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Malegaon to Mangalore

Malegaon to Mangalore

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: January 28, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/malegaon-to-mangalore/415982/0

An unintended consequence of the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai was the dismantling of the contrived moral equivalence drawn between jihadi terrorism and Hindu extremism. The scale of the carnage and the professional ruthlessness of the attackers brought home the absurdity of putting a global network of Terror on par with amateurish grandstanding.

Last Sunday's hooliganism in a Mangalore pub - planned as a media event by the Sri Rama Sene - has revived interest in the pathetic band of lumpens who claim to be upholding Hindu honour. The attack, particularly the roughing up of young women who were in the pub, has been equated with the moral policing of the Pakistani Taliban in the Swat Valley. With a general election round the corner, it has given a convenient handle to those opposed to the BJP. The BJP Government of Karnataka and the RSS parivar has been charged with complicity and been held responsible for nurturing the hoodlums.

The incident in Mangalore has also contributed to reviving interest in the proceedings of the Malegaon bomb in Mumbai. That Abhinav Bharat of Malegaon-accused Lt-Colonel Prasad Srikant Purohit had a fraternal relationship with Pramod Mutalik, the founder of Sri Rama Sene, and with his associate Vilas Pawar, is recorded in the interrogation report of the former Military Intelligence functionary. Purohit and Mutalik were together at the well-publicised Hindu convention organised by former RSS pracharak Tapan Ghose in Kolkata in February 2008. Purohit also admitted that Pawar had telephoned him sometime in early October last year and "informed me that they (presumably the Sri Rama Sene) were behind the burning of churches in Karnataka." This

dubious achievement was appropriated by Purohit to persuade sceptics that Abhinav Bharat was more than either a letterhead or part of a fantasy world.

The extent to which the Malegaon blasts of September 2008 in which seven people were killed was the handiwork of a few crazies out to pin collective responsibility for jihadi terror on the entire Muslim community or was merely the tip of a grand conspiracy to establish a Hindu Rashtra will, hopefully, emerge in the course of the trial. Without prejudging the outcome, some larger political observations may be in order.

First, it is clear that the network of Hindu activists which met periodically last year to plot, scheme, raise funds and, more often than not, conspire against each other, were driven by the conviction that an exasperated India was ready for a Hindutva revolution. This belief stemmed from two different impulses: to begin with, the network was overburdened by anger at the state's inability to control Islamist subversion. This was complemented by the their disgust at what they saw as the influx of Bangladeshis, Christian evangelism, and the violation of Hindu sacred space by secularists - the moral collapse of India in its quest for modernity. This burning anger was accompanied by the conviction that Hindu energies were being dissipated by organisations such as the RSS and the BJP. Like Marxist sects that assume the revolutionary potential of the working classes are being consciously derailed by the Communist parties, the Abhinav Bharat mindset identified the Sangh Parivar as the main obstacle to the Hindu revolution. The Hindus, it was believed, were rearing to go; yet the established Hindutva movement was putting a lid on Hindu energies. The RSS, with its emphasis on organisation, consensus and gradualism, was for them as inimical to India as jihadis.

The issue is not so much whether such analysis proceeded from objective realities. The cyber-world resonates with thunderous email proclamations from those convinced that the situation in India is distinctly pre-revolutionary. What is important is that a burning impatience with the status quo and a sense of manifest destiny bound these activists together. They transposed their incredible certitudes on to an amorphous mass which thought them to be misguided patriots at best or complete loonies at worst.

Secondly, while the desire of those accused in the Malegaon blasts case to spread retributive terror is not in doubt, there is some scepticism over their ability to go beyond PT drills and screening war films. Some of those charged were, for example, obsessed by the desire to eliminate a RSS pracharak who had allegedly sold out the Hindus of Nepal. If Purohit's interrogation report is any guide, the war chest could at best have bought some crude explosives and small arms. There was constant chatter about purchasing RDX - even a guru agya from the pretender Shankaracharya of Shardapeeth - but nothing appears to have materialised. The Malegaon blasts may have been the handiwork of some of those linked to Abhinav Bharat. However, since empty boastfulness was a part of the group's culture, the trial should help establish who was guilty and who imagined that bombings were a good idea.

Finally, there are many unanswered questions that centre on the role of Military Intelligence. Was it the MI brief to forge a network of RSS dissidents? Is it purely coincidental that Purohit's network was dominated by those considered as MI "assets"? Were Purohit's superior officers unaware of his activities, or did he misuse his operational autonomy by keeping them only partly in the loop? Why did Purohit involve other MI officers in his outstation trips to meet fellow activists? Is it significant that Purohit promptly informed his superiors when he became aware the police wanted to question him? Why have some members of Purohit's network not been questioned? These are clarifications that may help disabuse the whisper that the Malegaon blasts were an offshoot of a diabolical scheme that went awry and was disowned.

Hindu terrorism is potentially dangerous because it can function behind a fig-leaf of patriotism. However, there is nothing to suggest that the phenomenon has remotely reached take-off stage. For now, it is made up of the fulminations and odd excesses of those who either regret the lack of a Hindu backbone or see themselves as outlanders. They must be politically isolated and, when appropriate, punished as outlaws.

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