Irfan Engineer


Yet another bomb blast in Hyderabad in Lumbini Park and Gokul Chaat on 25th August 2007, has left us all shattered. The sooner the culprits are caught and punished, the better for the society. At least the suspense would end as to who is involved and why?


According to one estimate, more than 47,000 people have been killed in terrorist violence in the last  five years or so. South India is not free from terror attacks. Following demolition of Babri Masjid, a bomb was exploded in Chennai at RSS Head Quarters. Hindu Munani, an extremist organization preaching disaffection against Muslims and Christians was active in Tamil Nadu, particularly in Coimbatore. Al Umma, a Muslim extremist organization came into existence in Tamil Nadu after the demolition of Babri Masjid as the demolition hurt religious sentiments of Muslims in South also, though not as much as in the North. That led to communal polarization and ultimately communal riots in Coimbatore where 27 Muslims were killed on 30th November and 1st December 1997. Al Umma, which enjoyed only marginal support amongst a section of Muslim youth in Coimbatore posed as protector of Muslim community and quietly mobilized youth to carry out bomb explosions in Coimbatore on 14th February 1998. The victims of communal riots and police firing in Coimbatore on 30th November and 1st December 1997 were available to act as Human bombs. Several people died. L.K. Advani escaped narrowly as his flight arrived late that evening. Recently court convicted 23 persons for carrying out bomb blasts in Combatore, including their leader Ansari. The mobilization and counter mobilization by Hindu Munani and Al Umma was openly promoting enmity between Hindus and Muslims on ground of religion. The state intervened belatedly – not after the communal riots to punish the guilty of riots, but after the bomb blasts to decimate Al Umma. Al Umma leaders have been convicted but discontent may be simmering in the youth who witnessed the promotion of enmity against Muslims by Hindu Munani and was attracted to Al Umma. They may be mobilized by some other extremist Muslim group professing terrorism.


RSS activities in Kerala are also quite widespread. Kerala was proud of its record of communal harmony and moderate and educated Muslims. Kerala Muslims are very much part of their local culture and Malayalam Language. One Islamic scholar from Mumbai who wanted to study Kerala Muslims was introduced to a Muslim widow in Kerala through interpreter for his request to interview her. The widow in the village thought for few moments and responded, how could a person not knowing Malayalam be a Muslim or Islamic Scholar at all? So much is the identification of a Kerala Muslim with their culture. Continuous targeting of Muslims has led to communal consciousness and riots in Kerala as well. Madani, a Muslim priest formed Islamic Sevak Sangh to counter RSS in their style. Madani’s speeches incited a section of Muslim youth against the RSS and led them to violent path. Islamic Sevak Sangh was later banned and Madani formed a political outfit called People’s Democratic Party. He was later arrested for his involvement in Coimbatore bomb explosions but was acquitted for lack of evidence. There were communal riots around Kochi and in another fishing village involving fishing community. However, by and large, Kerala continues to be peaceful.


BJP in Karnataka is stronger than any other Southern State in India. Over a decade ago there were communal riots in Bangalore over time allotted to Urdu news bulletins by All India Radio. Though the decision to air Urdu bulletins was that of AIR officials, Muslims were targeted as Urdu is seen to be their language. Another issue exploited by a Muslim politician – C. K. Jaffer Sharif was that of publication of a story by a Malayalam Muslim writer in Deccan Herald. One of the characters in the story named Amina was considered insult to Prophet, being the name of Prophet’s mother. Rallies were taken out on the office of Deccan Herald  though the newspaper had withdrawn the story. Dargah of Sufi saint – Baba Budangiri is another issue exploited by VHP and Bajrang Dal. Ayodhya style, they claim that the place is not a Dargah but a Hindu temple and should be handed over to the Hindus. Sangh Parivar tries to exploit the issue every year and mobilizes Hindus with the intention of forcibly taking over the place of worship which is very popular amongst the Hindus as well as Muslims, as all Sufi dargahs are. Another issue exploited by the Sangh Parivar is that of an Idgah Maidan where Muslims offer namaz on every Eid for decades. Sangh Parivar claim that the land belongs to Hindus and forcibly foist Indian flag every year with partisan agenda of claiming possession of the maidan. Uma Bharati, was leading the campaign to hoist the flag in the maidan with a view to promote enmity between Hindus and Muslims. She was arrested and charged. About two years ago when summons were served on her, she had to resign as Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh to honour the court summons. Sangh Parivar has been able to consolidate its hold in Karnataka exploiting all such divisive issues. BJP today is in Government in Karnataka. While in Government, the Sangh Parivar outfits have sought to change the text books claiming that Tipu Sultan was anti-Kannada. If they succeed, this will poison the minds of millions in Karnataka nearly completely polarizing the communal divide.


This communal polarization in south is also conducive to the growth of Muslim extremist organizations. It is often alleged that terror attacks on Mecca Masjid and other temples was with a view to trigger communal riots. It is the other way round. Communal tensions do not follow but precede terror attacks. Communal mobilization by communal organizations makes it easy for the Muslim terrorist organizations to mobilize Muslim youth to carry out terror attacks on innocents. The sooner we learn this lesson the better.


Why is the intelligence in our country so weak? Intelligence cannot be gathered only by technology. Investment in technology for intelligence gathering may not take us very far. Intelligence gathering needs support of the community. Muslims who are quite alienated by constant riots and partisan attitude of the police officials are less likely to cooperate and share information at the risk of their lives. The state needs to repose hard faith in the community for intelligence gathering by even handed discharge of their duties according to the Constitutional mandate of Article 15 – that the state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth.


(Irfan Engineer is the Director of Institute of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution, Mumbai, India)

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