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Confronting the Reality of Hindutva Terrorism

The exposure of a Hindutva terrorist network behind the bombings in Malegaon and elsewhere should put paid to the widely prevalent assumption - shared by the police in numerous states and by the national security establishment - that terrorism in India is an enterprise run mainly, if not exclusively, by Islamic extremists. The rise of Hindutva terrorism cannot be seen in isolation from the climate of divisiveness and the culture of hate that the Bharatiya Janata Party has consciously promoted in its cynical pursuit of power.


Confronting the Reality of Hindutva Terrorism

Praful Bidwai

individual activists operating out of many states, including Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, and belonging to numerous Hindutva outfits, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal,

The exposure of a Hindutva terrorist network behind the bombings in Malegaon and elsewhere should put paid to the widely prevalent assumption – shared by the police in numerous states and by the national security establishment – that terrorism in India is an enterprise run mainly, if not exclusively, by Islamic extremists. The rise of Hindutva terrorism cannot be seen in isolation from the climate of divisiveness and the culture of hate that the Bharatiya Janata Party has consciously promoted in its cynical pursuit of power.

Praful Bidwai ( is a well-known columnist and writer on current affairs.

he Maharashtra police have unearthed what has all the makings of an organised, well-ramified, ideologically driven and politically evolved network of fanatical Hindutva activists cutting across different Sangh parivar groupings, which allegedly planned and executed a series of recent bomb blasts targeted at mosques, whose victims were primarily Muslims. These include bombings this past 29 September in Malegaon in Maharashtra, in which six people were killed.

The attacks go all the way back to November 2003 when a bomb was planted at a mosque in Parbhani in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region, and include blasts in August 2004 at mosques at Jalna and Purna, all in the same region.

The most alarming feature of the network or ring is the allegedly pivotal role played in it by a serving officer of the Indian Army, Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit, and by some other alumni of the Bhonsala Military School in Nashik and Nagpur in Maharashtra, which has long served as a preparatory school for recruitment into the National Defence Academy and the Indian Military Academy, where armed forces personnel are trained.

This is the first time that a serving officer of the army has been directly implicated in a terrorist or extremist network of any religious-political affiliation.

Various state and central-level police agencies are also looking for the network’s possible involvement in other instances of terrorism, including the 29 September bomb explosions at Modasa in Gujarat, the February 2007 bombings on the Delhi-Attari-Lahore Samjhauta Express train, the May 2007 bombings at the Mecca masjid in Hyderabad, and the October 2007 blasts in the Ajmer Sharif dargah. At least 149 people were killed in these blasts.

Strong connections have emerged between Sangh parivar organisations and Durga Vahini and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), all fired by intense anti-Muslim hatred.

Four Categories of Activists

The dramatis personae fall into four categories: serving and retired army officers; sadhus, sadhvis and mahants affiliated to parivar groupings and akharas; activists especially of the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal; and members of what might be called small niche organisations like the Rashtriya Jagaran Manch, Abhinav Bharat, Akhand Bharat and Bhonsala Military School. Some of their organisational affiliations overlap.

Thus, Purohit and a retired major, Ramesh Upadhye, belong to the first group. Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, Mahant Amritanand alias Dayanand Pandey alias Sudhakar Dwivedi, and some other swamis under the scanner, fall in the second category. Several others, like Naresh Rajkondwar and Himanshu Phanse, who were killed during an accidental blast while fabricating bombs in Nanded in Maharashtra in April 2006, and who according to the police were part of the same network, were Bajrang Dal members. As were others who played a supporting role.

Sameer Kulkarni belongs to Abhinav Bharat, while Thakur set up the Rashtriya Jagaran Manch. Former two-term BJP MP B L Sharma “Prem”, who quit the party in 1997 after accusing it of “playing the competitive game of Muslim appeasement” and joined the VHP, set up Akhand Bharat. Some of them have been linked to Pandey and Purohit.

In addition, numerous cases of activists of Bajrang Dal-sponsored and other Hindutva networks involved in bombmaking have come to light owing to accidental explosions from places as varied as Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, Tenkasi in Tamil Nadu and most recently, near Kannur in Kerala, besides a second time in Nanded in February 2007.

november 22, 2008 Economic & Political Weekly



According to the Maharashtra police’s Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), some of the bomb-making operations (for instance, in Nanded) were part of a larger criminal conspiracy to target Muslims and create the impression that they would not hesitate to kill other Muslims. The motive was to sow disaffection, widen the communal divide and help the Hindutva forces to blame Muslims for all acts of terrorism, including diabolical ones directed at Muslims themselves – thus discrediting Muslims and diverting attention from their own activities.

