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The spotlight on 'Hindu terror'

The home minister's recent remarks on so-called Hindu terror has created a political furore, but experts - and evidence - suggest it's important to examine the forms and extent of Right-wing extremism. Shishir Gupta & Rajesh Ahuja write. Trail of terror

india Updated: Jan 27, 2013 02:19 IST

On Jan 16, 2009, joint secretary Dr KP Krishnan of the finance ministry received a letter from John Fennerty, Deputy Counselor in the US Embassy, informing the government that America on Feb 2 will move the UN Security Council to add five more names to the designated terrorists list. One of them was prominent Lashkar-e-Toiba terror financier Mohammed Arif Qasmani, blamed by the US for the July 11, 2006 Mumbai train serial blasts and the Feb 18, 2007 fire-bombing of Samjhauta Express at Panipat, Haryana.

There was a sense of relief among internal security managers after learning of Karachi-based Qasmani's involvement in the Samjhauta case. State police had hit a dead end and murmurs within the Intelligence Bureau (IB) about involvement of Right-wing radicals had gained strength. By then, the involvement of military intelligence officer Lt Colonel Srikant Prasad Purohit, former Akhil Bharati Vidyarthi Parishad-activist-turned-sanyasin Pragya Singh and other Hindu radicals in the Sept 29, 2008 Malegaon bombing had emergedwith investigators overcoming doubts of the top brass about so-called Hindu terrorists.

As the Samjhauta bombing had international ramifications - many victims were Pakistani - investigators questioned the CIA and FBI on Qasmani. While Washington has been silent to date about him, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and IB finally managed to connect all dots in the Samjhauta case with the arrest of Rajendra Chaudhry aka Samandar on Dec 15, 2012 for allegedly planting one of the four bombs. His confession led to the detection of the Aug 7, 2001 shooting of Sister Leena Vellampuniyel of Nirmala Hospital in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh (MP) by men on a motorcycle. NIA investigators say Samandar was an RSS activist.

A Hindu fundamentalist with a desire to drive Muslims out of India, Samandar along with Lokesh Sharma, Dhan Singh, Kamal Chauhan and Amit Chauhan formed the executing arm of the Right-wing extremist group led by Sunil Joshi, a former RSS zila pracharak in Mhow district. Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde's statement at the Congress Chintan Shivir in Jaipur this month that there is a need to keep a close eye on reports of Hindu terrorists being trained in BJP/RSS camps is perhaps based on revelations made by Samandar and other radicals in interrogations.

Shinde was substantiated by home secretary Raj Kumar Singh, who named Right-wing radicals allegedly associated with BJP/RSS and involved in terrorist attacks. RSS spokesman Ram Madhav blasted Singh for trying to influence investigations in terror cases. "How can Home Secretary read out a list of accused when final charge-sheets are still to be filed and trials have still not begun," Madhav said.

RSS leaders say that radicals like late Sunil Joshi were purged from the organisation in 2003, followed by Ramji Kalsangra, Sandeep Dange and Lokesh Sharma in the next two years. They deny involvement of the Sangh leadership with Right-wing terror while agreeing that some fringe radicals mutated towards direct action in response to terror incidents attributed to pan-Islamic jihadist groups like the Indian Mujahideen (IM), and radicalisation of Students Islamic Movement of India post Babri Masjid demolition and 2002 Gujarat riots.

Right-wing extremism did not emerge overnight. In 1999, a witness says, Sunil Joshi and associates experimented with detonators in an RSS office in Dungargaon, MP. In 2001 they shot the nun. Next year, they tried to plant IEDs at the Bhopal railway station to target Tablighi Jamaat members returning from an annual congregation. In Jan 2004, they were involved in a grenade attack at a mosque in Jammu where a high-ranking RSS functionary, under NIA's scanner in Right-wing terror cases, was active.

Between 2004 and 2006, mosques in Maharashtra were targeted with low-intensity IEDs. On April 6, 2006 an accidental blast in Nanded killed two Bajrang Dal activists - Himanshu Panse and Naresh Rajkondhwar - blowing the lid off the Maharashtra group. Then, on Sept 8, 2006, four bombs exploded outside a mosque in Malegaon, but the state police did not take notice of the common thread. Nine Muslims were arrested and charge-sheeted. What is worse is that there are common accused in the 2006 Malegaon and 2006 Mumbai train bombings.

After Malegaon, the Sunil Joshi group targetted the Samjhauta Express, Mecca Masjid (May 18, 2007) and Dargah Ajmer Sharif (Oct 11, 2007) in retaliation to the 2006 blast at Sankatmochan Mandir in Varanasi and the Mumbai train bombing by IM. While intelligence agencies and police were running around like headless chickens, Hindu and Islamic radicals were playing a deadly game of retribution. Responding to Joshi's Mecca Masjid blast, IM founder Riyaz Bhatkal bombed an eatery in Hyderabad on Aug 25, 2007. However, Devendra Gupta, an RSS pracharak in Jamtara in Jharkhand, gave the game away after SIM cards used in triggering bombs in Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif were traced to him.

The RSS, which tried to weed out internal radicals after Pragya Singh's arrest in 2008, could not single out Gupta. While Congress and BJP have traded charges after Shinde's statement, the NIA has made it clear that apart from suspects associated with RSS, they do not have evidence lining terror attacks with Sangh leaders . This is not without reason as these radicals - with patrons like Swami Aseemanand and Swami Dayanand Pandey - were unhappy with RSS leaders for letting Hindutva down in the face of rising Islamic jihad in India.

Between March 3-15, 2008, Malegaon blast-accused Purohit met RSS Chief K.S. Sudarshan at Jabalpur to apprise him of Sangh national executive council member Indresh's involvement with Pakistan's ISI. As head of the radical Abhinav Bharat, Purohit told interrogators that Dayanand Pandey tasked him to kill Indresh. His associate Sameer Kulkarni wrote to Maharashtra police that Purohit wanted to assassinate RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. It is clear from Pragya Singh's interrogation that along with Joshi, Purohit, Kalsangra, Dange, Aseemanand and others were running their terror enterprise exploiting Sangh connections, ashrams and offices. Joshi was allegedly shot by Samandar in Dewas on Dec 29, 2007 apparently over personal rivalries around the mastermind's relationship with Pragya.

With state assembly elections to MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan this year, the Congress would like to pin BJP/RSS down on linkages with Right-wing terror. Both parties will use so-called Hindu terror to polarise voters for electoral gains in the build up to 2014 general elections. But the clincher will be the arrest of key absconders Kalsangra and Dange to complete the Hindu terror puzzle.