There is a popular saying – “with friends like these, who needs enemies”, i.e. that is when your own people conduct self in an adversarial manner it diminishes the line of division between the friends and enemies. India has long been afflicted with terrorism and in contrast to other victim countries, it faces threat from a wide range of terror organizations and groups, ranging from Islamic terrorists, separatists and left wing terrorism (naxalism) from both the inborn and mercenaries. In early twenty-first century when Pakistan sponsored Islamic terror was peaking in India with large-scale terrorist attacks and human deaths due to such violence, the then Congress/UPA government led by the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (2004 – 2014) invented a new jargon of Hindutva Terrorism to define a few terror incidents. A senior Congress leader coined the term “Saffron Terror” to implicate some Hindus, members of the community never known before for their involvement in any terror incidents in India.
The different terrorist groups resort to violence and sabotage world over against the people and government in the respective countries to achieve their intended political, religious, or ideological goals. In spite of implicating some Hindu religious leaders and army personnel citing their links with nationalist organizations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or Abhinav Bharat, neither their motives nor involvement could be conclusively proved to hold them guilty in a court of law in most cases despite their long detention and investigation by various national agencies. Ironically, the intelligence sources based in the US and some other Western countries suggested hands of Islamic terrorists in the same incidents but the then UPA government instead continued their focus on alleged saffron terror. Though the Congress leaders like P. Chidambaram and Digvijay Singh continue to talk with the same spirit occasionally but there are not many takers now of their conspiracy theories and the concept of saffron terror among the Indian and overseas audience anymore.
Incidentally, during the last over five years of the BJP/NDA rule with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in lead, the way the country’s oldest national party Congress, now in opposition, has acted and taken stand against the ruling dispensation on critical issues of national importance, such as Pulwama terrorist attack, surgical strike at Balakot, abrogation of Article 370, and Citizen (Amentment) Act 2019 etc., it has undoubtedly strengthened the anti-India stand of the nation’s sworned enemy Pakistan domestically as well as in international polity and diplomacy. Leaders of Congress have gone to Pakistan in the past to make common cause on contentious issues and one of them was even seen asking support to remove incumbent PM Modi on one occasion. In the aforesaid backdrop, the recent disclosure by Rakesh Maria in his recent book “Let Me Say It Now” is both startling and alarming how the enemies take advantage of internal conflicts and differences to exploit it to their advantage.
What Rakesh Maria Has Revealed Now!
Rakesh Maria is an ex-IPS officer and former Commissioner Mumbai Police, who was In-charge, operation control room at the time of Mumbai terror attack on 26 November 2008. This attack was conducted by ten hardcore terrorists of Pakistan based dreaded terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), who entered Mumbai through the Arabian sea route. The attack began on 26 November at several places including famous Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai and lasted until 29 November 2008, when the elite National Security Guards (NSG) were ultimately roped in to identify and eliminate perpetrators. During this over 3 days mayhem, at least 166 people had died and more than 300 injured. Of the terrorist squad of ten Pakistanis, nine were eliminated and one terrorist Ajmal Kasab was caught alive. Rakesh Maria was the officer who headed the investigation team and personally interrogated the lone surviving terrorist.
In his book, Rakesh Maria says, "New clothes and shoes were purchased for them (terrorists) and they were also given watches set to India time. The labels of their clothes were removed to prevent their identification. Their photographs were clicked to make fake identity card to pass them off as Indian Hindus…To complete the Hindu impersonation, they (terrorist) were instructed not to forget tying the red sacred threads around their wrist before landing…I (Maria) had broken the initial barrier and I had found a chink in his (Ajmal Kasab) armour. If all had gone well, he would have been dead with a red string tied around his wrist like Hindus. He would have found an identity card on his person with a fictitious name -- Samir Dinesh Chaudhari, student of Arunodya degree and PG college, Vedre complex, Dilkhushnagar, Hyderabad, 500060, resident of 254, Teachers colony, Nagarabhavi, Bengaluru."