The September 2006 bombings in Malegaon outside a crowded mosque after the Friday prayers fit this pattern like a “T”. Thus, the police arrested Muslims alone for the blasts – although the victims were all Muslims observing Shab-e-Barat, or remembrance of the dead, in an adjoining graveyard. The bicycles on which the bombs were placed bore Hindu names.

The local police not only ignored vital material evidence concerning the Malegaon blasts. They tried to cover up Bajrang Dal-VHP involvement in the earlier bomb- fabrication operation in Nanded by planting fire-crackers in the house belonging to Rajkondwar’s father – to suggest that the explosion was not caused by bombs. They also ignored the fact that the conspirators had put on false beards to suggest that the bomb-makers were Muslims. They also played down the recovery of a second bomb in the house.

After the 2006 Nanded explosion, civil society groups – including Secular Citizens’ Forum and People’s Union of Civil Liberties, Nagpur – produced a scathing critique of the police version with photographic evidence to expose the Bajrang Dal’s bomb-fabrication operation. They specifically warned of an imminent attack by Hindutva militants, but were ignored.

State Indulgence

The exposure of this Hindutva terrorist network should put paid to the widely prevalent assumption, shared by the police in numerous states and by the national security establishment, that terrorism in India is an enterprise run mainly, if not exclusively, by Islamic extremists: “all Muslims may not be terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims”. This view has been openly aired innumerable times in

Economic & Political Weekly

november 22, 2008

newspapers and on TV channels, for instance, by former minister of state for home affairs I D Swamy and by other Hindutva leaders.

Extremism or terrorism of the saffron variety is treated with remarkable indulgence by the state – witness the kid gloves handling of the Bajrang Dal, VHP and the Shiv Sena despite their owning up to hate speech and hate crimes for decades. The assumption seems to be that Hindutva extremists are basically nationalists and patriots, even if misguided ones. Their violence and killing of unarmed civilians must be treated differently from the insensate killing of civilians by Muslim extremists. Violence is contingent to Hindutva, but essential to Islamic fanatics.

Challenge to Secularism

In reality, Hindutva seeks to radically reshape society by violent means by overthrowing secularism. Its Hindu-supremacist ideology challenges India’s quintessential character as a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious society to which pluralism is central. It wants to militarise Indian society. It sees this as the key to creating a strong sense of national identity – in opposition to non-Hindus, and in keeping with Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s location of the true Hindu in a combination of pitrabhu (fatherland) and punyabhu (holy land).

Crass militarism and violence directed at non-Hindus have long been at the heart of the “cultural nationalism” project – d ecades before the Ram Janmabhoomi mobilisation beginning in the mid-1980s.

The principal difference between Hindutva extremism and other forms of religious extremism is that the former tries to pass itself off as nationalist by virtue of claiming to speak for a majority of the population, which by definition cannot be separatist or anti-national. This view is dangerously majoritarian and exclusivist, and hence profoundly anti- democratic. Another difference is that majoritarian extremism is more widespread and enjoys a degree of state patronage and indulgence.

Links to Original Project

A noteworthy, if somewhat bizarre, feature of the new revelations about the Hindutva extremist network is that its members hark back to the original Hindutva project, formulated more than eight decades ago. It is as if all the project’s architects, long dead, had suddenly come alive as the main actors in the drama being enacted today through the shadowy institutions they established and the individuals they inspired. Thakur, Kulkarni, Upadhye and Purohit are in a sense representations of the spirits of the founders of the Hindu Rashtra ideology.

Thus, Abhinav Bharat, created a century ago by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the inventor-author of Hindutva (1923), has been resurrected through Kulkarni and others who want to settle scores with the Muslims who apparently continue to “perpetrate atrocities” upon Hindus – by creating an “armed” India and burying Hindu sahishnuvad (tolerance) through aggressive ethno-religious nationalism.

