Hidden forces of extremism pose real dangers to India
Recently, protesters burnt copies of The Caravan in Delhi after the magazine published an interview with Swami Aseemanand, who is awaiting trial for attacks on Muslims, killing hundreds of Muslims all over India. Aseemanand told the editors that he had carried out these attacks allegedly on instructions from Mohan Bhagat, who currently heads the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The magazine quoted Aseemanand as saying that Bhagwat, who was then RSS general secretary, told him that the blasts be carried out but should not be linked to them.
Established in 1925, the RSS is the face of Hindu extremist and militant India. The Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, which has led a coalition government in India and seems likely to head the next coalition after the next elections, is the political wing of the RSS.
Interestingly, this fact had previously been reported in Tehelka, an Indian online journal, as long ago as 2011.
Tehelka has been very consistent in reporting the activities of Hindu extremists in India and how they lay the blame for their activities on Pakistani supporters in India. In November last year, Tehelka’s editor, Tarun Tejpal, was accused of sexually harassing a female colleague. He has subsequently been charged with sexual assault.
If he is convicted he could face up to seven years in prison, but could the original accusation have some connection to the RSS’s displeasure with him?
You may think this is a conspiracy theory of the most fanciful nature, but there are some who think the two events might be connected.
After all, who could have believed that the highly respected and dearly beloved singer, Lata Mangeshkar, was an ardent admirer of Bal Thackeray, the current spiritual leader of the RSS?
SM Mushrif, a former inspector general of police in Maharashtra, published his book Who Killed Karkare in 2009.
It’s not particularly a well-written book, but is very interesting nonetheless, and it does build logical support to the author’s postulation.
Mr Mushrif wonders who it was that killed Hemant Karkare – the chief of the Mumbai Anti-Terror Squad at the time of the 2008 terrorist attacks and who was killed in action – and why they did it?
Apparently Karkare was a courageous officer who, despite repeated threats from Hindu extremists, pursued his investigations and compiled sufficient hard evidence to be presented in court.
Karkare’s conclusions, according to Mr Mushrif, were that Hindu extremists from India were responsible for most of the attacks on Muslims and Hindus in India, attacks that were attributed to Pakistan.
Mr Mushrif implies that the Mumbai attack may have been at the behest of Hindu extremists who had planned to execute Karkare during the attack. I am not sure that this conclusion is correct. Nonetheless, Mr Mushrif does raise pertinent questions that indicate that the attack might have been deliberately facilitated by some individuals in position of authority.
There is also the Chittisinghpura Massacre, which occurred in 2000 on the eve of President Bill Clinton’s visit to India, killing 36 Sikhs.
While it was immediately attributed to Pakistan’s Lashkar-i-Taiba, Mr Clinton accused Hindu extremists of accusing Pakistan. The sole survivor, Nanak Singh, also raised questions that appeared to suggest that Indian security forces had orchestrated the attack.
As recently as 2012, Sikhs demanded a fresh inquiry into the incident.
There are those in India who regard Muslims to be their inferior. The merits (or otherwise) of that statement are not under discussion here. But it does serve the point that extremism in India has been steadily rising since partition and yet has only been noted by some. And few have analysed its future.
Since Pakistan has been the focus of world interest, India’s march towards extremism has been largely ignored.
The focus on Pakistan is understandable. Unlike India, Pakistan has been linked to terrorist activities of a group with worldwide outreach, which draws more attention. Perhaps the Pakistan media also contributes by being less “loyal” than the Indian media.
Moreover, Indian extremism is not uniform. Southern India has not been affected by it. Maharashtra too used to be liberal, though it is now emerging as the epicentre of Hindu extremism. However, while Pakistan’s extremism might well have peaked, India, being a huge country, has more space for it to grow in.
I realise that a Pakistani writing about a rise in Indian religious extremism is always going to be viewed with some suspicion by some readers, but I do think there is cause for concern.
My fear is that extremism will have its way, sooner or later. When that occurs, in this era of a global village, with the largest Muslim population in the world, a “Muslim Spring” in India will reverberate in all four corners of the world. It is time that the world, but more so Indians, felt more concerned about it.
Brig Shaukat Qadir is a retired Pakistani infantry officer
Updated: February 18, 2014 04:00 AM