After the Blasts

The serial blasts in Delhi have blown new breath into the BJP’s clamour for a ‘tough terror law’ and revival of POTA. Not just the BJP, a committee headed by Veerappa Moily recommended a ‘tougher’ (more draconian) anti-terror law, and even the Prime Minister declared that such a move was in line with the “global consensus on the fight against terrorism.” When Manmohan Singh invokes ‘global’ trends to defend his Government’s policies – be it price rise or draconian laws – we know that he is using a euphemism to mask the consequences of India’s entering the strategic embrace of US imperialism.

Subsequently, Manmohan Singh was seemingly contradicted by Pranab Mukherjee, who said the existing UAPA was as tough as any law needed. In the harsh glare of the media, UPA Home Minister Shivraj Patil initially appeared ineffectual and callous, prompting even Rail Minister Laloo Yadav to say that Patil had made the Government a laughing stock, and forcing the Government to consider dumping Patil. The BJP has aggressively projected Modi (famed for fake encounters and communal pogroms) as the model warrior against terror, and demanded the revival of POTA – specifically the provision allowing for arrest and detention without producing before a magistrate, and confessions to police to be admitted as evidence.

The encounter shoot-out in Jamia Nagar, in which Delhi Police Special Branch claims to have killed two and arrested two of the main perpetrators (not just of the Delhi blasts but also of the Jaipur blasts), and in which one highly decorated encounter cop also lost his life, has helped salvage the Home Ministry somewhat and has won the UPA Government a breather from the BJP’s offensive. ‘National conscience’ – that phantom that was invoked by the Supreme Court to decree death for a man (Afzal Guru being a ‘stand-in’, or ‘fall guy’ for the actual perpetrators of the Parliament Attack whom the police failed to find) – may be appeased for now by the encounter killings. The terrorists are in their grave, the police on the job, God’s in his heaven, all’s well with the world...

But this illusory sense of satisfaction can only be ephemeral. Worrying questions about the Government’s entire approach to handling terrorism are gaining urgency. Notoriously, in terror investigations, the certainties offered by the police in the initial stages, tend to become blurred and doubtful under closer exploration. A Judicial Tribunal set up to enquire into the allegations against the SIMI, recently recommended lifting of the ban on SIMI, concluding that there was actually no evidence to back up the police claims.

Are draconian laws the solution?

If one believes the BJP, POTA is the magic wand which would allow us to solve blasts cases and prevent further attacks, and ‘Muslim appeasement’ is responsible for encouraging blasts. But during the six years of BJP-NDA rule – from 1998 to 2003 – a total of 26,007 lives were lost due to terrorist violence, - an average of 4,335 lives lost a year. Those six years were marked by terrorist attacks on the Red Fort, Parliament, Akshardham temple in Gujarat, Raghunath temple in Jammu & Kashmir and others; many of them occurring when POTA was in force. Did these occur because of the Vajpayee Government's policies of ‘appeasement of Muslims’?! Why did POTA fail either to deter these blasts or to solve the blasts cases?

The notion that draconian laws – laws that allow the State to beat a confession out of arrested ‘suspects’ – can counter terrorism is in itself an admission of the abysmal failure of intelligence agencies to painstakingly investigate terrorism and trace the terror trail with properly documented evidence. POTA could not show a higher rate of conviction than ordinary laws – but it did show a higher rate of violations of human rights.

Also, let’s recall the Arushi-Hemraj murder case: which exposed the fact that the police in our country is quite ready to lie to people and exploit existing biases rather than conduct a serious investigation; and the media is happy to offer us the police lies on a platter – after spicing it up a bit more, of course! On the basis of the dubious indicators provided by ‘narco-analysis’ (a procedure that is nothing short of torture according to the international conventions of human rights), CBI claimed to have cracked the Arushi case; but no evidence could be found against the Nepali servants. Weren’t these servants, branded as killers with zero evidence, victims of character-assassination? Surely the same lies and biases are far more likely to operate in the investigation of terrorist blasts, given the deep-seated communal biases which infects our state machinery? POTA-type laws, including the new anti-terror law being considered by the UPA will allow more miscarriages of justice to occur. Torture can’t bring us any nearer to the truth. There is simply no short-cut, no alternative to painstaking, unbiased investigation, which insists on facts before it brands anyone as guilty.

Who Benefits from Terror?

Any murder investigation would ask the basic question: who has a motive, who stands to benefit? The most obvious beneficiary of terror are the communal political outfits: mainly the Sangh Parivar and the BJP. On the eve of Assembly elections in Delhi and Rajasthan, the blasts have given a beleaguered BJP a new lease of life.

