First let me put this upfront — terrorism does not have any religion. What it often represents is a falsification of religious faith and doctrine. This perversion is not limited to religion alone; nationalists, revolutionaries and social conservatives, too, can take recourse to terrorism.
The arrival of Hindutva terrorism in India — via the Malegaon and Modasa blasts arrests — has been anticipated for some time now. Between 2003 and 2006, there have been several unexplained and unsolved bombings targeting Muslims in many small towns of Maharashtra. A blast took place at Parbhani’s Mohammadiya Mosque on Friday November 21, 2003, a blast at the Meraj-ul-uloom madarsa at Purna took place again on a Friday, August 27, 2004. On the same day, the Qadiriya mosque at Jalna was also the target of a bomb blast. On September 8, 2006, again a Friday, a bomb was planted near a graveyard in Malegaon on the day of Shab-e-Barat, when Muslims congregate to commemorate their departed. There were bigger strikes, too, which were not of the normal pattern because they targeted Muslims — the May 2007 blast at Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, the twin blasts at New Delhi’s Jama Masjid in April 2006, the blast at the Ajmer Sharif shrine in October 2007 and the Samjhauta Express attack of February 2007.
Pragya Singh Thakur, third from left with MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan left and BJP chief Rajnath Singh, foreground.
Direct evidence suggesting that Hindutva activists may be involved came from an incident at Nanded on April 6, 2006. A blast shook the residence of a retired irrigation department engineer and RSS worker, Lakshman Rajkondawar and led to the death of his son Naresh, and Himanshu Panse. The following day was Friday and it is believed that they were killed fabricating a bomb to be used on that day. Three others, Yogesh Vidholkar, Maroti Wagh and Gururaj Tuptewar, were seriously injured. Another injured, Rahul Pande, managed to flee from the scene of the explosion, but was arrested later.
The Kanpur blasts were more recent. Two men, Rajiv Mishra and Bhupinder Singh, were killed in what was an accidental blast at the Kalyanpur area of the city in August this year. Apparently they had been making bombs and had been associated with the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The police recovered some hand grenades, explosives and timers that the two were using.
In all these cases, police carried out some investigations and interrogated members of the Bajrang Dal, and other Hindutva bodies like the Hindu Jagran Manch, Sanatan Sanstha, Abhinav Bharti, and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti. In most cases the trail ran cold. Indeed, in the case of the September 2007 Shab-e-Bharat Malegaon blasts, the police came up with eight Muslim suspects and a “mastermind”, Shabbir Masiullah. However, in three cases — that of Ajmer, Hyderabad and the Samjhauta Express the police have not come up with any leads at all.
It was therefore somewhat surprising when, last week, the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Force came up with a strong case against Pragya Singh Thakur, Sameer Kulkarni and Ramesh Upadhayaya for carrying out the blasts in Malegaon and Modasa in Gujarat last month. Kulkarni and Thakur have been past members of the ABVP, the youth wing of the BJP. She had since taken sanyas and was a known Hindutva activist. Upadhayaya was a retired major in the army working at the Bhonsala Military School at Nagpur.
The investigation seems to be revealing a larger network of Hindutva activists in the Nagpur-Indore-Pune area who are grouped under various names and who, alarmingly, seem to have links with several serving and former members of the armed forces. For example, the Himanshu Phanse who had been killed in the Nanded blast of 2006 was also a trainer at the Bhonsala Military School. This school was founded by Dr B.S. Moonje, former president of the Hindu Mahasabha and a mentor of the RSS. The line of the investigation criss-crosses with the VHP, Bajrang Dal and the RSS at various points. But whether a single coherent picture will emerge remains to be seen.
There has been a lot of talk about the “root causes” of terrorism. In no case can a “root cause” excuse a terrorist act — because it invariably targets innocent men and children. But we must try and understand the roots of a phenomenon and address problems, if they can indeed be addressed. So what are the root causes of this Hindutva terrorism?
Michael Walzer once noted pithily: “First oppression is made into an excuse for terrorism, and then terrorism is made into an excuse for oppression. The first is the excuse of the far Left; the second is the excuse of the neo-conservative Right.” In the Indian case, the immediate root cause seems to be the perception that the state has somehow permitted Islamist terrorism to function unhindered. Since “Hindus” were dying, there was need to fight Muslims head on. Himanshu Panse has been quoted as saying that “We will be treated like hijras (eunuchs) if we don’t take action. Counter-attacks are the only way of avenging terror attacks.” Hindu “counter-action” is, in the minds of many Hindutva activists, justified by the many acts of Islamist terrorism.
Oppression alone is not the cause of terrorism, else we would have had many Dalit extremist groups in the country where we actually have none. Actually what is important is a perception of oppression and that is what united Hindu radicals with their Al Qaeda or Christian fundamentalist counterparts. Also, just what is oppressive is a matter of perception as well. The Saudis who carried out the Nine-Eleven attack were hardly oppressed by anyone, most especially not Osama bin Laden, a child of privilege in his society. But they had a sense of being oppressed by the modern world. In another context, Christian fundamentalists in the United States consider the right to abortion as oppressive and a deep affront to their beliefs.
For many Hindutva radicals, too, the complexity of the modern world has bred a sense of oppression. This is not to argue that real oppression does not provide fertile ground for terrorism. We only have to see the sad story of the Palestinian movement to understand that. Or, the current story of Islamist terrorism in India where oppression is definitely a factor in encouraging some young Muslims to take recourse to terrorism.
The root of Hindutva anger is deeper in history where they see Hindus as victims of Muslim invaders and their struggle as historical revenge against Babar, Aurangzeb, Mohammed Ghori and Mohammed Ghazni. If history were to be basis of contemporary policy, Dalits would never reconcile with upper caste Hindus and blacks would never forgive the whites in the US. The Indian Muslim of today is a national of the Indian nation created in 1947 whose organising compact was written in 1950. At that point the slate of the past was wiped clean.
Hindutva terrorism offers a serious challenge to the Indian state as it exists. But it is an even bigger problem for the BJP whose sheet anchor is the Hindutva movement.
Rajnath Singh may take comfort in his belief that no Hindu can be a terrorist. But clearly he does not understand the dynamics of religion in today’s world where Islamist, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist and Hindu radicalism are a fact and an ever-present and consuming danger.
The BJP believes that it can use the ultra-nationalist edge of this movement to gain primacy in the country’s politics. Actually if they succeed, it will mark the beginning of the end of the compact that has bound us as a nation till now.