The Abhinav Bharat president is Himani Savarkar, daughter-in-law of V D Savarkar’s brother Babarao, and daughter of Gopal Godse, brother of none other than Gandhiji’s assassin Nathuram. Babarao was one of the five founding members of the RSS and a crucial link between it and the Hindu Mahasabha, of which Balkrishna Shivramji Moonje, like the older Savarkar, was a long-standing president.

However, Moonje was more than just the Mahasabha president. He was an admirer of contemporary fascism, and personally met Mussolini in 1931, of whom he spoke in glowing terms, impressed as he was by the fasci or militant ultranationalist bands Mussolini had set up. More important, he was the political guru of RSS founder K B Hedgewar, and pivotal in sending him to Kolkata to study medicine.

The three original Hindutva icons, Savarkar, Moonje and Hedgewar, all saw “Yavana snakes” as a source of domination of the Hindus. They regarded Muslims as greater enemies than the British colonialists. They believed in militarising Hindu society, which had been rendered “effeminate” by masculine “Islamic conquerors”. The obsessive emphasis on p hysical exercise, the martial arts, parades and the akhara culture long found in H indutva organisations derives from this, as do khaki shorts, then worn by the colonial police.


This militarism duly translated itself into the establishment by Moonje of the Central Hindu Military Education Society at Nashik, which created the Bhonsala M ilitary School in 1937, named after Chhatrapati Shivaji’s clan. The school’s explicit aim is to “to inculcate military virtues” in “Bharatiya” youth. It trained its students in guerrilla warfare early on. BMS teachers are known for their Hinducommunal views. BMS has prepared h undreds for entry into the National Defence Academy and the armed forces. Purohit, an Intelligence Corps officer, is an alumnus of both the School and the NDA.

Hindutva militarism is also reflected in the numerous camps that the VHP and Bajrang Dal organise for their cadres, which impart training in the use of arms and close combat, and include gory rituals based on trishuls and swords. There have been any number of instances of Bajrang Dal activists distributing trishuls

– as many as four million according to former chief minister Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan alone – and forming anti- Muslim suicide squads.

Shift in BJP Stance

It is remarkable that the BJP, to its abiding disgrace, has moved from embarrassment over the disclosures about the Hindutva terrorist network to a defiant posture which brazenly defends it. The “moderate”sounding view advanced by the party’s prime ministerial hopeful L K Advani, that “terrorism has no religion” and that “the law must be allowed to take its course” no matter what the offenders’ religion, has effectively yielded place to the line of party president Rajnath Singh, itself strongly backed by the RSS, which holds that those arrested by the ATS are innocent and are being victimised for political reasons. This says a great deal about the party’s ideological-political evolution, and much that is disturbing, indeed alarming.

This argument has several components or versions. First, the BJP denies that the detainees are Sangh parivar members or were actively associated with it – although Thakur was a national office-bearer of the ABVP and Durga Vahini for many years and has a strong RSS background, and the others too have undeniable parivar links. Second, it claims that their arrest is part of the Congress Party’s conspiracy to malign the parivar and the BJP in particular. The charges levelled against the suspects, it holds, are baseless and unsupported by evidence.

Third, the BJP-VHP-Bajrang Dal contend that the suspects are being framed on trumped charges because the votaries of Hindutva and “cultural nationalism” can never be terrorists. They are by definition nationalists and worthy citizens. Fourth, some craven BJP apologists advance the devious argument that they are vigilantes, exasperated by the allegedly supine response of the state to terrorism. They decided to take matters into their own hands and teach Islamic terrorists a lesson. Their means may be questionable, but their intentions and ends are understandable and deserving of sympathy, if not just.

The Kerala State Higher Education Council

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  • 4. Commercialisation of higher education: issues and solutions.
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  • 6. Decentralisation of academic governance.
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    Applicants eligible for this call should be:

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    And finally, some BJP-RSS-VHP ideologues hold that the ATS is playing with fire by gratuitously dragging the name of a serving army officer into the network. This is tantamount to assimilating the secular Indian Army to the Pakistan Army, which is influenced by jehadi extremism. This can only demoralise the army and weaken its will to fight Islamic terrorism, the principal threat to India’s unity and security.

