Wednesday, 1 August 2012

An unpublished article on terror... 


By Ali Ahmed*

‘There are two reasons for this gross failure on the part of the police. Firstly they target youth from one community and do not think on other lines at all despite many obvious indicators and despite repeated attempts to draw their attention to these other indications by human rights activists and others. Secondly, they are under pressure from ruling political bosses to solve these cases and from opposition politicians to target one community...It is obvious that someone is playing its hand behind the scene and police is unable to reach at the real culprit…I think some powerful sources and organizations are behind all these terrorist activities and it requires great ingeniousness, political will and unbiased approach to solve this mystery…The police investigation must change its direction, if they want to succeed in curbing terror.’[1]
                                                                                    - Asghar Ali Engineer
It is interesting that there has been a decline in incidence of ‘hinterland terrorism’ since the culmination of terror of 2008 in the Delhi bombings of last year.[2] That the intermittent terror India was subjected to for over three years prior has receded is altogether a good thing. On the possibility that it has ended hangs the hypothesis in this article. The argument here is that a proportion of terror witnessed in 2008 in particular that targeting metros,[3] was not perpetrated by Muslim terror groups as is widely believed. Instead its origins lie elsewhere. Probing the angle presented in this article would help bring this variant of terror to a decisive end. It would additionally in turn positively impact Muslim perpetrated terrorism - thereby bringing to a closure the straitened communal circumstance in India.  

Mumbai 26/11 as a demonstration of the autonomy and reach of Pakistani terror groups has made earlier instances of terror recede from the consciousness by overshadowing it. Nevertheless, the earlier dominant discourse seeking to identify Muslim Indian communities across the land as having terrorist sleeper cells in their midst continues to influence perceptions.[4] This discourse was built by the writings of strategic experts and purveyed by the media for over a decade. It has found its way into the entertainment industry and the internet and thereby acquired dimensions of ‘common sense’ over time. Dispelling it is both difficult and important. This article is an attempt at a start.

Two prominent terrorism experts have voiced like reservations on the manner Indian Muslim communities have reacted to the series of bomb blasts of last year. B Raman, a former RAW officer, observes that, “(T)here has been an unfortunate attempt by these elements in the civil society of Delhi and Mumbai to discredit the investigation being done by the police and to create doubts in the minds of our own public and the international community about the dependability of the police…They have not only tried to damage the credibility of the police, but also wittingly or unwittingly tried to provide an alibi to the jihadi terrorists by bringing in the name of the Bajrang Dal and projecting it as a terrorist organisation comparable to the SIMI. They have tried to insinuate that the police are avoiding any enquiry into the possible involvement of the Dal in some of the terrorist strikes. A prominent leader of the Muslim community in Chennai has also called for an enquiry about the real originator of the messages being received in the name of the IM since November last.’[5] His apparent insinuation is that these messages might not have been sent by jihadi terrorists at all.” B Raman is right. Indian Muslims have watched terror and the investigations succeeding instances of terror over the recent past with considerable skepticism.[6] The underlying belief has been that there is more to these blasts than meets the eye and is being uncovered by the police. This article articulates this minority point of view, with ‘minority’ not only implying the overshadowed but also the multiple Muslim communities scattered across India that collectively make up the minority community.  

Ajay Sahni, executive director of a think tank that very studies terrorism related issues, concurs in stating, ‘(T)he argument has been put forward that 'innocent Muslims' are being targeted in the spate of recent arrests – but no evidence has, at any point, been cited, to support the thesis, other than an undercurrent of sustained denigration of the Police…’. Ajay Sahni is right. Absence of evidence and a suspicion of the police have under grid the Muslim perspective on these blasts. However, he wrongly attributes this to a strategy by terrorists to destroy a unified front against terror. In his words: ‘Among the principal objectives of irregular warfare, Mao Tse Tung notes, is the "destruction of the unity of the enemy". Terrorists targeting India, it is ever more evident, require very little effort to secure this objective, as political leaderships and social elites engage in an increasingly perverse debate on particular terrorist acts and state responses, or on the issue of terrorism in general.’[7] It is for the police to uncover evidence. At best point the police can be pointed in the appropriate direction to look. The efforts at doing so have been interpreted by this terrorism expert as ‘divisive’. To him, unity as prescribed by experts takes precedence over efforts to gain a measure of understanding of the phenomenon of terrorism. 

This article argues that the series of bomb blasts of last year are not necessarily instances of Muslim perpetrated terror. While the government has taken many protective steps in wake of these blasts and Mumbai 26/11, a broadening of the possibilities in addition to the ‘usual suspects’ is recommended here.[8] The uncovering of Abhinav Bharat’s doings in Malegaon and its links with terror attacks in Hyderabad and Ajmer, under probe presently, is, in the position advanced here, merely the tip of the iceberg.[9] The persisting suspicion surrounding the Batla House encounter also indicates that insisting on other prospective directions for investigation is warranted.[10] Making this hypothesis is clearly easier than proving it. The tragic demise of the gallant head of Maharashtra’s Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS), Shri Hemant Karkare, IPS, Ashok Charka, has likely decelerated efforts at uncovering the connection of the far right with the blasts.[11] The newly formed National Investigation Agency that is mandated to progress such cases has yet to gain traction.[12] At the political level, elections having concentrated minds, controversial issues as nailing the actual perpetrators of the blasts cannot be expected to figure high on political radar screens. Therefore, the manner of substantiating the hypothesis here is not through presenting hard core evidence, such as presented by Tehelka in its Operation Kalank prior to the last Gujarat elections,[13] but to bring out the reservations of majority of Muslim Indians on the mainstream perspective on the series of bomb blasts over the recent past.

