The role of Nizamuddin Markaz of Tablighi Jamaat in the early spread of COVID 19 in Bharat was quite thoroughly discussed in newspapers and news channels. The following events- how Indian and foreign Jamaatis hid for days in mosques, their defiance of authorities and misbehavior in quarantine/hospitals, and the fact that their leader Maulana Saad remains a fugitive- have attracted much public scrutiny. All right thinking people have condemned this uncivilised behavior.
An important part of he whole saga was the blatant misuse of tourist visas by some members of Tabhleegi Jamaat from other countries. These foreign Jamaatis were from 36 different countries including Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, among others. Many of these ran away from Markaz and hid in different districts of the country for days, ignoring repeated appeals by authorities for health screening. It is to be noted that according to govt rules, people coming on tourist visa in Bharat cannot participate in missionary activity. Indeed, a separate visa called Missionary Visa has to be taken for certain permissible missionary activities in Bharat by foreign nationals.
Too much leniency ?
The use of tourist visa for missionary activities, that Tablighi Jamaat is involved in, was thus illegal. The Crime Branch of Delhi Police apprehended and charge-sheeted 956 such foreign Jamaatis. Some foreign Jamaatis from Malaysia and Saudi Arabia agreed to a plea bargain and upon agreement by SDM (reports to state govt) and Delhi Police (reports to central govt), agreed to pay a small fine of Rs. 7,000 and Rs. 10,000 each respectively for walking out of the country as free men.
The main argument was that these foreigners had no role in organizing the meet and cannot be held responsible for the fiasco. The accused agreed to plead guilty for smaller charges and paid the fines. This has effectively paved way for their freedom. While the media is pushing nice sob stories in this case, I have a different take. This episode raises many questions on the wisdom of the course taken, specially whether a different, more favorable outcome for Bharat could have been obtained?
How could we have used this ‘opportunity’?
It is well known that Malaysia has given asylum to infamous Islamist Zakir Naik, who is a fugitive from Bharatiya law. He had fled from Bharat in the wake of Dhaka Cafe blast in 2016. He has inspired many terrorists, and terrorist attacks in different countries and defended terrorists like Osama Bin Laden. Recently, his name cropped up in Delhi Riots Case of 2020 and he is accused of financing the riots. Clearly, he is a high value target for Bharat and his freedom is detrimental to national security. Having 122 Malaysian Jamaatis, the government could have made an effort to put pressure on Malaysia to extradite him or come to an informal understanding with Bharat to have him caught.
In case of Saudi Arabia, we should have had a far simpler objective : get Bharatiya prisoners convicted under draconian Saudi blasphemy laws back. Consider the case of Vishnudev Radhakrishnan. On June 7, 2018, Vishnu, who had been working in Saudi Arabia for six years, was arrested by the police there for ‘misusing social media’.
Apparently, Vishnu Dev had befriended a Muslim woman from London on Twitter. “During one of their conversations on Twitter, the woman spoke something against Lord Shiva. To counter her argument, he tweeted something against prophet Mohammed and asked if her god is merciful, why were Yemen schools bombed,”. He also criticized the Saudi legal system. This was enough to get him 10 years in prison and a fine of Rs. 30 lakh! Vishnu has already served 2 years in jail and Bharat could have bargained for his freedom in exchange for freedom of Saudi nationals.
It is not as if these things are unheard of international relations. Prisoner exchange is common enough and we note multiple much exchanges in case of Bharat-Pakistan and Bharat-Sri Lanka. Israel and Palestine also do it frequently. US and USSR did it frequently during the cold war. Bharat has made quid pro quo deals to protect its interests too. In 2018, Christian Michel James, an accused in the VVIP Augusta Westland Chopper scam was brought to Bharat from UAE. The succeeding months saw many fugitives from Bharatiya law, including ISIS members, brought back to Bharat from UAE. It is alleged that it was due to Bharatiya govt’s help to UAE in returning a runaway princess.
The lack of a pro-activeness has marked the Bharatiya internal security and defence establishment for long. It may also indicate a lack of coordination or misdirected priorities. The primary objective of any nation is the security of its nationals. Unless we have a set of well defined objectives and individual targets under those objectives, we will continue to obtain sub-optimal results from perfectly good opportunities.
If we want the world to respect us, we have to send an unambiguous message for any breach of our sovereignty by a foreign national, and learn to use each and every bargaining chip in a hard-nosed manner.
Another worthy question to ask at this point is: will Indian Jamaatis like Maulana Saad also escape justice by just paying Rs. 7000 as fine, after accepting some minor charges? After all, you cannot negatively discriminate against people of your own country! This plea bargain establishes a precedent and it would be interesting to see how this issue is dealt with in future.
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