not very high, but is it is increasing with each day. There is a genuine lack of outreach in Kashmir. There is already an environment of violence. Many have started believing that Islamic rule is a better model when compared to the democratic and secular set up.

Was it a good idea to abrogate Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir?

The abrogation of Article 370 was long overdue. They always say that 1990 is a watershed movement in Kashmir. But according to me, 2008 was a very important year. The stone pelting began that year and it was all done in a very organised manner. It has a very religious angle to it and people are told that they are stoning Satan. Had we not abrogated Article 370, it would have been de-facto surrender to the terrorists. However, while 370 was a much-needed decision, let us remember it is just the beginning. The terror infrastructure in Pakistan is very much intact. The financing is another issue and the NIA has done a great job, although it is only 10% complete. To solve the Kashmir issue, we need a 10-year road map.

What are your suggestions to counter radicalisation?

I would say that radicalisation is not a simple law and order problem. We have to understand that it is a problem deeply rooted in the mindset of the people. In South Kashmir, the biggest factor leading people to join terror activities is peer pressure. This has become a new normal. In fact, it is a social and cultural phenomenon. The Wahhabi preachers that I spoke with told me that there is no right to rebel against the master. We need a good counter narrative and the forces dealing with the issue need to have some level of expertise. We need to also differentiate between radicalisation and terrorism. People with credibility should appeal to the people. Shri Shri Ravishankar is very popular in Kashmir and he can play a major role. I still believe that the DNA of the Indian Muslim is to be receptive.

Would the modernisation of Madrasas help?

If you start teaching religion to children at the age of 8 and 10 years, there is a problem. They are of a very impressionable age. When we say modernisation, we do not mean that there should be computers in the madrasas or a digital black board. We must bear in mind that there are fringe elements who will look to target children at such an impressionable age. Let the religious education begin at the age of 18 or 20. I also feel that the students from the Muslim community must study along with children of other communities.

Is the problem of Love Jihad for real?

If we speak of Love Jihad, it should be from a strategic perspective. In the group of people who joined the ISIS from Kerala there were girls from other communities, who had converted to Islam. Al-Madani the spokesperson of the ISIS says one must go to any extent for jihad. Jihad is being interpreted in a wide manner. The Ah le Hadis openly propagates this concept. When Urmila Matondkar married a man from Kashmir, there were celebrations. These are subjects that need to be addressed. We need to focus on this and do more research on this subject.