Disturbing and appalling scenes have been unfolding on television screens across the country in the last few days, with the discovery of hundreds of coronavirus cases spread by members of the Tablighi Jamaat, who attended a religious congregation at Delhi’s Nizamuddin Markaz. Now that there has been an explosion of sorts in cases triggered by this particular meeting, several questions arise, one of which is how a gathering totalling 12,000 people over a period was allowed to take place at a time when the coronavirus crisis is raging across the world. And that too in a confined space in the heart of the national capital, less than 10 kilometres away from the country’s power hub! In a move that is akin to locking the barn door after the horse has bolted, 960 foreigners have been blacklisted by the Ministry of Home Affairs for their involvement in Tablighi Jamaat activities while on tourist visas. Why is it that this influx of apparently radical preachers, mainly from coronavirus-affected countries that reported outbreaks after similar meetings, did not attract the attention of the authorities? Why is it that the area police station, which is located right next door to where this two-day event took place, did not realise that blatant violation was taking place of the directives issued by the local government about any such gatherings being illegal? In fact the police have a lot of answering to do as to why their feedback mechanism from the ground is not working. Why is it that the local thana was not able to red-flag a potentially problematic situation at the first sign of trouble? In this context, reference can be made to the riots in Northeast Delhi in February. The sheer scale of preparations that had taken place for the riots, right under the nose of the Delhi police, left many asking questions about the quality of beat policing. The police and the various investigating agencies always have a network of informers working on the ground for them. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that something is amiss somewhere when it comes to informers that the police have among the minority community, so much so that the channel of communication seems to be choking up. This needs to be remedied on a war footing, for a section of the community, especially some youths are prone to coming under the malign influence of radical clerics for socio-economic reasons and can pose a security threat to the country, apart from giving a bad name to a particular community for no fault of the vast majority of its members. By what the Tablighi Jamaatis are doing (indulging in the most outrageous behaviour even in centres where they have been quarantined) it is obvious that they are radical Wahhabis who have been indoctrinated for years into believing that they are a superior species compared to the rest of humanity and that their belief system is so powerful that the coronavirus can do nothing to them—in fact it is a conspiracy to divert them from their path of “righteousness”. There is no doubt that they are fanatics who are a threat to civilised society, for they are preachers whose job is to spread their extreme ideology to different parts of the country, and the world, and bring the gullible into their fold. There is a very high possibility that these radical extremists are beyond repair—irredeemable. They are not people who can be reasoned with. In fact all of them should be made to participate in deradicalisation programs to help them come out of the web they have spun around themselves. Even otherwise the way they flouted all guidelines and misbehaved with the police and hospital staff calls for some jail time. In fact, even if the government does not ban the organisation, it should consider taking serious action because Tablighi Jamaat has some dubious links and is leading a section of the youth of a particular community astray. In this context it must be mentioned that some serious misinformation campaign is going on against the government’s efforts to contain Covid-19 by mischievous elements, a campaign that is playing on the fears and insecurities of some within the minority community in particular, resulting in serious law and order problems. These are trying times and all lines of communication must be open, especially to ensure universal participation by the citizenry in the battle that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is leading against the spread of Covid-19 in what will soon be the world’s most populous country.

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