The article first takes a synoptic view of the circumstance of Muslims in India. Thereafter, it analyses the blast incidents bringing out the basis of questioning of the popular perspective that these have been the handiwork of the Indian Mujahedeen (IM) or of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).[14] In particular, the textual analyses of the emails reportedly received from the IM, brings into question the theory that the IM has conducted the blasts. With its discussion of motives of possible suspects, the paper alights on a possible direction of further investigation for the authorities, in particular the National Invesitgation Agency, to progress the case to a just and rational closure. A recommendatory conclusion on the need for justice wraps up the article.

The Muslim Indian condition[15]

Muslim population has increased rapidly from 47 million at Independence to 138 million. This amounts to an increase just short of trebling and is much higher than the national average increase of 134 per cent. Census of India 1901, listed 133 social groups wholly or partially Muslim. Presently Muslim society is usually placed into two categories, namely, ‘ashraf’ and ‘ajlaf’. Ashraf, meaning ‘noble’, includes all Muslims of foreign blood and converts from higher castes. ‘Ajlaf’ meaning ‘degraded’, embraces the ritually clean occupational groups and low ranking converts. Further, ‘Arzals’ are the ‘untouchable converts’ to Islam comprising those having similar traditional occupation as their Hindu counterparts in the list of Schedule Castes. Muslim population is predominantly rural. However, 35.7 per cent of Muslim population is urban compared to 27.8 per cent of the over all figure. Muslim population share is expected to rise from the current level but not expected to be much above 20 per cent by the end of the century. Correspondence between overall fertility and Muslim fertility in the states, although the latter is higher than the average, indicating the population figures correspond to development levels. Therefore intervention on the development score could favourably influence future figures. Contrary to common perception, there is substantial demand for fertility regulation and for modern contraception.

On the aspect of perceptions of the community, the landmark Sachar Committee report highlights that Muslims carry a double burden of being labeled as “anti-national” and as being “appeased” at the same time. Additionally it enumerates from the responses it received the following perceptions: buying or renting property in localities of one’s choice is becoming increasingly difficult leading to ghettoisation; a lack of a sense of security and a discriminatory attitude; governmental inaction in bringing to book the perpetrators of communal violence; the police, along with the media, overplay the involvement of Muslims in violent activities and underplay the involvement of other groups; police highhandedness; lack of adequate Muslim presence in the police force;  and the perception of being discriminated against. The problems that give rise to such a perception within the community have also been brought out and include: poverty as being the main cause of low levels of education; lack of presence and opportunities in administrative, policy and political spaces; a communal divide that has emerged over the issue of Hindi and Urdu; despite obtaining degrees and certificates Muslims were unable to get employment; a cycle of poverty, lack of education and technical skills, leading to low-skilled and low income work; discrimination by both public and private sector banks in providing bank credit; absence of proper civic amenities and infrastructure facilities; Muslims, especially women, have virtually no access to government development schemes; and, Muslim concentration assembly constituencies being declared as ‘reserved’ constituencies where only SC candidates. In particular, the report rejects the following myths: Muslims shun modern education and flock to madrasas (only four per cent do so); they are averse to family planning (fertility rates are in decline); and, lastly, demographically they will before long flood the rest of the population.

Politically and socially, there has been a secession of the Muslim elite from the general Muslim condition resulting in a certain irrelevance of liberal opinion. Thus, lacking representation in the elite and with a narrow middle class base the community is largely leaderless. This makes it vulnerable for exploitation by self interested politicians and by fundamentalist forces. It is an internally differentiated community with multiple divisions based on geographical spread, historical origin and experience, local identities and varieties of Islam. Therefore to imagine a Muslim India or the minority as a homogeneous Muslim community is a perceptual error. At the national level it is represented by several diverse bodies with a religious bias such as the All India Personal Law Board, Jamaat e Islami Hind, Tablighi Jamaat, Jamaat e Ulema e Hind and Jamaat e Ahl e Hadith. However, there is no denominational political party at national level and articulation and representation of Muslim interests is done by national parties and regional parties. There is no Muslim leadership of national profile, while Muslim leaders of national eminence but with regional roots are apparent. This has given rise to a recent ‘felt need’ of having a national level Muslim political grouping as locus for political activity. In light of the Congress victory, partially through Muslim backing, this idea is unlikely to become a reality any time soon. As a final word, the communities that comprise India’s largest minority are largely backward. But the most significant trend is the expanding middle class as Muslim Indians busy themselves with participating in India’s economic miracle.

Profile of Muslim perpetrated terrorism

The minority has been associated in the popular perception with terror since the bomb blasts of March 1993 in Mumbai.[16] These were engineered by the underworld that took it on itself to ‘avenge’ their brethren for the preceding riots in wake of the Babri Masjid demolition. The earlier instances of riots in an outpouring of mob fury were put down harshly by the police. The same energy was not only missing but the police were in some cases complicit in the Thakeray inspired Shiv Sena perpetrated riots of the following month. The underworld led by Dawood Ibrahim, with the active support of the Inter Services Intelligence of Pakistan, undertook the first mass terrorist atrocity that has since entered the consciousness as the infamous Black Friday.[17] Thereafter, with majoritarian ideology gaining ground nationally and politicians with extremist roots acquiring power in regional pockets, communal polarization has increased in step. The increasing incidence of terror culminated in the series of bomb blasts in 2008.

