The dark side of Hyderabad's
success By Sudha Ramachandran
BANGALORE - The twin blasts that tore
through an amusement park and an eatery in
Hyderabad on August 25 marked the second time in
three months that the city had been targeted by
terrorists. A high-tech hub that is second only to
Bangalore for its booming information-technology
(IT) and biotechnology sectors, Hyderabad appears
to be emerging as a terror hub.
Hyderabad's economic success has attracted
engineers, scientists, management consultants and
students like a magnet
recent years. And intelligence officials say its
contribution to India's growing economic muscle is
also its appeal to terrorists.
ranks third among Indian cities (outside
strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast)
in terms of the number of attacks it has sustained
over the past five years. Since 2002, 14 blasts
have killed 258 people in Mumbai, while Delhi has
seen seven blasts claiming 142 lives in the same
period. Hyderabad has witnessed four attacks since
2005, the first in October that year, when a
suicide attack was carried out at the Special Task
Force headquarters in the city.
the August 25 twin attacks that killed 41 people
and injured more than 60, a May explosion in
Hyderabad's Mecca Masjid (mosque) killed 11
people. All of the Hyderabad attacks are believed
to have been masterminded by the Bangladesh-based
Harkat-ul Jihad al-Islami (HUJI), an outfit that
is believed to be connected with Osama bin Laden's
International Islamic Force.
attacks by jihadist terror outfits are a
relatively new phenomenon in the city, Hyderabad
has figured on the radar of these groups for more
than a decade. Pakistan-based jihadist
organizations such as Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) regard
Hyderabad as Muslim land (about 40% of the city's
7 million people are Muslim), belonging to the
ummah (Islamic community) and in need of
"liberation" from "Hindu rule". LeT leaders have
often referred to "liberating" Hyderabad in their
speeches and writings and they have been setting
up sleeper cells in Hyderabad since 1995,
according to intelligence officials.
Initially LeT and its local allies were at
the forefront of building a terror network in
southern India headquartered in Hyderabad, but in
recent years HUJI has assumed the leadership role.
Intelligence officials say LeT is now focusing its
effort in northern and western India and has
"outsourced" its southern operations to HUJI.
Hyderabad is India's fifth-largest city
and stands second - after Bangalore - in the
hierarchy of IT hubs. Aggressive promotion of the
IT industry and the development of infrastructure
in the city by successive governments have
contributed to Hyderabad's transformation to
Infosys, Microsoft, Wipro,
GE, iGate, IBM, Satyam, Tata Consultancy Services,
Oracle, Dell, Motorola, Amazon and Google have a
significant presence in the city. In fact,
Microsoft's largest product-development center
outside its headquarters in Redmond, Washington,
is in Hyderabad.
agencies have issued repeated warnings over the
past five years that the country's leading
software hubs, Bangalore and Hyderabad, figure on
the hit list of terrorist groups. Analysts have
pointed out that terror attacks in these two
cities would not only be a symbolic strike at the
heart of India's new economic might and rising
global profile but they could shake the confidence
of international investors.
Hyderabad's global profile was no doubt a factor
for whoever masterminded the terror attacks, there
are several other considerations that have made it
an attractive target.
City, where a quarter of the city's population
live in acute poverty, has pockets that are
entirely Muslim and others with mixed Hindu-Muslim
"The Muslim pockets provide
extremist groups with a large pool of angry,
disgruntled young men from which to recruit," a
senior Hyderabad police intelligence official told
Asia Times Online. "Setting up a network and
sleeper cells would not have been difficult here.
As for the mixed neighborhoods in the Old City,
where Hindus and Muslims live cheek by jowl, these
provide the perfect explosive environment in which
riots, once triggered, can be expected to spread
According to analysts,
terrorist attacks have aimed at igniting communal
violence to provoke Muslim anger with the Indian
state and provide the terror outfits with a steady
stream of recruits. More important, they said, the
attacks divide India's secular-democratic culture.
That is why terror groups targeted temples
such as the Akshardham in Gandhinagar in 2002 or
Sankatmochan in Varanasi last year. When these
failed to provoke riots, mosques were targeted, as
in Malegaon in 2006 and the Mecca Masjid in
Hyderabad three months ago.
a long history of Hindu-Muslim communal violence.
It has often been described as a communal
tinderbox. "Having failed to provoke communal
violence in cities like Mumbai and Delhi,
terrorist groups are now trying their luck with
Hyderabad," the intelligence official said.
Political parties have also played a role
in fostering fundamentalism in Hyderabad. The most
obvious is Majlis-e-Ittihad-ul-Muslimeen (MIM),
which has its political base among Muslims in the
Old City. Though MIM might not be linked directly
to the terrorist attacks, authorities say it has
encouraged the radicalization of Muslim youth in
the Old City.
Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin - Muslim clerics
have issued several fatwas against her for
her works - visited Hyderabad recently, MIM
legislators and activists threw books and chairs
at her at a media conference she was addressing.
MIM leaders defended the attack subsequently and a
legislator went on to say that she "deserved
more". He even issued a warning that she would be
beheaded if she set foot in Hyderabad again. It
was not the first time MIM has incited violence.
If MIM's behavior is shocking, so is the
silence of its ally, the Indian National Congress.
The MIM is part of the ruling coalition in the
federal government and in Andhra Pradesh. The
Congress is reluctant to rein in the MIM as it
does not want to antagonize its Muslim voters.
With no curbs on its provocative brand of politics
and with its support base in the Old City
shrinking, MIM is expected to step up its divisive
rhetoric in the coming months.
MIM is fueling Muslim fundamentalism in Hyderabad,
the Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is using
similar tactics in the Hindu neighborhoods of the
Old City. where anger over unemployment and
poverty is seething and being increasingly
articulated through the religious idiom. Police
officials complain that their hands are tied by
the political backing that both the MIM and the
BJP enjoy, and that this has sent a signal to
extremists that they can do what they want in
Hyderabad and get away with it.
It is not
just the police who are fed up with the mix of
political patronage and extremism in Hyderabad.
The general public and business leaders,
especially in the IT and biotech sectors, are
The chief executive
officer of a medium-sized Indian IT company in
Hyderabad told Asia Times Online that while the
blasts are worrying, Indian companies are not yet
pressing the panic button.
companies are accustomed to working in the
security environment that exists in India," he
said. "But the global giants are unlikely to be as
sanguine. An attack here or there is unlikely to
shake the industry much, but if they become
frequent, then we will have a problem." Thus the
attacks in May and August do not bode well for
B S Nagaraj, manager of public
policy and risk management at Hill &
Associates (India) Private Ltd, told Asia Times
Online in January: "Typically, multinational
companies operating out of emerging markets like
India have a lower risk tolerance than their
home-grown counterparts." Yet "there are no
instances of any multinational company quitting
India strictly because of the threat of
terrorism", he added.
But this could
change, says the CEO in Hyderabad, if economic
targets are directly targeted. Besides, if as in
the case of Bangalore - where Indian IT giants
such as Infosys and Wipro have been named by
intelligence agencies as figuring on terrorist hit
lists - specific companies (especially
multinationals) are named as likely targets, the
scenario will change, he warns. Multinationals
could then look to other, smaller cities.
An already jittery Hyderabad will then
have reason for alarm.
Ramachandran is an independent
journalist/researcher based in Bangalore.