    Specious Arguments

    All these arguments are specious. It stretches credulity to hold that the Maharashtra ATS would have acted on such a “sensitive” and politically explosive issue and arrested relatively high-profile parivar activists like Thakur and Purohit without substantial evidence. What has been publicly disclosed so far suggests the opposite. Going by decades-long experience, the Congress Party errs on the side of abundant, usually excessive, caution while dealing with the parivar. Or else, the Babri demolition would not have happened, nor thousands of Muslims butchered since then by culprits who continue to enjoy impunity. Nor would Narendra Modi have stayed in power instead of being dismissed after the pogrom of 2002.

    As for “vigilantism”, the argument cuts both ways – unless Hindu extremists are illegitimately privileged and granted immunity in advance for acts of senseless revenge and retribution against real or imagined by Muslims and their collective punishment, itself an obnoxious idea. It would be ludicrous to argue that the Muslims of Gujarat, who have suffered mass killings, rapes, humiliation and continued denial of justice, would be justified in resorting to terrorism. The history of “cultural nationalism” is nothing if not one of assassinations, bloody riots and pogroms targeting the religious minorities, increasingly with state complicity or collusion.

    Lessons for Army

    The Indian Army needs to draw some lessons from the Purohit case – but the opposite of what the parivar recommends. It must periodically screen its personnel, ban recruitment from communal institutions like the Bhonsala Military School, and insist on a strict separation between

    Economic & Political Weekly

    november 22, 2008

    religion and professional functions. Tolerating religious extremists is not an option. It simply cannot afford to be seen as shielding them.

    BJP Responsibility

    Three other points are in order. The rise and growth of Hindutva terrorism and rabid militarism cannot be seen in isolation from the climate of divisiveness, parochialism and chauvinist nationalism and the culture of hate that the BJP has consciously promoted in its cynical pursuit of power. Violence is integral to this culture. Indeed, it is part of the party’s strategy of political mobilisation.

    This culture has percolated over the years into countless institutions of the state, including the police and the national security apparatus, which views terrorism through the prism of Islamophobia. All governments, irrespective of political complexion, are affected by this to some extent or other. As hate speech and acts are increasingly granted impunity, and prejudice and ethnic hatred become part of normal public discourse, civil servants and the police no longer feel constrained not to air their jaundiced and communal views, or worse, to act on them without fear of anything more than a transfer of posting.

    It is a telling comment on the crass communalisation of the Maharashtra police that they moved a remand application in a Dhule court in the 5 October case of communal rioting, which brazenly stated: “It is an established fact that Muslims are the masterminds behind all terrorist activities across India.” They also exonerated the Hindu Rakshak Samiti, which participated in the violence, in which seven of the 10 people killed were Muslims, by saying its activities were “mere retaliation to what has been happening in the country for the past few years”. Whether and how the state government acts against those responsible for this despicably communal statement remains an issue.

    Second, the BJP is poised to harden its rabid Hindutva posture. If the Rajnath Singh line prevails, and if the BJP does relatively well in the assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi, it will see its victory as a vindication of its defence of the saffron terror accused. This will encourage it to opt for a grossly communal and divisive campaign in the Lok Sabha election, the like of which India has not seen, with potentially terrible consequences for this society and polity.

    Already, there are disturbing signs of the direction in which the BJP is evolving. Modi, legitimised by Tata Motors’ decision to shift the Nano car project to Gujarat, and lionised by big business, has emerged as the undisputed successor to Advani. The RSS has tightened its grip on the party.

    After the 16 November Panipat conclave of the parivar, in which Rajnath Singh joined hands with viciously antisecular sadhus to declare the Malegaon blasts investigation a “political conspiracy”, and to launch a mass campaign against the United Progressive Alliance for its “vilification of Hindu saints and Army officers”, the party’s stance can only harden.

    Wishful Thinking

    This demolishes the wishful argument that its incumbency in power would impel the BJP towards “moderation”, sobriety and responsibility. The BJP, quite simply, is not that kind of party. It will always occupy the dark region between parliamentary politics as an instrument of power, and its foundational loyalty to the Sangh parivar and its hate-driven ideology and violent politics. Yes, the BJP can get worse.

    Third, it is imperative that the police get to the bottom of the saffron terror operation and investigate it impartially and with thorough professionalism. They must refrain from making premature statements to the media before the investigations are completed and solid evidence is obtained. The government must pursue the case seriously and urgently act to ban the Bajrang Dal and the RSS, and to prosecute BJP members connected with these organisations. Nothing less can reaffirm the secular spirit of this society and the Indian Constitution.

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