The principle grouping blamed so far has been the SIMI and its supposed militant offshoot, the IM. It reportedly earned its stripes during Emergency when its parent organization the Jamaat e Islami was banned. It was formed in Aligarh with 250 delegates and continued for a time to be affiliated to the JI, though not as its student’s wing. It has been influenced by Maududi’s fundamentalist philosophy. But the start of radicalisation can be dated to early Nineties. It remained moderate controlled, though radicalisation picked up pace after the ban on the organization in the tenure of the BJP led NDA government. Gujarat 2002 can be taken as a watershed in the radicalization. It is possible that the IM, implicated for terrorism over the past two years, is the radicalized, hard-line, possibly breakaway, faction of the SIMI. A major source of information on the underground network of these organizations has been the interrogation of leaders, Maulvi Bashir and Nagori, apprehended by Indore police on 26 March 2008.[18]

Apparently, the Muslim terror groups have a cellular structure, with the National Security Adviser estimating that 800 such ‘sleeper cells’ exist across India.[19] Evidence on these has surfaced in the disrupting of 39 of these, with 10 being in Uttar Pradesh alone, though none have surfaced in Azamgarh – considered the locus of terror in wake of the Batla House encounter. The activity of these groups includes training in small groups of twelve members in camps in Dharwad, Karnataka (2005-07) and elsewhere in Karnataka, Kerala and Gujarat. Up to forty have also received training in Karachi in 2006-07. Their affiliation there is with the Lashkar e Toiba, Harkat Ul Jehaad Islami. It is reported that the link with these foreign organizations is through a certain Abu al Qama (Qayamuddin Kapadia) and Amer Raza Khan and Bhatkal in Pakistan. Funding for the organisation is from the ISI and also from businessmen, cattle smugglers, havala transactions, the underworld, sale proceeds of items brought from credit taken from sources in Dubai and from charity and remittances from abroad. Of the twenty apprehended by Mumbai police since Delhi encounter, the profile is of a higher order than expected comprising one mechanical engineer, a computer science graduate, a computer engineer, a computer and mobile  retailer; a mobile repairman; a commerce graduate; and two contractors.[20] More elaborate linkages have been brought out in the writings of Praveen Swami in the Frontline and The Hindu, relying on police sources.[21]

Eventually the story comprising multiple narratives, liberally borrowing from each other, has been told so often that it now has status of common sense. Periodic blasts have contributed to the mental image of a terrorist as Muslim, especially since all blasts are blamed on Muslims. Leaders have reinforced the image made up by statements such as ‘While all Muslims are not terrorists, all terrorists are Muslim’.[22] This makes countenancing non-Muslim terrorists a difficult mental proposition. Therefore the reluctance to discuss angles, such as is being advanced here. The media is complicit in this. An Outlook poll substantiates this. 74 per cent answered ‘Yes’ to the question: Does media sensationalises terror news?[23] Films, such as ‘A Wednesday’, ‘Aamir’ and ‘Black Friday’ have also projected the largely inaccurate image.[24] These have built on earlier blockbuster films as ‘Ghadar’ and ‘Border’ that projected Pakistan in a poor light and sought to make a linkage between India’s minority with that country. The latter film focused on the military brought out many patriotic characters with none being Muslim. This is not an oversight but can only be a deliberate one given that the battalion commander of the company commanded by the main lead was in real life a Muslim, late Lt Col Khursheed Hussain.[25] Instead of the secular angle that could have been brought in, the producer and director chose to show the Muslim officer in unfavourable light as calling back the forces from the border in the first pring. When challenged in court, this scene was withdrawn. Interested forces have capitalized on the opportunity for like minority bashing. For instance, pirated CDs of the film ‘Khuda ke Liye’ were printed at least at one place after deliberately deleting the climax in which Naseeruddin Shah’s character redeems the image of Islam by wresting its message from fundamentalists.[26] The image left with viewers is thus a manipulated one of a singular and hateful Islam. The film ‘Contract’, released prior to the bombings, carried a scene of a hospital bombing that was replicated in the Ahmedabad bombings. This indicates the manner a certain stereotype has been foisted on the public mind. The bombing campaign unleashed later capitalized on this. It was reinforced by the manner in which suspected terrorists were paraded by the Delhi police in keffiyeh, a dress foreign to Indian Muslims.[27] The effort served to link Indian Muslim terrorists to the larger global Jihad, which is certainly far from reality; even if Muslim Indians are appalled at the manner the US has conducted its military campaign in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The impact of televised images of the violent Muslim counter elsewhere to the hegemonic Global War On Terror has not helped the case here any. All of these conspire towards an uncritical acceptance of dominant narrative, proven here as wanting in substance. A nonsensical profile of Muslim terrorist groups was carried in a widely read periodical in late 2008. It claims that there exists a core national leadership of 12 persons that includes the mastermind Tauqeer, for a group called ‘Call of Islam’ having over 60000 members over 35 years. There is a military wing Ikhwan with 6000 foot soldiers and 500 Ansars for operations. The overall membership of the overarching organization called Indian Muslim Brotherhood is 10 lakhs![28] Such writings in mainstream media build up the amorphous image of Muslim as terrorist.[29] Therefore, if incontrovertible evidence in the form of the palpable reality of bomb blasts exists, it is but a short step in mainstream discourse to link the blasts with these groups and be endorsed by public opinion.

In the Muslim perspective, the state stands compromised by its inaction in face of the Babri Masjid demolition, the Mumbai riots and Gujarat 2002. Police over zealousness on occasion has led to alienation of Muslim youth. Without adequate openings in the economy, the more aggressive elements of this cohort can but be expected to lean towards violence. A rationalization that an ‘omlette cannot be made without breaking egg shells’ is reasonable where intelligence is scare, but it cannot be without a price. The groupings dubbed ‘sleeper cells’ therefore possibly exist, but not in the manner implied by the term ‘sleeper cells’. The implication is that these are subverted elements out to do an external power’s bidding. While such externalization may be politically expedient, it distances the minority further as a potential fifth column in the public imagination. It is moot that some such groupings could well be vigilante groups formed for the purpose of self-defence in case the community is targeted either by non-state majoritarian activists in league with renegade elements of a complicit state. While disruptive of the theoretical monopoly over violence the state is to enjoy in a Weberian state model,[30] there is no escaping the logic of self-defence inherent in the straitened security circumstance of Muslim India over the past quarter century. It can be likened to the numerous ethnic based militant groups that exist in India’s North East as insurance against the state’s actions of omission or commission. Such mainly impromptu and isolated organising action on part of the multiple Muslim communities can only be expected to increase with the proximity of inimical political forces to the center of power at Delhi and the extent to which they manage to appropriate the ‘idea of India’ in their doctrinal image. The less peaceable the action of forces of the far right, the more likely would be the recourse to identity among beset Muslim groups.