It was Ajmal Kasab, who disclosed during the interrogation that all the attackers belonged to the terrorist group LeT, with their handlers/controllers in Pakistan. He was so indoctrinate that he carried impression that in India all mosques have been demolished and Muslims are not allowed to offer Namaz. Initially, Pakistan had refused any link with Kasab, who was executed by hanging in November 2012; however, later they confirmed that the sole surviving attacker was indeed a Pakistani citizen. What Rakesh Maria has revealed now is that the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) wanted to pass off the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack as a case of Hindu terrorism. For this, Ajmal Kasab was given a Hindu identity with the name of “Samir Dinesh Chaudhari” and disguise as a student from Bengaluru. One BJP Minister, while criticizing the erstwhile Congress government particularly the Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s role in the whole affair, has slammed the ex-cop too asking why he didn’t share the information when he was still the police commissioner. There is an excerpt in the Ex-Mumbai Police Commissioner’s book that Kasab would have died as Samir Dinesh Chaudhari with ' Kalava (red thread) around his wrist' had the LeT succeeded in their plan.
While most of the politicians deal with their rivals and adversaries largely same way, as ex-bureaucrat, I can explain the reason why Maria did not publicly shared the aforesaid information. The highest decision maker in any functional ministry is invariably the concerned political head (Minister), who is a politician and is not bound by any conduct rule in public. They are expected to follow certain moral values and ethics, which the majority of them seldom follow. On the other hand, a civil servant irrespective of his position in hierarchy is bound by the conduct rules with unambiguous “Dos” and “Don’ts”, any violation of which is considered a punishable offence. This is the reason why most of them avoid sharing any sensitive information while still in service. Some may still blame them for being selfish but let us not forget that while serving nation, everyone needs some identity and means to sustain own family’s living. There is yet another reason too, while still remaining in the environment one could at least do some public good and wait for conducive times but by violating the conduct code, one would lose this opportunity too.
Much Publicised Saffron Terror Attacks
Saffron terror is a neologism used by the detractors of the Hindutva ideology to describe alleged acts of violence motivated by Hindu nationalists. These detractors and strong opponents are mostly the leftist and left-centric political parties, and a section of their friendly media and intellectuals/liberals for obvious reasons. They usually blame the Hindu nationalist organizations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and lesser known Abhinav Bharat for such terror attacks. In Hindu religion, saffron (a shade of yellow tinged with orange) colour is a symbol of peace, renunciation and sacrifice, and it is in symbolic use by many Hindu political, religious and nationalist organizations. In the same context, it may also be relevant to mention that the Supreme Court of India in a detailed 1995 judgment had defined Hindutva as a "way of life", which has nothing to do with the narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious identity and bigotry as suggested by some people. Then, another Supreme Court bench comprising of seven judges ruled again in October 2016 that there was no room for fresh debate to review the ‘Hindutva’ verdict of 1995 but the aforesaid pervasive category continue to stick to their guns as it suits to their personal and political motives.
During the previous Congress regime, the terrorist incidents like the 2007 Samjhauta Express bombing, 2007 Mecca Masjid bombing, 2007 Ajmer Sharif Dargah blast and 2008 Malegaon blasts were linked with the Hindu organizations like the RSS and Abhinav Bharat by the Indian political and investigating agencies. On the other hand, some external agencies in abroad had suggested links and connections of these incidents with some Islamist organizations. However, the term saffron terror came predominantly in use after the bomb blasts of September 2008 in Muslims dominated Malegaon town of Maharashtra. After the police arrested few members of a Hindu organization in connection of these blasts, the former Home Minister P. Chidambaram urged Indians to beware of the “Saffron terror” in August 2010 at a meeting of the states police chiefs in New Delhi. So it was cleverly mooted political agenda, which was initially opposed by even some saner voices in the Congress besides being vehemently denied by Hindu religious leaders and political parties like BJP and Shiv Sena, who felt that it was an invention of the Congress to demonise their political opponents.
The Samjhauta Express running between Delhi and Lahore through Attari (on Indian side) border had twin blasts around the midnight on 18 February 2007 resulting in death of 68 people and dozens others wounded. The then Indian agencies investigating the blasts had linked it to the Abhinav Bharat, a Hindu fundamentalist group. The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) suspected the role of an Indian army officer Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit and a Hindu monk Swami Aseemanand in the train blasts. They were arrested, prosecuted and later released on bail. In the same case, the United States Treasury and the United Nations Securiy Council had held Arif Qasmani, a Pakistani national, responsible as the LeT financer and chief coordinator of the Mumbai 2006 train bombings and the 2007 Samjhauta Express bombing, and got him labeled as an international terrorist by the United Nations. Reportedly in January 2010, Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik alleged that Purohit had hired Pakistani extremists to carry out the bombing.
