Gurukanth Desai is not “of Indian origin”

Suspected British jihadi must have used a Gujarati Hindu name to avoid suspicion

Soon after the British authorities released the names of nine suspected terrorists yesterday, most Indian media reports rushed to tell us [1 2 3 4] without a hint of doubt or uncertainty, that one of them was “of Indian-origin.” Given that there was very little time for them to do background checks, they just assumed that a person going by the name of “Gurukanth Desai” must be a person of Indian origin.

They didn’t even google him up.

If they had, they would have found that Gurukant Desai is actually the name of the lead character in Mani Ratnam’s 2007 movie Guru. Gurukanth is an unusual first name for a person with the surname Desai. Gurukanth Desai is also an unusual name in a list in which the others are Abdul Malik Miah, Omar Sharif Latif, Mohammed Moksudur Rahman Chowdhury, Shah Mohammed Lutfar Rahman, Nazam Hussain, Usman Khan, Mohibur Rahman and Abul Bosher Mohammed Shahjahan.

It should have raised eyebrows and, at the very least, a qualifier indicating that he might be of Indian-origin. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. [The Calcutta Telegraph was an exception]

It turns out—as I pointed out on twitter yesterday—that Gurukanth Desai, 28 years old and a father of three, is Abdul Malik Miah’s brother and of Bangladeshi origin. The Hindu Gujarati name, taken off a Hindi film, was probably adopted to ward off suspicion.

Apart from exposing lazy journalism in India, this episode is yet another indication that Indian embassies and consulates must exercise much greater care while issuing visas to people presumably of Indian-origin.

This is also disturbing because it might make visa applications and travel more difficult for the genuine Gurukanth Desais of the world, not least because it is impossible to prevent jihadis from assuming names like David Coleman Headley or Gurukanth Desai. This case is an argument against profiling based on religion, but where such profiling exists, a Mr Desai or Mr Singh might become a little more suspect. (This is not to say that there cannot be real jihadis of Gujarati Hindu origin, as the case of Dhiren Bharot/Abu Musa al-Hindi tells us. Rather, that such cases are exceptional and very rare.)

Tailpiece: A few years ago, friends of Shehzad Tanweer, one of the London 7/7 bombers, gave their names as “Sanjay Dutt” and “Shahrukh”…and the New York Times reporter didn’t get it.