This background is useful to understand the advent of jihadi philosophy and mindset to the limited extent that it exists in Muslim communities in South Asia.[31] Salafism or Wahabbism and Ahl e Hadith adherents are followers of purist Islam as originated by medieval Arab scholar Imam Hambal.  The Indian variant predates the fundamentalist reaction to Akbar’s syncretic regime and culminated in the commandeering of Aurangzeb’s agenda by these forces. The subsequent period of decline of the Moghul Empire was attributed by a leading religious figure, Shah Waliullah in 18th century Delhi, to loss of faith. His work in turn inspired Sayyid Ahmed of Rae Bareilly to Jihadist endeavor. He along with Shah Ismail was martyred fighting Sikhs in 1831 for the cause of Jihad. His followers fought the British up until and through the 1857 mutiny. Eventually remnants of this order, Gangohi and Nanautavi, founded the Deoband seminary in 1861. Wahabbism of Arabian origin and linked with Saudi clan reached Indian shores and has the ebb tide has carried Maulana Maududi’s Wahabbi inspired writings back to Arab lands.[32] Presently, there are over 5000 Deobandi affiliates making for a strong fundamentalist clique in Muslim Indian communities. These have been strengthened by petro dollars from the Gulf. The global post colonial Islamic experience comprising the complex experience and narratives of neo colonialism in the Middle East, the Zionist-Palestinian face off, the military might of the US over the last two decades and the counter narratives of Islamism have washed up on Indian shores. Osama thus has some approbation, even if no Indian has ever been involved with the al Qaeda – despite contrived linkages that some politically mal-intentioned commentators ceaselessly draw between the local and the global.

While the building blocks of the dominant narrative are present to an extent, the manner some aspects have been exaggerated and nuances shaded out, indicates that the dominant discourse has lost the plot. The logic behind the dominant narrative is that there is ‘no smoke without fire’. The contention here is that there is little fire and much more smoke than warranted. This shortcoming of the dominant discourse is politically inspired and fostered. It has practical fallout in terms of the unidirectional manner investigations into terrorism are proceeded with. Therefore there is a need to combatively bring attention to its shortcoming and the need for necessary moderation. 

Analysing the terror phenomenon

The series of blasts in 2008 constitute a distinct phenomenon than the preceding terror incidents in terms of being an escalation in violence and in being more escalatory. The earlier incidents, in the perspective offered here, are part of a dialogue between Muslim terror groups with both the state and also incidentally with Hindu terror groups. The terror instances have among other reasons vengeance as motive not only for Gujarat 2002 but tough policing action in wake of such incidents. The dialogue through violence with Hindu terror groups is in the manner religious sites and agglomerations of the ‘Other’ have been targeted by both. The departure from the popular perspective here is that the blasts in which Muslims have been targeted are attributed here to Hindu terror groups. In the mainstream discourse these are seen as the handiwork of fundamentalist Muslim groups against sites of Sufi worship or for engineering a riot from which fundamentalists hoped to wrest leadership of the community. This commands little subscription amongst Muslims. Instead, certain senseless terror attacks, such as at the popular light show for tourists in Hyderabad’s Lumbini Park, can be taken of ambiguous parentage. It can well be attributed to Hindu terror groups looking to show up Muslims in bad light for their political ends. A reading such as this would then break up the continuity in attribution of all terror instances to Muslim groups, with the resulting narrative acquiring logic of a kind. 

The significant point that emerges is that the supposedly IM claimed blasts in major metropolitan cities – Bangalore, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Delhi – need not necessarily be attributed to Muslim terror groups. These could well be the handiwork of Hindu terror groups out to further corner India’s Muslim minority for political benefit in the run up to national elections (then) due the following year. In the period prior to the advent of the IM through the mysterious emails that surfaced in wake of the mentioned blasts in 2008, the attacks were at a smaller scale (excepting the blasts in Mumbai trains), testifying to a local rather than a national agenda. An Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies report has it that 71 per cent violent incidents and 85 per cent casualties were from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, UP and MP; states with a major or expanding presence of majoritarian forces. This also indicates local factors at work. No violence was reported from West Bengal, Assam and Kerala despite highest Muslim concentrations in these states.[34] The linkage with the majoritarian agenda requires therefore to be taken more seriously in the security discourse attending terrorism.

In the popular discourse, the particular series of blasts attributed to the IM, it is reported that the Azamgarh and Mumbai cells were involved. The network footprint included UP, Mumbai, Pune, Indore, Delhi and Mangalore. The story was pieced together largely in coordinated effort by Gujarat, Mumbai and Delhi police; with Gujarat police providing the major contribution through the interrogation of Safdar Nagori. The motive of the IM is taken as an attempt to deepen the communal divide. Thus it could gain ascendancy over Muslim opinion and control of Muslim communities. A Hindu backlash - instigated by the blasts and the incendiary emails - was to be engineered that would increase the threat perception and radicalization of vulnerable Muslim communities. IM could then benefit politically as the ‘savior’ of the beleaguered community. The external power would gain through a weakening of India socially and a disruption in its economic trajectory by making its cities dangerous for foreign capital. While the groups were taken to be provoked by indigenous grievances; these external linkages led to the understanding that they were inspired by global Jihad making India a fresh front in the Global War on Terror. B Raman came up with the catchy thesis of ‘Citizen Jihadi’[35] which at one fell swoop placed the common Muslim citizen in the cross hairs of a terrorist image conjured up by the evocative phrase. In this narrative, the causative factors were incidentally also be addressed; though catering for the remedial action necessary as per the Sachar Committee report would amount to ‘minority-ism’ and appeasement.