In case we feel this is a far-fetched assumption, let’s recall that recently, Charlie Black, an adviser of the Republican Presidential candidate McCain, conceded with startling candour that "another terrorist attack on the U.S. would be a big advantage for McCain". In the same interview to Fortune magazine he also said that the "unfortunate event" of Bhutto's death "helped us." If powerful politicians see a ‘big advantage’ from something, is it beyond the realms of possibility that they might take measures to gain that advantage?

When Modi needed a ‘big advantage’ of communal polarisation, the Gujarat genocide took place (on the convenient pretext of the fire in the Godhra train full of kar sevaks; investigations showed that fire started from inside the compartment, and families of the kar sevaks blamed the VHP). In the same way, the Akshardham blasts happened just in time to help Modi consolidate the powerful Patel community, weaning it away from his rival Keshubhai Patel. The agenda-wise bankrupt BJP-RSS get a big bonanza from blasts: a tailor-made opportunity to spread communal propaganda, brand the Muslim community as ‘anti-national’, accuse the Opposition of ‘appeasement’ and demand a hard state and draconian laws.

Surely we ought to explore the role of outfits who reap benefits from blasts?

Double Standards in Dealing With Terror

In Nanded in April 2006, two Bajarang Dal men died when making bombs. Similar incidents of bomb blasts were witnessed in many places around that time, Parabhani, Jalna and Aurangabad in Maharashtra. Most of these were in front of the mosques. In Nanded, the Maharashtra Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) also found fake beards and pajama-kurta – suggesting that the Bajrang Dal men intended to masquerade as Muslims while laying bombs.

In the case of a bomb blast at the RSS office at Tenkasi, Tirunelveli (Tamil Nadu) on January 24 2008, 7 Sangh Parivar activists were arrested. Clearly, they had intended to mobilise Hindus on a communal plank with the idea that the RSS was under attack from Muslim terrorists. Sivanandam, a Hindu Munnani leader, who had earlier worked in quarries in Kerala, had supplied the ammonium nitrate and other raw materials for preparing the bombs.
In the case of bomb blasts in Gadkari Rangayatan (Thane) on 4th June 2008, the Maharashtra ATS nabbed culprits – members of the Hindu Janjagaran Samiti (HJS), whose involvement was indicated in other blasts, in Vashi, Panvel and Ratnagiri.

On August 24 2008 in Kanpur, two Bajrang Dal workers died while making bombs. On August 25, Monday, police recovered some crude hand grenades, lead oxide, red lead, potassium nitrate, bomb pins, timers and batteries from the spot, inside a hostel in Kalyanpur area of Kanpur, about 80 km from Lucknow.

Then we have the curious case of VHP leader and former BJP MP from Faizabad, Ram Vilas Vedanti. Vedanti recently claimed he was being threatened by SIMI/Al-Qaeda men on his mobile; but it was later found that actually, Bajrang Dal and Hindu Yuva Vahini activists were making as calls, masquerading as SIMI/Al-Qaeda! They confessed that they had faked the calls, “after Guruji (Vedanti) gave us the consent). Vedanti’s connivance is indicated by the fact that he did not pursue the case against them, though he declared that they must be Muslims pretending to be Hindus! (Indian Express, September 15 2008)

Despite the above pile of evidence, why are the Bajrang Dal, VHP, Hindu Yuva Vahini, Hindu Munnani or their parent RSS never declared as ‘terrorist’ outfits? Why are the above mentioned leads hushed up by investigative agencies and even by the most of the media?

UPA Government’s Treachery

The BJP accuses UPA of favouring Muslims and thus abetting terror. The BJP’s accusation is distorted and false. In reality, it has been seen that Congress-ruled states (Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi) have boasted of the same tactics as BJP-ruled states like Gujarat – of witch-hunting innocent Muslims, branding and torturing them as terrorists as a substitute of any serious and unbiased investigation of terrorist acts. In Mumbai, Malegaon, Mecca Masjid blasts, innocent young Muslim men were picked up, tortured cruelly to force them to ‘confess’ – but later released for want of even a shred of evidence.

The UPA Govt, which promised a Communal Violence Prevention Act, has instead stood mute in the face of an ongoing open communal rampage against Christians that is spreading from state to state.

The monumental injustice of branding and harassing an entire community as ‘terrorist,’ compounded with the crime of allowing majoritarian fascist groups to conduct communal pogroms against minorities for weeks on end, or conduct blasts in the guise of Muslims, without facing a ban or getting tagged as ‘terrorist,’ can only create fertile ground for the cancer of terrorism to grow. With the growing evidence of involvement of Sangh cadre in blasts and masquerading as Muslims/SIMI etc, there can be no longer any excuse to keep the obvious political beneficiaries of terrorist acts – mainly the Sangh Parivar – out of the ambit of terror probes.

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