Hindutva Terror: Prejudice, in the time of nationalism
Rohini Salian’s revelations underline that the nation is in the hands of a muscular and hyper-Hindu nationalism
Manisha Sethi Delhi
Maharashtra special public Prosecutor Rohini Salian’s recent revelations have only confirmed what one suspected was happening all through last year: the burial of cases that involved ‘Hindutva terror’ elements and those to do with fake police encounters in Gujarat.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) suddenly stopped appealing against bail for those accused of killing – in separate incidents – Sohrabuddin Sheikh, Tulsiram Prajapati and Ishrat Jahan, in allegedly fake police encounters. Further, the CBI only feebly opposed the discharge of BJP President Amit Shah, an accused in these encounter cases.
If that weren’t enough, the powers that be not only reinstated the accused fake encounter cops, but also gave them plum positions. As well, investigations into the 2008 Modasa blasts case and the 2007 Ajmer and Mecca Masjid blasts case – both allegedly masterminded by Hindutva elements – have reached nowhere. Any little spark that had the potential to singe the BJP and its extended parivar has been stamped out with alacrity. Salian’s revelations point to more than just particular cases. They are a commentary on the universe of lawlessness and prejudice that inhabits the national security discourse.
One of Salian’s statements, mentioned in passing, has not received the attention it deserved. She said she had stopped taking briefs from the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) officers because “they were coming to me with bogus cases”.
Since 2001, when the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was first banned – the ban was reimposed every two years by successive tribunals – the Maharashtra crime branch and ATS have been particularly inventive in producing cases against alleged SIMI members for hatching terrorist conspiracies. Sometimes, men with real or imagined links to SIMI have been arrested for alleged acts of violence in Ghatkopar, Mulund and in the 2006 serial train blasts, for instance. The bulk of these arrests hinges on loose, unsupported allegations relating to “furthering the activities of a banned organisation”. In their enthusiasm to generate enough SIMI cases, the ATS has been known to even turn poet Ghalib’s Diwan into incriminating material; his couplets are interpreted as intimations of dark terrorist plots.
In contrast, there has been an obstinate refusal to recognise the existence of violence by Hindutva groups. Even after it came to light that Hindutva extremists Aseemanand, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Purohit plotted the 2006 Malegaon blasts, you had senior police officers like MN Singh saying the Hindutva bombs were merely retaliatory, and therefore of a lower order than so-called jihadi terrorism.
When Ujjwal Nikam, the star prosecutor in many terror cases in Maharashtra, needed to pillory Ajmal Kasab, convicted for the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, he chose to reference biryani. As a metaphor in discussions around terror, biryani is nonpareil. It at once triggers a series of interrelated, stereotypical images: a Muslim terrorist (there can be no other); our pusillanimous leaders who pamper terrorists (thus calling for a ‘strong leader’) and the luxury of due procedure wasted on those undeserving of it (underlining the need for ‘tough’ laws and harsher punishment). Around the time of Salian’s sensational revelations came news of an iftar hosted by the Muslim Rashtriya Manch (MRM), an affiliate of the Sangh. In the typical Sanghi style of division of labour, MRM is part of a loose conglomeration of outfits which can be appropriated or renounced at its convenience. The iftar was presided over by Indresh Kumar, a high-ranking RSS pracharak, who’s also the patron of MRM.
MRM was formed in 2002, months after the Gujarat carnage, not in order to provide a healing touch, but supposedly to wean Muslims away from the path of terrorism. The founding myth goes that the then sarsangh chalak, Sudarshan, encouraged a group of Muslims to introspect about Islam’s identification with terrorism and to speak out against jihadi terror.
MRM’s pivotal figure, Indresh, fancies himself as an expert on Islam. The pedantic monologues of this self-proclaimed “messiah of Muslims” are RSS staples: the benefits of not eating beef, nationalism, Kashmir and Article 370, condemning ‘treacherous Muslims’ and persuading others that they are basically Hindus. MRM arranges for Muslims to shower petals on the cavalcade of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, perhaps in its bid to
But what might the Sangh’s perverse engagement with Muslims have to do with what Salian has revealed? A great deal. Indresh was named in the Ajmer blast chargesheet after Swami Aseemanand disclosed in his 2010 confession (which he later withdrew) that Indresh not only provided material support but also supplied two Muslim youths to Sunil Joshi, affiliated with the RSS, to help execute the blasts at the shrine. Joshi was allegedly murdered by RSS men a little over two months after the blasts.
The basis of the Joshi murder inquiry has significance beyond just one murder. The investigation would have exposed the seamy underbelly of our State: the shadowy links between these right-wing groups and current and retired army officers like Col Purohit, who worked in military intelligence.
Aseemanand has since withdrawn his 42-page confession, made in 2010, in which he named Indresh Kumar, the murdered Sunil Joshi and Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, among others, as being key conspirators in the terror blasts. Witness after witness has turned hostile in the Ajmer and the Samjhauta Express blasts cases. Indresh himself was never charged after being questioned by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), because our investigative agencies have always been squeamish when dealing with ‘nationalists’.
Meanwhile, Indresh hosts iftar at the hallowed Parliament Annex. His arrival at this specific venue shows just how kosher he has become. Imagine a Muslim man named in a terror chargesheet hosting a party in the Parliament complex.
Ponder this too: Indresh is also the patron of the RSS-backed think tank, Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS). The crème of the security establishment elite are regular fixtures at FINS seminars and workshops. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and former home secretary RK Singh are among them.
At an FINS seminar in Goa, the then Chief Minister and current Union Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, announced budgetary allocation for a security academy to be run by FINS. And FINS has also been demanding that the Modi government rethink the country’s nuclear doctrine by abandoning the ‘no first use’ clause.
We are confronted not by a secret cabal of conspirators but the open playing out of an ideology of a muscular and hyper-Hindu nationalism. From Aseemanand to Indresh, from Doval to Parrikar, there is a shared belief that India’s political response to terrorism is supine, and that there is a need for a macho policy unencumbered by what is euphemistically referred to as the politics of ‘votebanks’. Aseemanand’s “bomb ka jawab bomb se” belligerence is cut from the same cloth as Parrikar’s “A terrorist for a terrorist” statement.
What Salian’s revelations have brought home is that the politics that rests on such a world view is firmly in power now.