The Larger Toll of India's Terror Blasts
By J. Sri Raman,
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Terror and tragedy have revisited parts of Ahmedabad, capital of India's state of Gujarat, which have yet to forget the fascist violence witnessed in the early months of 2002.
Narendra Modi, who had presided over a pogrom then as the state's chief minister, was at the helm again on July 26, when a series of 16 bomb blasts shook the city and the country. Six years ago, Modi had defended the massacre as something the religious minority deserved. He was back at his demagogic best now, describing the blasts as "a war on India."
He hardly needed to say who, he thought, had declared the war. His flock knew fully well whom he had in mind: Pakistan and its "fifth column," the Indian Muslims. The Ahmedabad blasts have brought a fresh reinforcement of ammunition for the far right.
The people of India cannot be blamed for seeing the latest in a long series of such blasts as a war on them. They could not but identify with the very common, surviving victims - including a street vendor of vegetables, a disconsolate wife and an eight-year-old boy who had just acquired a bicycle but won't ride it any more - of the terror strike that has so far claimed a toll of 49 lives. More may die in the crowded hospitals, two of which also were targeted in the first instance of its kind in India.
Muslims were among the victims, and they were recognizable in their caps among the mourners. No religious-communal riots have thus far followed the blasts, as was excitedly anticipated by some experts of the security establishment. The far right, however, has never let such facts deter it unduly.
It hopes to draw greater mileage from the Ahmedabad outrage for following blasts in better-known Bangalore, the country's cyber capital occupying a prominent place on the world's outsourcing map. Just a day before, on July 25, Bangalore rocked with six blasts, though these claimed a toll, mercifully, of only two lives.
On December 28, 2006, unidentified gunmen opened fire in Bangalore's prestigious Indian Institute of Science, then hosting an international conference, and killed one scientist. Ever since, the city has been much discussed as a target of economic importance for terrorism.
The Ahmedabad and Bangalore blasts have come just over two months after the explosions in Jaipur. The seven terrorist bombs in the colorful capital of the state of Rajasthan, a tourist favorite, claimed no less than 80 innocent civilians.
Five basts similar to those in Ahmedabad and Bangalore killed 13 people in three cities - Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad - in India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh on November 23, 2007. On August 26 of the same year, two explosions killed 42 in the southern city of Hyderabad, also known as a hub of information technology.
Of more far-reaching consequences were the seven bomb blasts in suburban trains in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) on July 11, 2006, in which 209 were killed. We can keep going all the way back to the Mumbai blasts of March 1993 - 13 of them, with an unbeaten toll of over 250 lives. But we won't, as the Jaipur bombings mark a line of departure in the far-right discourse on the subject.
Until the Mumbai train blasts, the investigative agencies and others had made a practice of immediately and instinctively attributing such strikes to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). This instrument of Pakistan's Army had certainly never carefully concealed its activities in India's Punjab, when it was facing a separatist insurgency, or in Kashmir, especially in the eighties. After the terror on trains, the far right (which made no fine distinction between the ISI and the rest of Pakistan) started talking even more than before of the Indian Muslims' role in it all.
After 7/11, which some proudly called India's own 9/11, Modi struck again. At a Mumbai rally, he proclaimed: "Not all Muslims are terrorists. But all terrorists are Muslims." Other far-right crusaders against terrorism were quick to take the cue. And they have been loud in their warnings against local "jihadis." Terrorist blasts have, since then, been attributed to an alliance of the Laskar-e-Toiba, a Kashmir militant group with a base in Pakistan and a homegrown Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).
If the far right has found proof of this alliance, it has yet to be shared with the public. Nor have the official agencies, which have distinguished themselves only by a dismal record of investigation in these cases.
According to a review, the investigative agencies have not solved any of the 11 terrorist blast cases since 2005, and have not obtained a single conviction. Many of the persons arrested and charged in these cases were released for lack of evidence.
Confronted with this failure, the far right counters by attributing it to the absence of a sufficiently tough law against terrorism. The Bharatiya Janata Party, the far right's political front, claims that the government in New Delhi has fortified terrorism by scrapping a law the previous regime under the BJP had enacted. The draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), modeled on the Patriot Act of the US and enacted in compliance with the post-9/11 command of the George W. Bush administration, met with popular resistance. The present rulers had to abolish it in order to keep a promise to the voters.
Revival of the POTA is now likely to figure as a major item in the BJP's manifesto in the coming polls to some State Assemblies and, more importantly, in the general election due in May 2009. Party leader Lal Krisha Advani, projected as the prime minister-in-waiting, has seized the moment to stress the demand. Modi, whose own prime-ministerial ambitions are hardly a secret, may be expected to magnify the issue, taking advantage of the blasts in his backyard.
The blasts cannot but strengthen the campaign in India's external covert operations agency for a similar battle on Pakistan's soil (see South Asia Awaits Another Secret War, Truthout, July 18, 2008). They will also help the far right's long-pursued designs to deepen the religious divide in India and pit its people against each other for political profit
The explosions, in other words, can only empower further the Modis of India and their militarist counterparts in Pakistan.