A Hindutva recruitment poster
Taking aim: Bajrang Dal women’s brigade, Lucknow, 2001
by Subhash Gatade
Nanded, in Maharashtra, is a town with a significant population of different faiths – Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist. Nanded could well have become a new metaphor for secularism as practised in the Subcontinent, but this was not to be. Instead, Nanded has come to represent the emergent danger of a violent new brand of Hindu militancy, with due support from a section of the state machinery. A place that was once witness to the final days of Guru Gobind Singh, Sikhism’s Tenth Guru, has today metamorphosed into an epicentre of violent Hindutva. Indeed, Nanded represents the build-up of the violent fundamentalist Hinduism of the past half-century. The town has been witness to a new spate of acts that can be inarguably dubbed ‘terrorism’.
The inner workings of this new form of Hindutva were on show recently in two, evidently accidental, explosions in Nanded within a span of nine months, in April 2006 and February 2007. These blasts, which killed four people, took place at the houses of activists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena. The arrival of Nanded on India’s ‘terror’ map was followed by media investigations into similar previous incidents, which also showed the involvement of Hindu youth in terrorist actions.
The new element here is the increasing similarity between Hindu militancy and ‘terrorism’ of other hues. While various enquiry commissions have looked into riots in post-Independence India and corroborated the proactive role played by the RSS in instigating riots, the irony of the situation is that the organisation is still able to maintain its ‘missionary’ image. Part of this is because the group has long maintained a strict division of labour within its ranks, delegating much of the ‘dirty work’ to fringe workers. The Nanded blasts proved to be an exception to this pattern, as the RSS links were obvious. This is why, in the immediate aftermath of the explosions, the Sangh Parivar leadership went to great lengths to suppress the news. Indeed, activist friends of this writer in Maharashtra were themselves unaware that any such incident had taken place.
One set of blasts took place in a house belonging to Laxman Rajkondwar, an old RSS activist, and killed two youths belonging to the Bajrang Dal and RSS, while injuring three others. The explosives that were being made were to be used during the entry into Maharashtra of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L K Advani’s Bharat Suraksha Yatra, the idea being to warn of the grave security situation existing in the country. Later investigations found that the plan had been to instigate communal riots in Nanded that could have spread to adjoining areas. Such a situation, it was hoped, would boost the sagging morale of both the BJP and its ageing stalwart, Advani (see accompanying story, “Befuddled, jingoistic party”).
The aim was clearly to instigate a communal conflict. A police raid on one of the deceased’s houses found maps of nearby mosques, as well as clothes and caps usually worn by Muslims in the area, which the activists were going to wear to sneak into and attack the mosques and gurudwaras. The only thing still needed was explosives. The making of bombs in a house owned by an old RSS activist – one who supposedly also dealt in firecrackers, at that – seemed like the perfect plan.
Of course, the story neither begins nor ends in Nanded. Since 2003, at least five, and perhaps six, Hindutva-related explosions have taken place in central Maharashtra alone, in Parbhani, Purna, Jalna and Nanded. Malegaon also witnessed a bomb blast last year, killing 40 people, with strong indications of a Hindutva hand behind it. (The final picture will emerge after an ongoing investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation finishes.) Beyond the geographical similarities, the details of the attacks were uncanny: each took place between 1:45 and 2:00 in the afternoon, just after Friday prayers, at the most prominent mosque in town. (The bomb that went off in Nanded in 2006 exploded on 6 April, a Thursday, but was apparently meant to be set off at an Aurangabad masjid the following day.)
At the same time, this cannot be dubbed a Maharashtra-centric phenomenon. Madhya Pradesh’s former chief minister, Digvijay Singh, has publicly admitted to the involvement of various groups and individuals affiliated with the RSS in similar acts in his state. As for the rest of the country, no systematic study of saffron ‘terror’ has yet been undertaken. One reason for this could be the thin line that separates the different anushangik (affiliated) organisations of the RSS, thereby making it possible to move from the ‘legal’ to the ‘illegal’ without great effort. Indeed, there is every possibility that funds collected from the Hindu diaspora for philanthropic work might also have been channelled to further ‘terrorist’ activities.