By Sultan M. Hali
A large number of Indians are in a state of denial and refute the existence of Hindu terror networks and Hindutva. Let us briefly examine this phenomenon, which is based on extremism. Hindutva is a nationalist ideology, based on a modern day version of centralized intolerant Hinduism. It has nothing to do with the historical tradition of spiritual practices in Hinduism. This centralized and chauvinistic Hinduism—Hindutva—has been brought to the fore front today by a group of political organizations called the "Sangh Parivar " (Sangh Family) – consisting of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers Association – the mother organization after which the label Sangh Parivar is coined), the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People Party – Hindutva constitutional front that fights elections etc.), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP – World Hindu Council – the formation’s activist front), the Shiv Sena (the fascist front), the VHP of America (Hindutva’s overseas arm) and the Hindu Students Councils (VHP of America's student wing).
Many Indians are now awakening to the factor of Hindutva because of the reality of terror attacks on their own soil. Besides the Sangh Parivar mentioned earlier, another group is emerging to the fore. It is ironically named Abhinav Bharat (Modern India) and the other Sanatan Sanshtha (Eternal Organization), which carried out explosions in several places across the country. Prominent among them were two blasts in Malegaon in Maharashtra state in 2006 and 2008; an explosion targeting the Samjhota Express that runs between India and Pakistan in 2007 in Haryana; a blast in the Sufi shrine of Ajmer Dargah in Rajasthan in 2007; and a blast in a mosque in Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh in 2007. Collectively these five attacks claimed the lives of at least 126 civilians, mostly Muslims. Investigations into all these attacks reveal the details of the meticulous planning that went into them. They were carried out by a compact group of men and women, ostensibly to take revenge for alleged ‘Muslim terror acts’ against India. A member of the Abhinav Bharat, a serving colonel in the Indian army, provided technical expertise and explosives from the Army’s supply, which were then placed under concrete slabs, bicycle/ motorcycles and tiffin boxes to create mayhem. The conspirators even killed one of their main organizers—to get rid of evidence of their involvement.
Paradoxically initial suspicion for the attacks had fallen on Muslim groups. For instance, nine Muslims were arrested and continue to be detained for their involvement in one of the blasts that took place in 2006. Experts then had sought to explain the attacks on Islamic places of worship as being driven by the larger objective of Pakistan-sponsored militants to drive a communal wedge between the Hindus and the Muslims in India. Curiously the confessions recorded of the arrested members of Abhinav Bharat justify the death of Hindus in such attacks as collateral damages the majority community must suffer in order to “teach the Muslims a lesson”.
Persons involved in the attacks have in some way or other been connected to the Hindu right-wing revivalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Swami Aseemanand, arrested in connection with five of these explosions has disclosed the abetment and direct role played by some of the RSS leaders in the attacks, in a sworn statement taken on oath in the presence of a Magistrate. The RSS, to date, however, remains defiant and characterizes investigations into the acts of ‘Hindu terror’ as attempts by ‘anti-Hindu’ forces to weaken the efforts to counter jihadi terrorism. The RSS claims that “a Hindu cannot be a terrorist”. The main opposition political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is closely connected with the RSS, cautiously remains supportive of the government’s actions, but maintains that the government must do more against the jihadi terror.
Bibhu Prasad Routray, a Visiting Research Fellow in the South Asia Programme of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University has pointed out that with 83 percent of India’s population being Hindu, any reference linking terror acts to the majority group is bound to be controversial and politically sensitive in a country where many political parties use religion to garner votes. That consideration compelled Home Minister P Chidambaram to retract his expression ‘saffron terror’ in 2010 in parliament. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), set up after the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, is currently probing two cases involving the Hindu extremists. The government in New Delhi is supportive of the NIA examining all the cases wherever the role of the Hindu outfits is evident.
In the first week of March 2011, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) wrote to the state governments and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India’s criminal investigative agency, soliciting their views whether they would like to hand over all ‘Hindu terror’ cases to the NIA. Given the political nature of the issue this step would lead to an impartial and ‘single agency’ investigation of the cases. Currently, some of the cases are being investigated by individual state-level Anti-Terrorism Squads (ATS) and some by the CBI.
In case there are steps taken by the Indian government to counter the terror attacks by Hindutva, they will have an impact on the secular structure of Indian society and its resolve to support the global anti-terror efforts. If the Indian intents are diluted, they would not only weaken its claims of being targeted principally by externally-sponsored terror groups, but also would bring to the fore the latent prejudices towards the minority Muslim community. The Indian government should curb the rise of such a trend, through an impartial, objective and professional investigation process, while it is still in its infancy involving fringe elements.
Owing to the dents Hindutva has created in the Indian social fabric, a fair and impartial investigation into the cases mentioned above and will go a long way in assuring the Muslims of India that they are not being persecuted and would assure the international community including Pakistan that India is serious in taming Hindutva and combating terrorism.