Questioning the narrative above is important. It commands little credibility in the minority and even in liberal India. This is reason enough that the resulting reservations find expression and increasing visibility. Firstly, credibility of the source of the surfeit of information on the IM is suspect. The Gujarat police compromised its credibility by lending itself as an institution to exercise by the political executive of subjective control requiring ideological conformity as against objective control that requires professionalism.[36] Some of the information is from Rajasthan.[37]

Much of the information on existence of Muslim groups is possibly true and extracted from Nagori and other such activists in custody.[38] What is questionable is the extent of their involvement in perpetrating terror. Organizing and networking along denominational lines by itself is neither illegal nor unconstitutional. Given the vitiated communal climate  it would be imprudent for local and isolated communities not to organize for self defence. In case the police is seen as partisan, such organization would likely be clandestine. But all this does not of itself bespeak of Muslim groups involvement in the blasts in question. The information can well be used to implicate the groups, even if the blasts are some one else’s handiwork. The contention here is that this is so. An overarching terror narrative has been constructed using the information that is most likely true, as setting for the blasts which is eminently questionable. Such equipment, explosive and know how is accessible to anyone. An email need not have Muslim originator. Anyone can impersonate a Muslim originator and for an email booth operator to remember who visited the booth is a great memory feat in itself. Demonstrating a capacity repeatedly over a short period the necessary organisation, recconnaisance and coordination by a group that is simultaneously avoiding police scrutiny is an incredible feat. It requires organizational resources and a freedom of movement of a superior order not in the non-governmental realm. The profile of the IM group from Azamgarh does not make it self evident that they have such resourcefulness.[39] The very suspicious instance of none of the bombs planted in Surat remains unexplained.[40] Reportedly they were found and reported to the police by some people owing allegiance to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).[41]  Confessions resulting from arrests in Mumbai, Delhi and Pune are eminently questionable. Nevertheless, at least one national weekly carried an interview with the accused as a scoop,[42] making for a dimming of the critical faculties of the public at large. Two arrested for planting bombs in Surat and Ahmedabad were Fazal-e-Rehman Mus Khan Durrani, a robber, and Ahmed Bawa Abu Bakr, a farm worker.[43] Their antecedents and motivations require investigation in retrospect. Lastly is the question of motive. The strategic good sense of the IM is questionable in light of their ineffectiveness. In case they were to make political capital out of the cornering of the Muslims, then there was no evidence of their political cadre on the ground. The only fallout was greater inconvenience to the community of which they were self-styled protectors. As has been seen in the first section of this paper, the minority community cannot lose out on any more time catching up with their more forward fellow citizens and brethren. Thus it gives rise to the question in the minds of majority of Indian Muslims: Is the IM an elaborate piece of fiction conjured by motivated analysts, a complicit or complacent media and interested political formations filling in the background information tidbits?

Possible perpetrators

Two questionable aspects of the bomb blasts need highligting. One is the aspect of the emails[44] and second that of the encounter at Batla House.

Five IM Emails have been received since the November 2007 blasts in Uttar Pradesh. The first reference was in wake of the Varanasi blasts in which the IM claimed responsibility for the bombing in the courts against lawyers boycotting cases of Muslims implicated in terror trials.[45] The later emails that were sent in conjunction with the blasts in the metropolitan cities were relatively long and signed as Al Arbi and Guru Al Hind. The choice of the names is interesting in the attempted linkage being drawn between Arabia (Arbi) and India (Hind). Al Arbi is not a name Indian Islamists would use since the medieval religious personage was famous for his effort at building bridges between the communities. Islamic extracts in Arabic were used to embellish the text. It is apparent that the Arabic text used is fairly widely available and has been used without reference to the context. Thus there is no deep scholarly knowledge of Islam in evidence testifying to the limited engagement of the writer with Islam, as against what one would expect from an Islamic ideologue. Mansoor Asghar Peerbhoy (31), a computer engineer has been implicated for the mails along with Mubin Kadar Shaikh (24), a Computer Science graduate.[46] This requires scrutiny and may be an instance of placing even those trying to emerge from ghettos into the middle class on the defensive by making even those in such progressive occupations suspect by default. In any case, anyone can compose and send an email. The use of English words as ‘Numbskull’ indicates that the one who has drafted it is of an older generation.[47] There is an awareness of issues that rankle a communal mind such as about Gujcoca and Amarnath yatra. Such issues are known to a Hindu extremist too, since extremists of both faiths share the same hate-filled discourse. The provocative content is designed to provoke Hindu sentiment. While Muslim extremists may wish to do so for obvious reasons; an impersonator would wish to do so political reasons. For a Muslim perpetrator setting off the blasts is ‘propaganda by deed’. Following up with a traceable email is to unnecessarily leave foot prints behind. Hindu extremists acting with impunity can do so, particularly to make the link between the blasts and the minority indelible. Lastly, there is an over play of the ‘home grown’ card. The drafter is imploring the external linkage be discounted since it is an indigenous effort. This is, to put it mildly, an over kill and betrays an impersonator’s hand. Further, terrorists seldom acknowledge themselves as ‘terrorists’. Self-incriminating reference to themselves as ‘terrorists’ in the email indicates an extraordinary effort, thereby heightening suspicion of intent. This can only be an impersonator attempting to pin the blame inextricably to the target. The intelligence community is aware of the tactic termed ‘black propaganda’. In this the deed is committed by someone in order to implicate another. This is quite possibly the case here. 

