TERROR seems to have divided India. The on-going investigations into bomb attacks at selected minority targets, allegedly by a group of right-wing Hindu zealots, including a serving army officer, have thrown up disturbing questions about the apolitical nature of the armed forces and also about the failure of the state to tackle the growing menace of terrorist violence against innocent citizens in several parts of the country.
Of course, no clear answers are available as the highly divisive debate runs against religious prejudices and accumulated hatreds of the past.
Following the arrest of nearly a dozen suspects in the last couple of weeks by the Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Maharashtra police in connection with the Sept 29 Malegon blasts that had claimed six innocent lives, the question posed by talking heads on nightly television channels is: Whether it signifies the rise of ‘Hindu Terror’ as against hitherto widely known ‘Islamic Terror.’
Of course, saner elements in both religious communities deny that terror is the monopoly of any one religion or for that matter of any religion at all, but such are the wages of identity politics that the term ‘Hindu terror’ is gaining popular currency as a counter to Islamic or jihadi terror.
Several commentators find the ‘Hindu’ label on the suspects appropriate since most of them have had close links with right-wing pro-Hindu organisations.
Almost one of the first ones to be apprehended was a saffron-robed woman, Pragya Singh Thakur aka Sadhvi Purnachetananda Giri.
In her mid-30s, in her student days she was a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Rashtriya Sawaymsewak Sangh and, later, a member of the women’s wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
In the Malegaon blasts the suspects had hidden bombs in the small basket fitted at the back of a motorcycle and left in a heavily-populated Muslim neighbourhood. The timer-activated incendiaries claimed six lives, and left several others injured.
The police arrested Thakur after it was established that she had owned the said motorcycle.
She claimed that she had sold it several years earlier upon taking Sanyas ( which loosely translated means renouncing everyday worldly pursuits in pursuit of full-time service of God).
Within days of her arrest, and her narco-analysis tests, a number of other suspects were hauled up. Among them was a self-styled Hindu Shankaracharya, Swami Amri- tananda aka Dayanand Pandey from Kanpur, UP, Sameer Kulkarni, a former member of the ABVP who had revived freedom fighter Savarkar’s organisation Abhivav Bharat and a couple of others who had allegedly provided logistic support in carrying out the deadly operations.
Others arrested included a couple of former army officers and the head of a privately-run ‘military school’ in Maharashtra that imparts training in the use of firearms to its students and seeks to instill in them a sense of pride about the Hindu religion and culture.
But it was the arrest of the serving Lt-Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit that shocked the entire nation. This was the first time a serving army officer was held as a suspect in a terror attack.
A can of worms so to speak seemed to have opened after Purohit allegedly began to sing like a canary.
Not only the Sept 29 blasts in Malegaon, it was now alleged, the ‘Hindu terror group’ might have been behind several other blasts in and around major minority habitats in other parts of Maharashtra. However no official confirmation of these linkages was available.
While investigations are still incomplete, the unearthing of a network of ‘Hindu terrorists’ has had a sharp political fall-out.
Expectedly, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has come out openly rubbishing the ATS version and in support of the arrested suspects.
Whatever the truth in these charges and counter-charges, there is no denying that the arrest of a serving army officer has caused concerns about the ‘apolitical character’ of the armed forces. Notably, Lt-Col Purohit was earlier posted in the insurrection-ridden Kashmir and was also part of the sensitive military intelligence wing at one stage in his career.
Because the armed forces had all along been above partisan politics, the arrest of a mid-level army officer has triggered a serious debate about their apolitical nature.
Given that increasingly the army is deployed to maintain law and order in large parts of the country – it has been fending off subversives in Kashmir for close to two decades – it is argued that its politicisation at close quarters cannot be completely ruled out.
Besides, the armed forces personnel cannot be fully insulated from the diverse currents flowing in the country. After all, they too come from the same stock as the rest of Indians, don’t they, goes the argument.
The rise of identity politics and the caste and religion-based parties could not have left the armed forces unaffected, goes the argument, though by all accounts the armed forces has remained above partisan politics all these years.