The Ajmer Dargah blast had occurred outside the shrine on 11 October 2007; the bomb was concealed in a tiffin carrier and the blast led to the death of 2 people and 17 injuries. Initially, five people were arrested including Swami Aseemanand. Initially, Aseemanand and others confessed during police investigation their links and role of the Hindu organization RSS in the blast; however, Aseemanand later retracted his confession in the court stating that the same was given under extreme physical and mental duress. Yet another accused Bhavesh Patel claimed that the Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and some other Congress leaders had forced him to implicate the RSS top leadership in the case. In the instant case, the Special NIA Court held two accused Devendra Gupta and Bhavesh Patel responsible for the blast and sentenced them imprisonment for life.
The Mecca Masjid (Hyderabad) bombing occurred on 18 May 2007 inside the mosque in which fourteen people were reportedly killed. As the incident was highly politicized due to conflicting interests, the case was investigated by the multiple agencies like the Anti-Terrorist Squad, Central Bureau of Investigation and, finally, the National Investigation Agency. These investigations centred on the premise of Hindus involvement and, accordingly, some former members of the RSS were questioned. Swami Aseemanand was implicated by the CBI but he again retracted the confession citing the mental and physical torture to provide earlier confession. The investigation was handed over to the NIA by the Congress government in April 2011 after the initial investigations by the local police and the charge sheet filed by the CBI. Finally, a special NIA court acquitted all the accused in their verdict citing lack of evidence. Incidentally, in the same case, the SIT of Hyderabad police had arrested the LeT operative Shaik Abdul Khaja alias Amjad linking him with Mohammed Abdul Shahid Bilal, the key suspect in the bombing. Reportedly, the South Asia Terrorism Portal, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, and the National Counter Terrorism Centre of the United States and the United Nations had suggested in the same case that Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami was actually responsible for the attacks while excluding involvement by any Hindu group. Also while the involvement of any Hindus could never be proved by any investigating agency, Yaseen Bhatkal of Indian Mujahideen confessed in 2013 of the Mujahideen's bombing of two other places in Hyderabad in August 2007 to avenge Mecca Masjid blast, suffice to vindicate the extent to which the vendetta politics or foolhardiness could prove counter-productive.
On 29 September 2008, three bombs exploded in Malegaon town of Maharashtra in which 8 people were killed and dozens were wounded. The arrest of three Hindus including one Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur created a political controversy with then rivals Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Shiv Sena in Maharashtra exchanging barbs, and the latter criticizing it as a political vendetta. In this case too, the Army officer Prasad Shrikant Purohit was accused of being involved in the blast while his counsel maintained that he was falsely framed for political reasons because he carried intelligence data of a sensitive nature about the operations of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) (now banned) and Pakistan's ISI, which could embarrass some influential people in the political establishment. Needless to mention, the National Investigation Agency found no credible evidence against Sadhvi Pragya and recommended the court to drop charges against her. The Bombay High Court granted her bail in April 2017 and now she is a Member of Parliament defeating the Congress stalwart and another strong proponent and vocal critic of Hindutva terror, Digvijay Singh, with a massive margin of valid votes in May 2019 parliamentary elections.
The Indian army had carried out its own court of inquiry (CoI) against Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit, which exonerated him of all charges. It is unlikely that the Indian Army would ever protect any of its members working against the state interests and the CoI proceedings suggest that the officer was indeed on a mission of collecting intelligence data by infiltrating in extremist organizations. The Supreme Court finally granted him bail in August 2017 after nine years detention in jail. What is notable in his case is that despite constant political pressure from the then UPA government, the Army neither put Purohit under suspension nor terminated his service during his detention in jail. After his release, he has been honoured and reinstated in service with the consequential benefits. Though Army being the most disciplined organization in India did not interfere with the judicial process but their treatment of own officer clearly suggest that they are convinced of his innocence. Aseemanand was implicated in three cases of Samjhauta Express, Ajmer Dargah and Mecca Masjid but NIA special court acquitted him of all charges after he pleaded that earlier confessions were made under extreme physical and mental duress. Quite obviously, it appears the investigating agencies had no concrete evidence against him other than his custodial confession.
