||Last Updated: Nov 27, 2008 - 12:00:55 PM
The police investigation into the synchronised September 29 bombing
attacks in Malegaon, a city in the west Indian state of Maharashtra,
and Madosa, in the neighbouring state of Gujarat, has rattled India’s
The police have thus far arrested 11 people, while indicating that
others, potentially many others, may yet be implicated in what they
have termed an “extensive” Hindu-extremist terror network.
The arrested include a lieutenant colonel attached to the Indian Army’s
Military Intelligence Corps and a retired army major. Two of the
suspects, a Hindu sadhu (holy man) and a sadhvi (holy woman), have
long-standing and extensive contacts with prominent politicians and
businessmen. All of the alleged principals in the bombing plot have
ties to one or more of India’s major “Hindu-nationalist” organisations:
the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the official opposition in India’s
parliament, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, World Hindu Council), and
the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh or RSS.
The police have said that they are investigating whether those
arrested, or their as-yet-unidentified associates, are responsible for
other terrorist atrocities, including the 2007 Samjhuata train bombing,
which killed 68 people, most of them Pakistanis, travelling to Pakistan
The Malegaon bombing killed 5 Muslims and injured more than 80 others,
while the Madosa bombing resulted in one death.
Although the September 29 bombings clearly targeted Muslims—they were
set off near mosques—the police and press immediately blamed them on
Islamicist terrorists, and a number of Muslims were subsequently caught
up in a police dragnet.
But less than two weeks later, the Maharashtra state Anti-Terrorism
Squad (ATS) said it had uncovered evidence that the bombing attacks
were carried out by Hindu extremists and made the first in a series of
arrests. Initially, the ATS named the sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, who
was long active in the BJP’s student movement, as the mastermind of the
Later, the ATS arrested Lieutenant Colonel Srikant Purohit. He is now
said to have led the terrorist cell that carried out the Malegaon
bombing. He is alleged to have given military training to the other
suspects and, even more importantly, to have provided them with the
military-grade explosive RDX.
Purohit and retired army Major Samir Kulkarniand, who also helped train
the alleged bombers, are reputed to be the co-founders of Abhinav
Bharat (AB, Young India Society)—a fanatical Hindu-supremacist
organisation established in 2006 ostensibly to defend Hindus and fight
against their “oppression.”
RDX was used in the Malegaon bombings and several other recent
terrorist atrocities in India. Since RDX is very difficult to obtain,
its use has been cited by Indian authorities, until now, as proof that
those perpetrating the bombings must be from Islamicist organisations
with ties to Pakistani or Bangladeshi military-intelligence agencies.
Purohit’s arrest has shaken India’s military high command. It has
rushed to dismiss him as a single rogue officer. But there have been
repeated media reports suggesting several other current army officers
have been implicated in the terrorist plot.
Monday’s Indian Express reported that Purohit has implicated a serving
Indian Army colonel, and a television broadcast, later that same day,
claimed five army officers are being investigated for their links with
the Abhinav Bharat.
The November 12 arrest of a self-styled Hindu sadhu named Dayanand
Pandey has also caused considerable disquiet in the Indian
In pleading yesterday for a Mumbai court to authorise the continued
detention and interrogation of Pandey, a government lawyer said that
police have recovered evidence from Pandey’s laptop showing he had
several meetings with Sadhvi Thakur and Lt. Col. Purohit shortly before
the September 29 bombings. Special Prosecutor Rohini Salian claimed
that in a video clip on Pandey’s computer, he, “Sadhvi, Purohit and
other persons, whose name cannot be disclosed, are seen talking about
RDX, chemicals, hand grenades and training."
The head of a shrine in Kashmir, Pandey was, according to news reports,
frequently visited by high-profile politicians and businessmen.
The exposure of a Hindu-supremacist terrorist network has thrown the
BJP and its allies in the Sangh Parivar, a “family” of organisations
historically led by the RSS, into crisis.
Initially, the BJP tried to distance itself from the sadhvi Thakur, but
very quickly this gave way to a campaign aimed at discrediting and
derailing the police investigation.