Second is the infamous encounter at Batla House. Batla House is in Jamia Nagar, a locality with 98 per cent Muslims in its one lakh population – in other words the typical ghetto, averred to earlier.[48] It has no government hospital, dispensary, Safal outlet, fair price shops and Mother Dairy outlet.  It has only three banks and is considered a ‘red area’ for all banks from lending purposes. There is no drinking water facility in three nearby localities. It has paying guest accommodation for the student body of a central university, the historic Jamia Millia Islamia of impeccable nationalist credentials. Of the Batla House encounter, of which there are seven versions available, noted expert, B Raman, writes, ‘(T)here cannot be a "friendly fire" when the members of the raiding party are known to each other and operate in an enclosed space as inside a flat. "Friendly fires" take place when one party is not aware of the identity of another party.’ Clearly, Mr. Raman, who left the police for the RAW on its raising in late sixties, is out of touch with ground reality. Fratricide can take place by accident too. ‘Operating in an enclosed space’ is ideal ground for friendly fire to claim a victim. The term ‘encounter’ in India has acquired very definitive implications and need not be dwelt on at length.[49] In this particular encounter, basic mistakes such as absence of bullet proof vest, backup and medical cover were committed indicating the operation was not intended at the outset as an ‘encounter’ with a dreaded terror group. The Jamia Teachers Solidarity Group has brought out details of the contradictions in the police story.[50] These are so many that the National Human Rights Commission and the courts have also taken cognizance of these.[51] The main point is that the victims were staying fairly openly unlike they would at a hideout, having given their actual details for tenant verification etc. These are issues that cannot be papered over by award of the nation’s highest peacetime honour for gallant action, the Ashok Chakra, to an otherwise brave police officer with a creditable record, who was felled in the incident.[52]

There are additional indicators pointing to a direction other than where it has become customary for investigation agencies to look. The accidental bomb blasts in Nanded and Kanpur involving Bajrang Dal workers is a case to point. Increasing evidence is coming to fore that the attacks on Muslim religious places, earlier blamed on HUJI, Hyderabad, Ajmer, Jama Masjid and Malegaon have been done by Hindu terrorists. Bomb attacks in Thane, Vashi and Panvel were carried out by Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Jana Jagriti Samiti indicating that bombings are not a Muslim monopoly. The theory on Muslim terror groups as perpetrators of the series of blasts in Gauhati, Malegaon, Modasa, Mehrauli and Agartala is questionable.[53] No Muslim organization has such a wide footprint and the coordination capabilities of the ISI cannot be of such an order. It is with good reason that an Outlook poll has recorded a 69 per cent affirmative response to a question: Should government impose a ban on Bajrang Dal? There are perhaps rogue elements within this organization and with linkages with free lancing elements in state intelligence and policing apparatus, particularly in states where they would likely enjoy a greater impunity, that require to be investigated. The case of renegade Lt Col Purohit is an unmistakable pointer. This is perhaps one reason that the central government was forced to come up with a National Investigation Agency, so that subverted sections of the state apparatus can be bypassed to ensure justice is done.[54]

The alternative assessment offered here is that the so called ‘sleeper cells’ are  self styled protector groups within local communities in face of perceived collusion of state with right wing Hindu extremists at places where this is perceived to exist. There being no strategic gains for the community or any political group, either over-ground or under-ground, it is unlikely that an Indian Muslim group has carried out these blasts. The external linkages, to the extent that they exist with local groups are of a limited tactical nature, such as to gain access to material and training. These do not have a strategic purpose such as being part of a plan of the ISI to ‘bleed India’ with a thousand cuts.[55] Knowing Indian ‘threshold of tolerance’ is tenuous in light of Kargil, the Parliament attack and now Mumbai 26/11, Pakistan understands that any strategy of indigenization of terror would prove counter-productive. Any linkage to global radical Islam is contrived and exaggerated with Islamism having little resonance in India since local and existential issues are what are of concern to the minority. Therefore, it is pertinent to revert to the question: Who stands to gain?

Shiv Sena leader, Bal Thakeray’s remark on fighting ‘fire with fire’ has been explicated by him in an article thus: ‘The threat of Islamic terror in India is rising. The only way Islamic terror can be tackled was by unleashing Hindu terror. It is time to set up Hindu suicide squads to ensure safety of the Hindu society and to protect the nation,’[56] It would appear that some elements in the majority community agree with him. The advantages they seek through terror acts incriminating the minority are further marginalization and ghettoisation of the minority. The historical animus apparently runs deep in such minds. The expansion of the ring of suspicion to the middle class segments in the forward professions as Information Technology industry helps bash down the emerging Muslim middle class only now climbing out of ghettos and poverty. This is a hate filled agenda. The political agenda is propelled by the political utility of the cumulative impact of such acts. The timing of the spate of blasts is suggestive of a linkage not only with the national elections of 2009 but the Bangalore and Ahmedabad blasts in particular appear to have a linkage in terms of timing with the confidence vote faced by the Manmohan Singh government on the Indo-US nuclear deal.[57] The cryptic remark of a senior BJP leader after the Delhi blasts that ‘the Congress has done it’ shows that the politics surrounding the blasts is an angle that has not been probed adequately. The stage would be set for a ‘strongman’ leader to end the instability.[58] The expectation for the political formations that could be behind such acts is that a social fracture develops which can then be exploited to make of the majority an indestructible ‘vote bank’. The Congress led government can be shown up as weak and a Muslim appeaser. This was to help electorally. In the event, liberal Hindu opinion ensured this hope did not transpire. Their aim of gaining political power over rising state is to be dividend of a century of effort beginning early last century. It is a program that has only temporarily received a set back. Hindu extremist organizations provide the rationale and atmosphere for such scheming. Far right, autonomous and like minded elements in them can muster up the organizational capability. The paramilitary culture of these organizations lends itself to development of the mentality necessary for such violence. This is concurred with by a majority of 70 per cent in an opinion poll in answering the poser: Can activities of Bajrang Dal such as bomb making be called terrorist activities?


It is important to disaggregate incidences of the blasts over the last few years. Doing so, helps build a picture that is markedly different from the received one. It would appear that in the pre IM period, there existed a dialogue through violence between extremists of both communities. In the post IM period, the blasts in the metros differ from earlier ones in being of a higher order and requiring great organizational skills. That these have since ceased, as brought out in the Introduction, is also indicative of a wider political intent behind them. The contention here is that extremists in the majority community in league with renegade elements in the state set out to impersonate Muslim groups and implicate Muslims in the blasts conducted by them. While the Azamgarh, Karnataka and Mumbai cells likely participated in SIMI training camps and are implicated in waging war against the state, they are likely as not responsible for this set of blasts. It therefore behooves on the authorities to recheck the direction of investigations. While those underway could stay on course so as to deter, neutralise and expose Muslim extremist groups, other directions as recommended here also can be taken up. The state has done well to neutralize self-styled protectors of the minority community. The onus of protection of the vulnerable minority therefore increases on it.

