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    South Asia
     Oct 31, 2008
India fears the dawn of Hindutva terror
By Siddharth Srivastava

NEW DELHI - Hindus linked to militant extremist groups have recently been arrested for plotting terror crimes targeted at Muslims - an as-yet unexplained, and perhaps unprecedented, incident in post-independence India.

Hindu radicalism and ultra-nationalist extremism are nothing new to Indian politics, but such right-wing activism has now taken a turn for the dangerous. Across India there is talk of the emergence of "Hindu terrorism" - specifically, a pan-India militant Hindu network set on avenging Islamic fundamentalism and jihadi terrorist attacks.

Contrary to usual assertions by Indian security agencies - that


Muslim outfits are behind most terrorist strikes - it has emerged that recent bomb blasts in India are likely the handiwork of anti-Muslim "Hindutva" groups bent on violent revenge.

These findings have shed a disturbing light on the fatal attacks on Indian Muslim worshippers and mosques over the past few years.

The word "Hindutva" has been coined for those who believe that India should follow laws and principles of the majority Hindu faith. So far, the most virulent form of Hindutva was unleashed in the state of Gujarat, where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief minister Narender Modi backed deadly attacks on Muslims by Hindu rioters in which thousands died. The BJP has long been considered sympathetic to ultra-Hindu sentiment.

The new twist to the allegedly Hindu-linked terror attacks has come with last week's arrests of Hindu activists, including women, on charges of plotting to bomb and kill Muslims in at least two Indian states.

The police have arrested 36-year-old Pragya Singh Thakur, a sadhvi (ascetic) known to be closely associated with radical Hindu groups, along with two male counterparts, on charges of orchestrating powerful bomb blasts in Malegaon, in the western state of Maharashtra, and Modasa town in Gujarat.

Both attacks were directed at Muslim gatherings during the holy month of Ramadan (September). Five people were killed in Malegaon and one died in Modasa. The result has been simmering Hindu-Muslim communal tensions.

Pragya was detained in Indore, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, and is now being interrogated. Pragya's father, Chandraprakash Thakur, admitted his shame. "If she is sentenced to life imprisonment, I will neither be happy nor sad," he was quoted as saying.

Maharashtra's anti-terrorism squad has also detained five other Hindus, including four men and a woman. The men include three retired army soldiers, including one major. At least one was reportedly trained as a bomb-maker, suggesting a further link between terrorism and ex-servicemen.

Pragya and the rest are reportedly associated with radical Hindu outfits - Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh - that keep close connections with the BJP.

Investigations by Mumbai police have also raised suspicions about several Hindu radical groups' involvement in blasts in Thane, in Maharashtra state, and orchestrating riots.

Senior security officials have confirmed to Asia Times Online that given the spate of recent terror attacks, there has been a concerted effort by agencies across the country to crack down on terror elements, irrespective of religion.

Coordinated phone-tapping, an exchange of ground-level information and the cultivation of new informers is yielding results, according to reports. Recently, Delhi police apprehended a Muslim youth suspected of being involved in the September bomb attacks in the capital.

A series of recent bombings in cities across India, including Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Varanasi have killed and maimed thousands.

India is in the midst of an ugly phase of terror attacks in which soft targets such as crowded markets have been chosen for killing civilians.

There is also evidence that the latest Islamic terror cells are increasingly homegrown. This is due to increased security forces along India's borders with Pakistan; infiltration is down and cross-border terrorist activity has been effectively reduced.

This has led to a rise of India's own militant Muslim groups, many of which operate under the umbrella of an outfit called the Indian Mujahideen.

Militancy is also nothing new to India. Indian freedom fighters such as Bhagat Singh and Chadrashekar Azad led daring attacks on British rulers in pre-1947 colonial India. In the 1980s and 1990s, India grappled with Sikh militancy. There are also longstanding Hindu extremist outfits, such as the Ranvir Sena in Bihar, but they generally fight in caste-driven conflicts usually related to property disputes.

Maoists attacks, especially in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, are also related to alleged oppression by higher castes and exploitation by landlords.

Right-wing Hindu outfits usually make the news for their strong-arm tactics against trends they consider to be un-Indian culture or in deference to the West. In the past, these acts have included punishing couples caught in public and cracking down on Valentine's Day celebrations and women adorned in revealing clothes.

Additionally, Hindu extremists have attacked cinemas featuring movies perceived to be too sexually explicit and have destroyed works by artists such as M F Hussain which the groups claim insult Hindu sentiments.

Recent bomb attacks against Muslims are a totally different matter - the result of deep-seated angst and militant philosophy. Further investigations into attacks on the Jama Masjid (mosque) in Delhi, as well as on Muslim worshippers in Hyderabad and the India-Pakistan "peace train", the Samjahauta Express, may provide more clues as to the motivation to target Muslims.

The Indian government has been rattled by the latest revelations, and leading political parties the BJP and Congress have sought to use the situation to their advantage.

Provincial elections are due in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi in November. In each of these important electorates, the BJP and Congress are in a head-to-head battle that will set the tone for national elections next summer.

The BJP has been on the back foot, caught between its pro-Hindutva strategy and condemning terrorist violence.

"A terrorist is a terrorist irrespective of his religion or caste. The BJP objects to the term 'Hindu terrorists'. By condemning the majority, one seeks to gain the minority vote," said BJP vice president Yashwant Sinha.

According to a statement released by the VHP, "We see the government's hand behind this. No one uses the word 'Islamic terrorism'. This is vote-bank politics, meant to appease Muslims."

The Congress, meanwhile, sees the turmoil as an opportunity to win Muslim votes.

"I ask the BJP leadership to come clean on their links with these outfits and their activities," said Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh. "[The] Malegaon and Modasa blasts are just one example. Members of Hindu fundamentalist outfits have been making bombs in Kanpur. Indore has become the epicenter of Hindu terror. Investigations into the Samjhauta blast also revealed bombs from Indore."

Mudslinging aside, the stark reality is that terrorism in India is spreading across communal and religious lines. This trend does not auger well.

Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist. He can be reached at sidsri@yahoo.com

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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