The BJP has long hailed the ATS, denouncing as traitors anyone who
questioned, let alone criticised, its actions, including its frequent
use of mass arrests. India’s official opposition has also repeatedly
attacked India’s Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA)
government for rescinding the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which
among other things placed the burden of proof in terrorist cases on the
But in recent weeks, the BJP has suddenly found much wrong with the
ATS. The BJP has suggested that, under pressure from the government, it
is targeting Hindu holy people and other Hindus, demanded that it
immediately provide proof against the accused or let them go, and
trumpeted claims by Purohit and his associates that the police have
Bal Thackeray, the supremo of the Shiv Sena, a longtime ally of the
BJP, has forthrightly accused the ATS of framing the Malegaon bombing
accused. But he also said that if they did orchestrate the bombings,
they should be defended because such murderous attacks on Muslims are
Campaigning yesterday in Delhi, where state elections are soon to be
held, the BJP chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, accused the
Congress of maligning the military by imputing that it is involved in
terrorist activities. "What Pakistan was not able to do in the last 20
years,” declared Modi, “the Manmohan Singh government has achieved in
just 20 days. They have succeeded in branding our soldiers as
The exposure of a Hindu-supremacist terror network is extremely
damaging for the BJP not just because some of the accused have
long-standing ties to the BJP and/or its sister Hindu-supremacist
The BJP has long made clear that it intends to place at the centre of
its campaign in the next national election, which must be held in the
first half of 2009, the spurious charge that the Congress is “soft” on
terrorism. For years, the BJP has claimed that the UPA government will
not “crack down” on terrorism because of “vote bank politics”—that is,
its alleged fear of alienating Muslim voters.
Nor can it be ruled out that prominent cadres of one or more of the
major Hindu supremacist organisations could themselves be implicated in
the Hindu terrorist network. The VHP, RSS, and BJP all have a long and
bloody record of inciting violence against India’s religious minorities.
The Indian Express claimed earlier this week that Lt. Col. Purohit told
India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that VHP General
Secretary Pravin Togadia was instrumental in founding the Abhinav
The government has responded to the Hindu right’s vehement campaign in
defence of the accused in the Maleagon bombing with a series of
conciliatory gestures. After BJP prime ministerial candidate L.K.
Advani charged that the sadhvi Thakur had been “physically and
psychologically tortured” by police, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
arranged for Advani to receive a briefing from National Security
Adviser M.K. Narayanan.
In a further attempt to get the BJP-RSS leader “on side,” police have
reportedly revealed to them that Purohit’s group had plans to
assassinate one or more senior RSS leaders.
This could well be true. The Hindu right is a toxic and highly unstable
political movement. In recent years, the RSS and BJP, many of whose
senior leaders, Advani included, are lifelong RSS activists, have been
criticised, with increasing vehemence, by fellow Hindu supremacists,
including the VHP leadership. The BJP, for example, has been chastised
for not more aggressively pursuing key Hindutva causes, including the
building of a Hindu temple at the site of the razed Babri Masjid mosque
in Ayodhya and eliminating Kashmir’s special constitutional status,
when it led a national coalition government from 1998 to 2004.
If the Malaegon bombers did plot to assassinate RSS leaders it would
have been with a double purpose, with the aim of eliminating “traitors”
to Hindutva and providing a pretext for inciting violence against
Muslims, since such an attack would invariably have been blamed on
India’s corporate media and political and military-security
establishments have expressed shock at the phenomenon of
But this is only because they have been willfully blind.
Willfully blind because it has served their ends to present the problem
of terrorism in India as exclusively “foreign-born” and blind because
they do not want to acknowledge the extent to which the “world’s
largest democracy” has given rise to an aggressive Hindu communalism,
in which fascist elements flourish, and their own complicity in this
Evidence of the existence of Hindu-supremacist terrorists significantly
predates the events of September 29.
In April 2006, two leaders of the VHP’s youth movement, the Bajrang
Dal, were killed when a bomb they were building exploded in Nanded, a
city in southeastern Maharashtra. Four others injured in that explosion
later told authorities that the dead had been responsible for a series
of bomb blasts in 2003 and 2004.
In 2007, a further explosion in Nanded killed two people including a
Shiv Sena activist.
The Times of India, in a report published November 8, said that at the
time of the first Nanded explosion, police were provided evidence of
the extensive involvement of retired military and Intelligence Bureau
personnel in training Hindu extremists, but these ties were not
Even more importantly, there is the long record of Hindutvite-led and
inspired mass violence against religious minorities—violence that has
repeatedly demonstrated the Hindu supremacists’ willingness and ability
to perpetrate murder and terror. To mention only the two most notorious
examples: the 1992 razing of the Babri Majid mosque, which led to the
worst communal rioting since the 1947 partition of India, and the 2002
anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat, which killed some 2,000 and left a
further 100,000 homeless.
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