The total number of terrorist, insurgent and extremist groups currently operating around the country stands at 177, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal. Of these, five are Left-wing extremist. Nearly all the rest are sub-regional groups fighting for homelands. They operate mainly in Northeast India, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and Tamil Nadu.
There are historical causes for these conflicts. However, history by itself can’t propel a person to adopt a life of terror. At the individual level, more mundane factors come into play. The typical terrorist, like the typical goonda, is likely to be an under-35 male. The bulk of his social interaction is usually with others like him. They may be people from the same village or town; or perhaps they know each other from school. They would have a shared cultural and socio-economic background. They hang out together and bond to form what Marc Sageman, a CIA officer-turned-professor of ethnopolitical conflict, calls “bunches of guys”. The process of joining a terror network, he found from his study of 400 terrorist biographies, is fundamentally a social process.
It’s what these folks bond over that changes from place to place. So, for example, a group of young Naga boys in the hill districts of Manipur may bond over a shared desire for a Naga homeland free of Manipur and perhaps India, and shared sense of exclusion from both. A group of young Meitei boys in the Imphal valley may bond over pride in the history of the former Manipur kingdom, and shared anger at the current sorry state of affairs. A group of young Muslim boys may bond over shared anger at perceived social exclusion by the Hindu majority, and perceived lack of justice from the Indian State. A group of young Hindu boys may bond in shared anger at perceived ‘appeasement’ by the State of every group except the one they themselves belong to, which they view as unjust. A group of landless farmers-turned-Maoists may bond over shared experiences of poverty and exploitation, and shared hope of power.
The sub-national struggles are all localised in scope. The Maoist threat, while more serious, is finally only a different manifestation of the struggle for jobs and resources that is causing the current rift between Marathis and ‘North Indians’. It’s easier said than done, but the fact is it can be addressed through better and more equitable development.
None of these conflicts poses a serious threat to the liberal Indian State. The only one that does is the one from groups like Indian Mujahideen and their attempted Hindu counterparts. The suspects in these cases are not poor or illiterate. They are educated youngsters in the case of Indian Mujahideen and include retired Indian Army officers in the Malegaon case. These people cannot be pacified with jobs or money. They are both looking for justice — and their perceptions of justice may be difficult to reconcile.
The conflict began from historical causes. The first case in the Babri masjid dispute was filed before a British district judge in 1885. The idols of Rama were installed in the mosque in 1949. The place was locked up thereafter, and remained shut till 1986. From there to its destruction in December 1992 to the fire on the train carrying kar sevaks in Godhra and the subsequent Gujarat riots was a straight line. The rise of groups like Indian Mujahideen and Hindu Jagran Manch is part of the same story.
The next chapter of this story will involve the advent of Muslim political parties as an increasing number of Muslims lose faith in secular parties. A Coordination Committee of Indian Muslims which includes the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, the Jamiat Ulama e-Hind and the All India Milli Council is already exploring this possibility. This is likely to further consolidate the Hindu right. If the democratic political system fails to address the demands for justice from both sides, it could lead eventually to calls for a second Partition of India.