(19 January 2011, Special to ‘The Bengal Post’)

by Praful Bidwai

Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, the revered 12th century sufi saint of Ajmer, must have turned in his grave in agony at the prayers recently offered to him by certain Muslims belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party—not least because these were for the benefit of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh national executive member Indresh Kumar. Kumar is being investigated by the CBI and the National Investigation Agency for plotting multiple bombings against Muslim places of worship in 2006-08, and blasts on the Samjhauta Express in February 2008, which left 68 dead. Among the targets were mosques in Malegaon and Hyderabad, and the Khwaja’s dargah, no less.

Involved in the three of these was RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi, suspected to have been killed by his own accomplices in Dewas, in Madhya Pradesh. In a telling indication of the sangh parivar’s proud ownership of Joshi, the RSS last Sunday took out a procession in Dewas in full uniform, which was showered with petals over its 7-kilometre route.

It’s no coincidence that these events happened shortly after the NIA made what Home Minister P Chidmabaram describes as “a breakthrough” in the Samjhauta and other cases, in which it established close links and several conspiracies involving sangh activists, including “Sadhvi” Pragya Singh Thakur, Lt-Col Shrikant Purohit, Sandeep Dange, Ramchandra Kalsangra, Pravin Mutalik, Dayanand Pandey, Rakesh Dhawade, Sameer Kulkarni, Sudhakar Chaturvedi, Ramesh Upadhyay and Lokesh Sharma, besides Kumar and Joshi.

By 2006, a well-ramified highly organised Hindutva-inspired terrorist network had crystallised around key figures like Aseemanand, Indresh Kumar, Thakur and Joshi, which soon claimed scores of lives of Indian citizens. At its centre, and probably its mastermind, was “Swami” Aseemanand. Aseemanand, born Jotin Chatterjee, was until recently settled in the Dangs in Gujarat, where he headed the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram. The Ashram has long devoted itself to converting Adivasis to Hinduism of the sangh variety, often by using violent means.

Aseemanand organised a so-called Shabari Kumbh in February 2006, attended by a large number of sangh parivar members. Among the luminaries present were Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh Chief Ministers Narendra Modi and Shivraj Singh Chauhan, and the then RSS chief KS Sudarshan and his deputy Mohan Bhagwat. Aseemanand is known for his closeness to Modi. The Kumbh benefited the BJP politically. It soon won the Dangs Assembly seat for the first time.

Functionally more important was the presence of Hindutva extremists, under Aseemanand’s leadership, who decided to adopt a “bomb-for-bomb” approach to jehadi terrorism against Indian civilians by Pakistan-sponsored groups. Their meeting brought about coordination among sangh conspirators in fabricating and planting explosive devices. Shortly after the Kumbh, the Malegaon and Samjhauta attacks were planned in Valsad in Gujarat and Chittaranjan in West Bengal.

Aseemanand long dodged the police, but was arrested last November. He has since made a confession to a magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC, which is admissible as legal evidence. This contains explosive disclosures about the individuals involved, and their plans and actions. It’s clear that their motive was to kill and terrorise ordinary innocent Muslims, likely to be present in significant numbers at Islamic places of worship, as “retaliation” to jehadi terrorism.

This speaks of warped minds, which think nothing of inflicting extreme collective punishment upon people simply because they happen to belong to a particular faith. Their special targeting of Muslims is worse than the logic of Pakistan-sponsored Lashkar-e-Toiba attacks, which generally aim to kill Indians as such, rather than Hindus—with a few exceptions like the Akshardham and Sankat Mochan temples.

Even more perverse, the Hindutva terror attacks were calculated to invite suspicion against, and demonise, innocent Muslims and discredit the entire community by portraying it as diabolical enough to kill its own in order to spread disaffection and recruit yet more jehadis.

Regrettably, and to their shame, many of our police and security agencies fell for this plot and rounded up, harassed, jailed and tortured innocent Muslims, thus playing into the Hindutva extremists’ hands and increasing popular Muslim alienation from the state. The effect has been the undermining of the equality of citizens’ rights and political disempowerment of millions of Indians, and a certain legitimisation of the Hindutva terrorist network’s pernicious claim to “nationalism” (read, blatant Hindu majoritarianism).

This Hindutva terrorist network must be ruthlessly exposed and brought to justice. Its infiltration into the police, civil services and security forces must be thoroughly investigated. This is a precondition for reaffirming the secular character of the state and the rule of law.

The sangh parivar has become the biggest obstacle to bringing Hindutva terrorism to book. The RSS advances the despicably specious argument that every terrorist outfit tries to win adherents and collect funds by claiming responsibility for its violent acts. The RSS doesn’t. Ergo, it’s not involved in terrorism! This also tries to whitewash the parivar’s involvement in countless communal riots and pogroms, besides the inspiration it ideologically provided to Gandhi’s assassination.

The RSS is now bullying BJP president—and its nominee—Nitin Gadkari to go all-out to defend it against the terrorism charge by attacking the Congress. The BJP’s parliamentary leadership knows this will hinder the rebuilding of the NDA.

If it still succumbs to RSS pressure, the BJP will isolate itself further from the aspirations and concerns of the people, including the middle class, its sole (and shrinking) constituency. It will forfeit its claim to being a half-way responsible party which abides by the law of the land and ground-rules of democracy. Such a party can only have a bleak future.