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Why the mainstreaming of Umar Khalid is scary and the need to restore sanity by drawing a line in the sand

We need to restore sanity by drawing lines in the sand. It’s okay if the extreme left is defined by people such as Ram Guha or Shashi Tharoor. But the fringe, consisting of Yakub Memon, Umar Khalid, Afzal Guru, Burhan Wani, Vernon Gonsalves or Varavara Rao must not be allowed to become mainstream.

As a practical matter, anyone who is accused of a crime has to appear before three kinds of courts. The first is the court of law, which is, of course, the only legitimate one. The second is a court of elite opinion made up of “eminent” people: academics, intellectuals, journalists and such. In other words, people in positions of privilege, whether earned or inherited. The third is a court of general public opinion, where all of us get to say.

Now, the court of law has to proceed slowly and very carefully. And the court of general public opinion delivers its verdict only once every five years. As such, this gap is filled by the court of elite opinion. At the moment, with a range of “eminent” personalities coming out in favour of Umar Khalid, he is winning this circuit hands down.

I cannot tell you if Umar Khalid is guilty or innocent. However, I can tell you that the mainstreaming of Umar Khalid and other elements like him is absolutely terrifying.

Who is Umar Khalid? He first surfaced around 2016 as an apologist for Afzal Guru. Just listen to him speaking on Times Now here.

Remember Afzal Guru? He was a terrorist who was executed in Feb 2013 for his role in the attack on Indian Parliament in 2001. Not that it should matter, but his execution, as well as most of his trial, happened under the UPA government of Sonia Gandhi.

As with anything to do with terrorism, a small club of fringe elements sprang up around the issue, spreading conspiracy theories. It consisted of pathological anti-India elements like Arund**ti Roy, radical Islamists, JNU “students” with nothing better to do and the like. Nobody took them very seriously. They were the fringe. Whether left, right or centre, nobody in mainstream politics would have anything to do with them.

How did that change? How did someone like Umar Khalid become mainstream?

Here is Umar Khalid’s tribute to Hizbul terrorist Burhan Wani.

I don’t care if I fall as long as someone else picks up my gun and keeps on shooting. These were the words of Che Guevara but could have just been Burhan Wani’s too”


Burhan wasn’t scared of death, he was scared of a life lived in subjugation. He detested it. He lived a free man, died a free man …..”.

In case you missed it, we are talking here about Burhan Wani, a commander of the dreaded terrorist organization Hizbul Mujahideen. Whether or not you think Umar Khalid belongs in jail, he certainly does belong to the madhouse.

But today, they speak as if Umar Khalid isn’t fringe. When did supporters of Hizbul Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba become mainstream? Where is this country going?

Umar Khalid is not the only example of this phenomenon. Take Sharjeel Imam, another hero of modern Indian liberalism. A man who asked for the Northeast to be cut off from India. Now, India has never had a clear free speech law and therefore those who say outrageous things (on any topic) have often found themselves in jail.

Five years ago, Sharjeel Imam would have gone to jail and nobody would have cried for him. But today, the liberal media has come up with long-winded excuses about why he should be excused for saying what he did. Sharjeel is a man who wants thousands of portraits of Jinnah across this land to inspire Muslim youth. Incidentally, Sharjeel rails against liberals who wanted Muslims to vote for Kanhaiya Kumar in Begusarai Lok Sabha seat instead of the RJD candidate Tanvir Hasan. He asks how Muslims could be expected in good conscience to vote for a non-believer.

Sharjeel Imam despises liberals. The liberals love him. How did it come to this?

Some 15,000 people showed up to pay last respects to Yakub Memon, a terrorist executed for his role in Mumbai serial blasts. Leading national newspapers covered it as if it was the final journey of a hero. How did it come to this?

It’s not only the radical Islamist fringe that has become mainstream. The radical Communist fringe has enjoyed a similar welcome into the mainstream.

In Aug 2018, the Congress party’s official handle spoke up against arrests of a bunch of “activists.” Among the activists was Vernon Gonsalves, a man who had been convicted under many sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. Again, his arrest, trial, sentencing and jail term had happened entirely under the rule of Congress party, both at the Center and in Maharashtra. Yet, five years after he was released from jail, the Congress official handle made him out to be a hero.

Then, there is Varavara Rao, currently lodged in jail. He has been arrested multiple times under Congress govts as well. But today he is another hero of Indian liberalism. How did the mainstream come to embrace a man who supports “azaadi” for Kashmir, Hyderabad and the North East?

Remember how Dr. Singh had called left wing terror the greatest internal threat to India?

Seen through the prism of Indian liberalism in 2020, the government of Dr. Singh, under the control of Sonia Gandhi, now sounds like it was right wing.

So what happened? What happened is a spectacular failure of the Congress Party to keep its ecosystem together. If you look at the list of “eminent” people defending Umar Khalid, the mutually back scratching elites signing themselves with the names of their famous dads and moms, great granddads and great grandmas, these elites would never have come to BJP anyway. They belonged as friends of the Congress, the traditional party of zamindars.

But after the 2014 election, the Congress party collapsed. It’s intellectually void leadership could not give a home to the intellectual zamindars of the world. This left the field open for fringe elements such as Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam and Vernon Gonsalves to take charge.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, its nuclear weapon stockpiles were left scattered all across their fallen empire. Rogue states from all over the world seized on the opportunity: Pakistan, North Korea, Iran, etc. Everything, from jobless Soviet nuclear and bio weapon scientists to stores of highly enriched uranium, fell into the wrong hands. We are witnessing the political equivalent of that.

We need to restore sanity by drawing lines in the sand. It’s okay if the extreme left is defined by people such as Ram Guha or Shashi Tharoor. But the fringe, consisting of Yakub Memon, Umar Khalid, Afzal Guru, Burhan Wani, Vernon Gonsalves or Varavara Rao must not be allowed to become mainstream.

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Abhishek Banerjee
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or may not be an Associate Professor at IISc Bangalore. He is the author of Operation Johar - A Love Story, a novel on the pain of left wing terror in Jharkhand, available on Amazon here.  

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