This can best be fulfilled by exposing the possible right wing conspiracy through 2008 against state and social peace. Justice must be done and seen to be done. The Supreme Court has rightly seized itself of the matter regarding lack of justice in the Gujarat 2002 cases by appointing the Special Investigating Team to fast track nine of these.[59] The move for justice needs to be taken further to bring to a final closure the forces of communalism that at a point in time threatened to consume both state and society. The need is ever greater in light of the political circumstance in which the Hindu right is on the defensive after a defeat. Bouncing back over the next five years with a younger generation at the head may require it to revert to its core concerns of identity politics. Thus a repeat of destabilizing India may be witnessed at an uncertain point in the future. India requires deterring such a development by bringing to justice the subterranean centers of power in the far right for connections, if proven, with the bomb blasts of 2008. 

The criticism of India as a ‘soft state’ needs to be redefined. Presently it has been appropriated by the state baiters to say that India is soft on minority perpetrated terror, thereby emboldening such terror. It is inaction against the graver majoritarian threat that makes for credibility of the ‘soft state’ critique. The second perception that India’s Muslims are in denial is yet another one requiring revision. In the perspective recounted here, it would appear instead that the many subscribing to the dominant view are in denial. This is one reason that the protagonists of the major bomb blasts of last year remain at large. They require to be brought to book during the honeymoon period of the government, for as time goes by, though seemingly currently strong, the government would progressively lose its sheen. This is all the more important in light of the likelihood of a return to terror as the trail the Supreme Court directed SIT is on gets warmer and warmer.

Note: The article dates to 2010

* Ali Ahmed is a doctoral candidate in international politics at JNU.  The author would like to thank Dr.  S Faizan Ahmed of the IDSA for his input in this article.

