The Rise of Hindutva Terrorism in India

Back in October, 2007, bombs ripped through the courtyard of what is without dispute South Asia’s most popular Muslim religious centre — the shrine that commemorates Chishti’s life at Ajmer Sharif, in Rajasthan. For months, Police believed the attacks had been carried out by Islamist groups, who oppose the shrine’s syncretic message. On April 30, 2010, however, Rajasthan Police investigators arrested the man they say purchased the mobile phone subscriber-identification modules (SIM) used to trigger the attack. Devendra Gupta, a long standing worker of the Hindu-nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), was held along with his political associates Vishnu Prasad and Chandrashekhar Patidar. All three men are now also thought to have participated in the bombing of the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. Rasasthan Home Minister Shanti Kumar Dhariwal said the men were backed by an “organisation which tries to incite violence between Hindus and Muslims”, adding that authorities were “investigating the links of the organisation with the RSS.”

The arrests in Rajasthan mark progress in resolving some of the most opaque and contentious terrorist attacks India has seen in recent years — but have also focussed attention on the little-understood threat of Hindu-nationalist or Hindutva terrorism.

Evidence that Hindutva groups were seeking to acquire terrorist capabilities began to emerge late in 2002. In December that year, an improvised explosive device was found at Bhopal’s railway station, evidently intended to target Muslims arriving in the city to attend a Tablighi Jamaat gathering. Exactly a year later, a second bomb was found in the Lamba Khera area, on the outskirts of Bhopal, on the last day of a Talblighi Jamaat meeting. Both devices were made with commercial nitroglycerine-based explosive, packed inside a four-inch long section of grooved pipe — the kind used, for example, in tube-wells. The explosive was linked to a detonator controlled by both a quartz alarm clock and a mobile phone. Investigators would, in coming years, become familiar with the device: it would be used, with only minor modifications, at Mecca Masjid and at the Ajmer Sharif Shrine. Police in Madhya Pradesh soon developed information linking the attempted Bhopal bombings to local Hindutva activists Ramnarayan Kalsangram and Sunil Joshi. Both suspects were, Police sources said, questioned. No hard evidence linking them to the attempted bombings, however, emerged. Nevertheless, former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh announced that he had evidence of the involvement of members of the Bajrang Dal, an affiliate of the RSS, in acts of terrorism. For reasons that are unclear, though, this evidence was not used to prosecute members of the organisation or any other suspects. Nor were Kalsangram and Joshi placed under sustained surveillance, a failure — regrettably common in Indian policing — that was to cost many lives in coming years.

From 2006, more evidence began to become available that Hindutva terrorist groups were seeking to enhance their lethality. That summer, Bajrang Dal activists Naresh Kondwar and Himanshu Panse were killed in a bomb-making accident in Nanded, Maharashtra. Police later discovered that the two men had been responsible for bombing a mosque in the Parbhani District in April 2006. Bajrang Dal activists linked to the Nanded cell, the Police also found, had bombed mosques at Purna and Jalna in April, 2003, injuring 18 people.

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