They had diverse backgrounds. Some of them had participated in the movement to build Ram temple in Ayodhya, some were associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and later drifted from it, some participated in anti-conversion campaigns, a few were accused of rioting in Gujarat in 2002 and others were just criminals but they all believed in militant Hindutva and also that Muslims and Christians were abusing the generosity of India.
The Malegaon blast in 2006 was allegedly the handiwork of Pro-Hindutva extremists. Soumitra Ghosh/HT photos
In the early 2000s, they slowly began to find cohesion and came out as a bunch of loosely coordinated groups with pan-India reach targeting Malegaon (2006 and 2008), Samjhauta Express train, Hyderabad's Mecca Masjid and Dargah. But for the support and strategic vision provided to them, they would have remained local ruffians or Hindutva tough men making aggressive speeches saying 'Muslims from across the border are attacking our temples and somebody needs to reply' or at the most they may have assassinated political opponents or attacked Christian missionaries.
Almost none of them had the intelligence to think of Malegaon, Samjhauta Express or Mecca Masjid or the acquitted accused in the Parliament attack case SAR Geelani as targets. So the question is who turned them towards targeting these places and people? The ideologue of the group to a great extent was Swami Aseemanand, who allegedly propagated the 'Bomb Ka Badla Bomb Se' theory but investigators believe that a few others also shaped their thinking.
So far investigators have found at least three groups of Hindu extremists active in Madhya Pradesh (MP), Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh (UP). And they don't discount the possibility of a still undetected separate group working in Delhi. Two blasts in Delhi - Jama Masjid (April, 2006) and Mehrauli (September, 2008) are yet to be solved and Hindu extremists are prime suspects in both cases.
Investigators have found that over five dozen people participated in a training camp in Raigad near Pune, Maharashtra in 2004. Besides having recruits from Maharashtra and MP, some came from other states as well. At least two of the participants in the Raigad camp died in a bomb making exercise in Kanpur in August, 2008, say investigators.
"We have reasons to believe that some retired military officials trained these recruits from UP, Maharashtra, MP, and Jammu and Kashmir in handling weapons and explosives," said a source. Hindu radicals also held camps in Bagli near Dewas and in Faridabad, Haryana.
It was a potent mix - Hindutva tough men capable of murdering people being trained in weapons and explosives and given a vision to attack high profile targets. Investigators also believe that the groups in Maharashtra and MP had some kind of coordination resulting in a series of attacks between 2004-2008.
The twin blasts in Malegaon and Modasa in September 2008 was the last known operation of the Maharashtra-MP group. Due to persistent crackdown by investigative agencies they have not been able to mount another. But investigators still believe that many leaders and foot soldiers are out there.