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Why the home minister invoked 'saffron terror'

By Ram Madhav
August 26, 2010 18:55 IST
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There is a sinister design to establish the notion of Hindu or saffron terror in the global terrorism discourse, suggests Ram Madhav.

Home Minister P Chidambaram's comments on 'saffron terrorism' on Wednesday raised many an eyebrow. Thus far he had refrained from making such sweeping allegations despite severe pressure from his party colleagues like Digvijay Singh.

In fact, on earlier occasions, when suggestions where made by the media and others regarding the so-called Hindu terror he used to gently disapprove of making any categorical statements in this regard.

But his address to the assembled director generals of police of various states on August 25 was a complete departure from his and the government's earlier stand. He was not only categorical about so-called saffron terror; he made it a point to single it out by not making reference to any other terror in the country by name.

In his long address he didn't talk about jihadi or Islamic terror, didn't utter the word red terror even once -- except, towards the end, a vague reference to Left wing extremism; but he was garrulous about saffron terror.

While patting his own back for 21 'terror-free' months with the exception of German Bakery blast in Pune that he described as a 'blot', the home minister suddenly turned to saffron terror which, according to his own account, comprised incidents that happened much before the 21 months that he was gloating about.

'That does not mean that the threat of terrorist attacks has gone away. I wish to caution you that there is no let-up in the attempts to infiltrate militants into India. There is no let-up in the attempts to radicalise young men and women in India. Besides, there is the recently uncovered phenomenon of saffron terrorism that has been implicated in many bomb blasts of the past. My advice to you is that we must remain ever vigilant and continue to build, at the central and state levels, our capacity in counter-terrorism,' he said at the DGPs' conference.

The last incident that was attributed to Hindu youths took place in September 2008 in Malegaon. There were some arrests starting with October 2008 that included the arrest of a couple of Hindu religious personalities and, most importantly, one serving and one retired army officer.

Subsequently, the investigating agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Anti Terror Squad, Rajasthan, have made some more arrests of Hindu youth alleging them to be responsible for a couple of incidents that have happened between August 2007 and Malegaon -- roughly a period of 14 months.

How come the home minister jumped to the conclusion that there was a 'phenomenon' called saffron terrorism?

Can he explain where is the phenomenon? Do a couple of sporadic cases that took place during a period of 14 months become a phenomenon?

More importantly, what does he mean by saffron terrorism?

Saffron is a very sacred colour associated with Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Every Hindu/Jain temple, Buddhist vihara and Sikh gurudwara, besides other religious places, hoist saffron flags. Most of the Hindu/Buddhist saints adorn saffron fatigues.

Or is he referring to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-led organisations that are generally characterised as 'saffron organisations'?

It would have been helpful had he displayed a little courage to explain what he meant by saffron terrorism. Obviously he must have had the RSS-led organisations in mind when he talked about saffron terror.

It is unfortunate that the home minister chose to use such vocabulary in his address. There is neither saffron terror nor any phenomenon of it. Neither the RSS nor any other known Hindu group ever espoused or supported terrorism. But that doesn't answer all the questions including the timing and 'intent' of the home minister's statement.

A more charitable explanation for his exhortation could be that he was trying to please his detractors within the Congress party. People like Digvijay Singh are after his life and have been making irresponsible statements about jihadi terrorism and Maoist insurgency for some time now. The home minister has been their hate target.

Another equally charitable explanation could be that he has tried to unleash the non-existent demon of saffron terror with an eye on the upcoming Bihar election. For political pundits this might seem a more plausible argument.

The Congress strategists predicted that Nitish Kumar can be defeated in Bihar if his alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party could be broken. The dirty tricks department of the Congress party might use this saffron terror tag to create unease in the ruling alliance in Bihar. Predictably, this could help them in garnering Muslim votes.

But for those who can see through the game plan, the home minister's statement doesn't seem that simple. It is politics, no doubt, but a long term one.

There is a sinister design to establish the notion of Hindu or saffron terror in the global terrorism discourse. Such a thing will help some sections in India politically and electorally as it will put the Hindu organisations and parties on the back foot.

Internationally it will help them in pleasing their Western masters including agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency. After all, the CIA is a handmaiden of the Western Church. Demonising Hindu groups is an important agenda item for the Western powers.

There is another important question about this 'phenomenon'. That is: who created it? Before 2007 there was no so-called saffron terrorism. Despite the home minister's claims there is none after the Malegaon arrests in 2008 either. It existed for some 14, 15 months.

As I mentioned earlier, the most important players in this 14 to 15 month 'phenomenon' were people like Colonel Srikant Purohit and a self-styled swami called Dayanand Pandey. Who are they? How come a serving army officer and a Congress-created swami became the main players in this so-called Hindu/saffron terror? Who is behind them?

This is a serious question because such a phenomenon of terror would not have helped any Hindu organisation, including the RSS. Otherwise they would have resorted to it when the National Democratic Alliance was in power. That would have been the safest time for them. Even though some erstwhile members of Hindu organisations have been alleged to be involved in some incidents, the masterminds seem to be elsewhere.

Noted terrorism expert B Raman makes an interesting point: 'There are many -- including myself -- who have long been saying that we will not be able to deal with jihadi terrorism unless we hit out at Pakistan but, at the same time, we have been strongly advising against any retaliatory action in our own territory against our own people who are perceived as being sympathetic to the ISI-sponsored jihadis from Pakistan. The investigations into the Malegaon blasts and some other incidents have brought out that there are possibly elements in our security bureaucracy who seem to believe that acts of reprisal against our own Muslims would be as justified as retaliatory attacks against Pakistan. This is a dangerous idea that needs to be eradicated ruthlessly.'

Raman's reference to 'security bureaucracy' is an important one. It is not necessary that the 'security bureaucracy' acts because of some 'dangerous idea' of 'reprisal against our own Muslims' as described by Raman. It could be that they act at the behest of their political masters. And that seems to be the more cogent answer to the question: Who created saffron terror?

Ram Madhav is a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's national executive.

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