[1] Asghar Ali Engineer, ‘And they struck again’,, 22 Sep 2008 (
[2] ‘Hinterland terror’ is the term used by the Ministry of Home Affairs to designate terror of mainly indigenous origin as against that having origin in Pakistan’s ‘proxy war’ in Kashmir. See pages 44-45 of Status Paper on Internal Security, Mar 08 available at See also Chapter 3 on Terrorism in India of the Verappa Moily Committee Report available at
[3] Specifically Jaipur and the ‘BAD’ group – Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi. For a timeline of bomb blasts, see ‘Timeline: Bomb attacks in India’, Al Jazeera, 30 Oct 2008.
[4] Even the Mumbai attack was sought to be blamed on the ‘Deccan Mujahedeen’ to identify Indian Muslims with the atrocity.
[5] Also see his blog at
[6] Asghar Ali Engineer, ‘And they struck again’,, 22 Sep 2008.
[7] Ajai Sahni, Fractured Vision, Outlook, 29 Sep 2008.
[8] In an interview with, 'Not many Hindu organisations involved in blasts' (19 Sept 08), the Special Secretary, MHA, is reported to have said, ‘We have not come across many Hindu organisations indulging in bomb blasts, I think. But, there are some instances of Hindu organisations. We are alert about the problem.’
[9] S Ghatade, ‘Update on Malegaon’,, 19 Sep 2006.
[10] Praful, Bidwai,  ‘Delhi ’Encounter’ Raises Tough Questions’,
[11] The head of the ATS was killed in an impromptu ambush laid by  a set of terrorists  which included the lone survivor Ajmal Kasab during the Mumbai terror attacks.
[12] P Das, The NIA: A good start but not a panacea’, IDSA Strategic Comments, 12 Jan 2009.
[13] Shoma Chaudhary, ‘The silence of the lambs’, Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 44, Dated Nov 17, 2007. Also,  Firdaus Ahmed, ‘Is Vox Populi Enough?’,, 05 Apr 08
[14] N Goswami, ‘Who is the Indian Mujahideen?’, 3 February, 2009, IndianMujahideen.htm
[15] This section relies on the Sachar Committee report for its details. The Sachar Committee was formed in March 2005 for preparation of a report on the social, economic and educational status of Muslims. The Committee was to consolidate, collate and analyse the above information to identify areas of intervention by the government. The Committee submitted its 403 page findings and recommendations in Nov 2006. For text, see Also see, Ali Ahmed, ‘Muslim India through the security prism’, Milligazette.
[16] See Shabnam Hashmi, Communalism Centerstage, Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 39, Oct 04, 2008.
[17] See the Srikrishna report on the Mumbai riots of 1993 at
[19] Firdaus Ahmed, ‘Counter narrative on terror’,, The Bharatiya Janata Party claims these number 5000 (
[20] S Nair, ‘Mumbai arrests expose new face of terror: educated, professionals’, Screen, 7 Oct 08.
[21] See for instance, his ‘A bend in the road’, Outlook, 18 Mar 08. The wealth of information he brings out begs the question as to why the police cannot take preventive action.
[22] The statement is attributed to Dan Gillerman, Israeli Ambassador to the UN, March 7, 2006. However, see the writings of former PM, AB Vajpayee, ‘Musings from Kumarkom’.
[23] An Outlook- GfK Mode opinion poll, Outlook, 06 Oct 08
[24] Kamal Mohammad, ‘A Wednesday: Cinematic Politics’,, 06 Oct 2008.
[25] Interview with late Lt Col Hussain; who was an uncle of the author.
[26] Experience of the author. 
[27] S Menon, ‘Media Manipulation By Police To Create A Distinct Communalised Imagery’,, 25 Sep 08. 
[28] See India Today website on such unverified ‘facts’ at It is a telling comment on the nature of the media and the manner of its manipulation. The Pioneer paper is another publication of like suspect credentials.
[29] See  for instance F Gautier’s ’Redefining India’,
[30] See the entry on German political scientist and sociologist Max Weber,
[31] See Ayesha Jalal’s Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia; Ranikhet, Orient Longman Pvt Ltd; 2008. Also see, Hafeez Malik,  ‘Indian Muslims’ adaptation to Indian secularism’, Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Fall 2007.
[32] Maududi’s major work on religious violence was Jihad fil Islam. This has been translated into Arabic and has been influential in the Arab world. However, its English translation is not readily available.
[33] Prepared by author using various sources.
[34] Devyani Srivastava, ‘Terrorism and Armed Violence in India: An Analysis of Events in 2008’,
[35] B. Raman, ‘The Citizen Jihadi’, International Terrorism Monitor, Paper No. 237,
[36] See the version of IPS officer of the Gujarat cadre who was in charge of intelligence in 2002, RB Sreekumar, ‘Hunter better than Nanavati’,, 29 Sep 08.
[37] H Dave in ‘Another place, day but same police ‘encounter’ theory’, Indian Express, 2 Feb 07 indicates the involvement of the Rajasthan police in a false encounter with the Gujarat police. A probe had been sought by the National Human Rights Commission in a like earlier encounter in Gujarat (‘Probe Ahmedabad shootout, NHRC tells Gujarat police’, The Hindu, 18 Jun 2004). 
[38] V Nanjappa, ‘Key details of SIMI plans confirmed’,
[39] Profile of Azamgarh: Of 54 terror strikes, 44 have been linked with Azamgarh. This is a largely poor district with 70% children malnourished and mortality of 63/1000. It has an economically upwardly mobile Muslim community due to a Mumbaia and Gulf connection. This is an energetic community, ethnically of Pathan origin and Rajput converts of the 17th century. There are links with organised crime with Abu Salem belonging from here. There are 177 registered madrasas, but it has the famous Shibli college associated with the nationalist movement. Kaifi Azmi is an important personage from here. There is no credibility of police version in Muslim community, which staged a peaceful demonstration in the capital to protest its victimization. Sanjarpur, reported mastermind  Atif’s village, has 40000 people and 24 apprehensions have been from this village. Saraimir is a progressive village of Maulana Bashir’s and reportedly has a 14 member cell. 
[40] It has been sought to be explained away in a subsequent terror email in the following manner: ‘"It is not hidden from you anymore that after tasting the bitterest of defeats by our hands at Ahmedabad and Surat, the Indian Mujahideen — "the homegrown Jihadi militia of Islam" — have once again attacked to make you face the disastrous consequences of the injustice and oppression inflicted upon the Muslims all over the country."
[41] S Gupta, ‘Some bombs get defused’, Outlook, 03 Nov 08. 
[42] Mihir Srivastav, ‘Inside the mind of the Bombers’, India Today, 02 Oct 08.
[43] ‘Mumbai Police nabs 15 more terrorists’, India Today Note the bias in the headline. Allegations are taken as facts.
[44] “Stop the heart of India from beating”, Outlook, September 13, 2008
[45] AG Noorani, ‘Lawless Lawyers’, EPW, 04 Oct 2008.
[46] ‘Indian Mujahideen's media cell busted’,
[47] Asghar Ali Engineer believes that the profile of those arrested does not indicate such capability.
[48] Rakhshanda Jalil, ‘Why a bias against Jamia Nagar?’, TOI, 29 Sep 08.
[49] ‘More Questions About Delhi Encounter Killings’, A Fact Finding Report,, 26 September, 2008. The suspect nature of ‘encounters’ is evident from a history that includes the Ansals Plaza incident, the Panchaltan killings in Kashmir, the death of Manorama in Manipur and the killings of two acid throwing youth in Andhra are some instances. Some policemen who have acquired a reputation as encounter specialists have been since been discredited both in Delhi and in Mumbai.
[50] ‘Jamia Teachers’ Group points finger at Batla House encounter’, Indian Express, 21 Feb 09,
[51] ‘NHRC ready to probe Batla House encounter’, The Hindu, 21 May 09.
[52] It is a separate matter that is has since emerged that the police is not authorized the award, being eligible for the President’s Police Medal instead.[52] But precedence exists in Ashok Chakras being handed out in the Parliament attack case earlier, that incidentally has its own share of skeptics (Arundhati Roy (ed.), 13 December: A Reader The Strange Case Of The Attack On The Indian Parliament, Delhi, Penguin, 2006).
[53] S Ghatade, ‘Malegaon, Modasa And Mehrauli Blasts: The Hindutva Connection?’,, 04 Oct 2008. The Gauhati blasts were earlier blamed on the HUJI, then on ULFA and only later on the Bodo group, NDFB.

[54] The NIA was created on 01 Jan 09 under the hastily passed NIA Act of December 2008. The problem will arise when right wing groups gain political power at the center. Professionalism of the agency would be the only checkmate against subversion then.
[55] ‘No shift likely in Pak's Kashmir stand’, TOI, 29 Nov 07. 

[56] D Mitra, ‘Shiv Sena's Thackeray urges Hindus to form suicide squads to tackle Islamic fundamentalism, receives flak’, International Buisness Times, 06 Oct 08.

[57] The bombs  found in Surat were also defused in the same period. It is interesting that the two states, Karnataka and Gujarat, are BJP ruled, just as then was Rajasthan, where the previous blasts of May had taken place. Plotters if from the majority community may have had liberty from suspicion and interference in these states. This observation emerged in the aftermath of the bombings, but was swiftly contradicted later with bombs going off in Delhi, among other places, too. For a chronology, see
[58] ‘Sushma Swaraj alleges conspiracy’, The Hindu, 29 Jul 08.
[59] ‘Seven years after Gujarat riots, SC orders probe into Modi's role’, Hindustan Times, 27 Apr 09. 

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