The common features in all the aforesaid terror attacks were that the targets were predominantly Muslim dominated objects and places, the political leadership at Centre took special interest on all cases and the line of investigation focused only keeping some Hindu organizations as prime suspects. Therefore, it is not surprising that few persons like Aseemanand, Shrikant Purohit and Pragya Thakur were framed as prime suspects and accused in multiple cases. Though almost in all cases, barring the exception of Ajmer Dargah, the external intelligence agencies based in US and others had given hint or even specific clues to the possible involvement of Islamic terrorists and mercenaries but the then political leadership and their enthusiastic servants in investigation agencies found it more convenient to explore only saffron terror in these incidents. Even if we ignore the gory narratives of the third degree torture to the victims like Purohit, Pragya Thakur and Aseemanand to extract requisite confessions from them, the fact is they have either been already absolve of charges or free on bail with a high probability of their innocence being proved in due course.
Political Vendetta Has No Room in Handling Terrorism
India is among the worst affected countries due to terrorism related crimes. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, there have been 44,900 casualties in about 22,895 major and minor terrorist incidents in India since the year 2000 to 20 February, 2021. This includes 13853 civilians, 7188 security forces personnel, 22662 terrorists/extremists and the remaining unspecified deaths. The incidence of terror acts and casualties peaked in 2001 with 5504 deaths (1508 civilians, 883 SFP, 3005 terrorists and 108 unspecified), which has considerably decreased in recent years with 621 deaths in 2019 (159 civilians, 132 SFP and 330 terrorists). The majority of these terror crimes have been committed by the members of Pakistan sponsored Islamic terrorist organizations but, surprisingly, leaders of the political parties like Congress and their friendly media and intellectuals/liberals have avoided linking it with Islam, while some of them feel so elated to publicly pronounce self-invented, yet remaining unsubstantiated, synonyms ‘Hindutva terror’ and ‘Saffron terror to malign few nationalist organizations like RSS in particular and Hindus in general. Apparently, they are afraid of talking what is real; instead, they are busy spreading a myth which is non-existent.
When some people proliferate unsubstantiated lies for their selfish motive of scoring over their political adversaries, they only cause greater damage to the interests of nations while simultaneously strengthening the hands of the enemies of nations. The recent stand and overtures of the Congress and some other political parties on the issues like Pulwama terrorist attack, Indian retaliatory strike on the Jaish-e-Taiba terrorists hideout at Balakot, abrogation of Article 370 and Citizen (Amendment) Act 2019 has only strengthened the position of Pakistan nationally and internationally, which is already constantly engaged in a propaganda campaign against India at various forums. The tragedy of the Indian politics has been that those who play communal card by constantly wooing a particular minority community for own political gains are self-proclaimed secularists and those who believe in equal treatment of all communities are portrayed as communal through vicious narratives and propaganda campaign. The recent disclosure by Rakesh Maria only vindicates how the enemies take advantage of the divided nation. If the designs of Pakistan based Let was not foiled by the Indian security forces, one of the biggest terrorist carnage of the recent times would have probably gone in the name of Hindutva terror. This nemesis reminds Paul Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler's closest and most devoted associate, famous saying, “…the first rule of propaganda is you accuse others of what you are guilty of”.
I am under impression that the nationalism or patriotism does not require any further qualifying parameters. However, some politicians and political pandits sarcastically call it Hindu nationalism or hyper nationalism if anyone talks high of the nation and expects other Indians to respect national symbols like the designated flag, anthem and song. Such a controversy is unique in this country because many people in a community refuse to recognize these symbols. What we forget is that India has a diverse culture and division in terms of castes, religions, regions, languages, and so on. Due to this lack of unity on a common platter, the country had hugely suffered for almost a millennium at the hands of invaders, mercenaries and foreign colonizers. In such a scenario, the more modern concept of the Indian nationalism could perhaps only be an integrating and uniting factor for all diversified and divided people. Civilizationally, Hindus have been peaceful and non-violent community, who have resorted to acts of violence only in self-defence at extreme provocation and violation of their rights and belongings. Therefore, stray reactionary events, if any, do not justify any political party or leaders to portray Hindus as terrorists and coining of the terms like saffron or Hindutva terror is simply preposterous and atrocious.