Updated: September 15, 2021 10:51 AM GMT
This file photo of March 1987 shows law enforcement officers checking packets after they have impounded a container with narcotic substance en route from Afghanistan to Canada via Soviet territory. A customs officer holds hashish briquets. (Photo: V. Antonov / Sputnik via AFP)
The credit for coining the word "narcotic jihad" belongs to a Catholic bishop in Kerala, the political homeland of communists, where Christians, Hindus and Muslims co-exist peacefully.
Bishop Joseph Kallarangattu of Palai has sparked a major row in the Marxist-ruled state by raking the twin issues of love jihad and narcotic jihad. While love jihad suggests that radical Muslims woo non-Muslim women to marriage, and to terrorism, narcotic jihad accuses hardline Muslims of operating drag syndicates to destroy young non-Muslims.
The bishop's statements coming in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan where the narcotics trade had flourished has made security agencies in India roll up their sleeves.
“They [radical groups] have realized that in a nation like India, taking up weapons and destroying others isn't easy and thus, they're using other means,” the bishop said.
The term love jihad has been used for over a decade in Kerala. In fact, this has turned into a major social malady with policemen in the state and various central agencies suggesting that the young women are also taken overseas and forcefully deployed in illicit work and often utilized for giving the ‘healing touch’ to Islamic terrorists.
The bishop has added a new aspect to the controversy with his term "narcotic jihad."
Muslims are predictably annoyed with him and marched to the house of the Bishop of Kottayam, Kerala, recently to register their protest.
State police under the government-run by the Communist Party of India (Marxists) have filed a case against him based on the complaint of a Muslim group.
Chief Minister Pinyari Vijayan also has criticized him.
A Muslim student group, Samastha Kerala Sunni Students Federation, asked the bishop to come up with evidence to prove his allegations.
Christians in Kerala as in the rest of India have their issues against Hindu fundamentalists, especially those either sympathetic to the BJP or that directly link themselves to the saffron political party headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other such Hindu organizations.
Issues related to the work of Christian missionaries and violent opposition to cow slaughter, beef eating and assaults on church leaders and priests from time to time have been bothering Christian society in Kerala and elsewhere in the country.
Therefore, to many, it’s an irony of contemporary socio-political history that a respectable bishop, heading a socially and politically significant diocese like Palai, is now speaking a language that echoes pro-Hindu leaders.
Several communist and Muslim leaders and intellectuals therefore readily vent opinion saying the bishop is only helping Hindu fanaticism in the country. Some see political connotations of BJP support in his statement.
But it is also worth mentioning that Christian bodies have also written to Union Home Minister Amit Shah seeking an inquiry into “planned and well-executed conversion activities after trapping girls from other communities."
The Christian Association and Alliance for Social Action based in Kerala said last year “The Left and the Right [Congress-led alliance] are competing to appease jihadists by covertly and overtly justifying the form of terrorism known as love jihad. We should not allow the jihadists to grow in their [Left and Congress] shadow. For that, we need to cut down the trees that provide them shelter".
“The bishop's remarks are part of a ploy to divide Christians and Muslims,” remarked Trinamool Congress leader Idris Ali in West Bengal.
This statement is also endorsed by a Delhi-based Muslim trader. "The BJP is trying to breach Kerala's secular fortress by taking the help of Christian priests and bishops," the businessman said.
On the other hand, Naga Christian politicians say the issue of Islamic jihadi elements trying to trigger major law and order problems and communal tension in the northeast is nothing new, and remains a concern.
Had these comments including the remarks from the bishop come a few months prior to the Kerala assembly elections, it would have been easier to relate the rhetoric to political one-upmanship of the heat and dust of electioneering.
But elections in Kerala were held only in April-May and the Marxist veteran leader Vijayan-led Left Front is back in power.
In the run-up to the polls, such rhetoric and statements and counter-statements went on for months.
PM Modi himself had referred to Biblical Judas and said "Judas had betrayed Lord Christ for a few pieces of silver ... just like that Left Democratic Front government has betrayed Kerala for a few pieces of gold."
At the time, Modi quoting Bible was interpreted as part of his effort to woo Christian votes for his party.
But now that the recent statement has come from someone considered "apolitical," there are voices from the rational school of thought who want to give importance to the remarks about the prevailing narcotic jihad threat.
“Muslims would do well to start soul searching. The bishop in question is not a political man. He has only vented his genuine concerns. It would be wrong to dismiss the remarks either as alarmist or something prejudiced to help BJP’s politics,” says political observer Ramakanto Shanyal in West Bengal.
Tom Vadakkan, BJP spokesman and a Catholic, also supports the bishop. "The intervention by the bishop is not just a wake-up call for his dioceses, it is the voice of the community who are victims of love jihad and the fallout of narco-terrorism. The cases of love jihad and drug abuse victims are ramping up."
There are reports that the gravity of the bishop’s statement is being analyzed and judged from the sense of timing by security agencies.
“To say that the narco trade is strongly related to Islamic terror groups is only to point out at the tip of an iceberg,” a federal Home Ministry official told UCAN on the condition of anonymity.
The recent development in Afghanistan has only alarmed countries such as Russia, Israel and even Iran that the narcotics trade would grow by leaps and bounds in the region, he said.
Indian officials believe narco money is already being used in the country to foment various anti-government and anti-national protests and agitation.
“The sad part is in most of these cases, those who oppose PM Modi are blinded so much by their dislike of him and the BJP, that they ignore where the financing is coming from,” said the official.
History has time and again served as a reminder that the perpetrators of violence — including some ultra-Left Maoist groups in India — often find themselves at the receiving end.
No movement, social or anti-national, can be sustained without considerable backing from moneyed resources.
The government officials say once the demonetization of high-value currency notes was announced in 2016 and the Covid-inflicted economic crisis during the last two years globally, things have dried up.
Some of these organizations including terror groups and sympathizers of militancy either in Kashmir, the northeast or Islamic groups in northern states are now desperate for funding.
The drug business is booming in India in various vulnerable states such as Punjab, Kerala, Goa, Christian-dominated northeastern states and hence the bishop’s statements merit being taken sincerely.
Even drug abuse in the film industries in Mumbai and southern states such as Karnataka make news from time to time.
Therefore, it is truly a correction time by law-enforcing agencies and social philanthropists. The government authorities at various levels need to coordinate and draw up strategies to deal with the new challenge.
But the problems as of today lie with the political class. They are the same old stuff banking on a well-known mechanism called the credit-seeking and blame-giving game.
There is simmering tension in many parts of India for several reasons and conflicts. In more ways than one, religious, multiple caste and ethnic groups conflict among themselves in various parts of the country. The alleged use of drug money by some organizations only reflects the complexities.
These remain a challenge but are just beyond the ordinary comprehension of policymakers and bureaucrats.