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Bombay to Babri Masjid: Riding on back of the Tiger

The proximity to power shows how terror played crucial role during the bloodshed

Friday October 2, 2020 9:36 AM, Mustafa Khan

Sharad Pawar with Bal Thackeray

Those who rode on the back of the tiger have ended up in sight.

-- John F Kennedy, inauguration address

I was transferred in September 1992 to Manmad railway junction town of Maharashtra and had proximity of studying the demolition at first hand. This opened a vista to have a telescopic study of Bal Thackeray, Sharad Pawar and the cohorts. The last had passed through the town and on return the same Latur legions brought the portal of Babri mosque in the Marwari gulli, lane, for celebration. The stones of the door of the mosque and the sanctum sanctorum of what was Babri mosque till a couple of days back was on display. The lane was flooded with crowd wherein my family was mobbed by kar sevaks forcing me to fetch them back home. My house was on the college road behind which the Shiv Sena satrap Sunil Jagtap lived. Bal Thackeray frequently visited the town and stopped there. When the slaughter of Muslims in Bombay was about to begin Thackeray like a military commander summoned the Manmad contingent to reach the cosmopolitan city. The Mahanagri editor Yuvrage Mohite has described how this was undertaken. Among them was also a student of mine who worked in the office of the police commissioner of Bombay who told me how many from his college mates had participated in the violence. How they travelled, gathered at the launch pad leading to widespread attacks in different municipal wards of the Bombay, how they were commandeered by Thackeray in person, armed by swords manufactured in the smithy of the junkyards of the railway junction back home.

The proximity to power shows how terror played crucial role during the bloodshed. Shiv Sena leader Madhukar Saroptdar was caught by the army ferrying arms in his car. Sharad Pawar was the Defense Minister of India who held sway in the city and not only got Saroptdar released but as a buddy of Bal Thackeray let him meet the PM Narsimha Rao who visited the city!

In January 1993, Pawar was still in the state capital of Maharashtra and the army soldiers killed 4 mathadi kamgar or porters in the second week of January ’93 exactly night of 8th. This was after Thackeray called Muslims as “circumcised” who needed to be taught a lesson ('We must teach these landyas (his derogatory word for minorities) a lesson. They are getting too arrogant by far! They must not be allowed to get away.') The killing of Muslims continued until the serial bombings on March 13 put it to an end. Many years later when Narendra Modi won election and visited Mumbai Thackeray welcomed him and quoted to him by way of reminder that it was he and his party that taught and trained those who excelled in carrying out the genocide of Muslims in Gujarat February-March 2002.

There is a need to be cautious in taking words of politicians who speak on terror. Very few have statesmanship and insight. The majority play politics even with terrorism. It is a fact that statesmanship demands rising above the self profit motive of party and jingoism. Sharad Pawar was Machiavellian.

On August 20, 2011 India’s agricultural minister Sharad Pawar remarked:

"All the accused in Malegaon 2006 case are innocent. This is what I had said a year and half ago. After I had said that, the investigation started and the real (culprits) were caught in the second bomb blasts (of 2008). And what I had said after that one of the accused (Swami Aseemanand) accepted that they had done it. Therefore all the accused in (2006 case) are innocent and should be set free.”

One year and half ago would imply February 2010. If that is what Pawar has in mind then ground reality does not justify this assertion of his. On April 2, 2009 Sharad Pawar had said:

"Like United States in the world, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is responsible for Terrorism in India. The communal agenda of the BJP and its anti-National policies are providing fodder to the separatist activities and are responsible for the growing terrorism in the country."

"Terrorism finds its root in the communal agenda and injustice meted to others. If we really wish to eliminate terrorism from India, it is high time we refrain the parties like BJP from playing the divisive politics."

This unspoken truth that was always there is cogent and known to most in India who have a modicum of sanity in them and are not affected by the hideous ideology of cultural nationalism of the Hindu right. Still Pawar deserves credit for articulating it.

Bombay Riot

Going further back, on October 8, 2008 Sharad Pawar remarked that “BJP rath yatra was the root cause of (Islamic) terrorism in India.” He also accused the party of making “attempt to create friction on the basis of religion and language.” Furthermore he said that the attack on Afghanistan and Iraq was the cause of terrorism outside India.

Some of these observations contain grains of truth but it would be wrong to conclude that Pawar really said that the 9 accused in 2006 blasts case in Malegaon are innocent.

Even if he had three letters from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to that effect it was not translated into any shift in the state policy and its execution. Three of his party men did nothing in this regard. Soon after the 2008 blast on September 29, ministers Chaggan Bhujbal and RR Patil were holding a meeting at the government guest house in Malegaon and blamed the new attack on Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Another bigwig, Baba Siddiqui, reached there and he also toed the same official line. This made the people angry and they raised an up roar.

Malegaon Blast

However, the people of Malegaon are still good hearted as the brother of one of the accused Shabbir Masihullah. In the third week of August 2011 Jamil rushed and opened his brother’s workshop where the Anti Terrorists Squad had alleged that Shabbir had assembled the bombs. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) sleuths entered it and took photos and sent Jamil out to fetch envelops in which they wanted to collect the soil for forensic analysis. They wrote out one page report and asked him to sign as witness. He refused because they had written that he had invited them to do investigation and collect the samples of earth. Till they called him he had no idea of them. There was no one called from the neighborhood to witness it. He was alone and they were a dozen and he was overwhelmed. So he signed. This condescending attitude on the part of the agency is similar to Pawar’s. The Muslims of India are not only equal to the rest of fellow countrymen but also respectable. Sending on errand like that smacks of patronizing, what else than deigning and looking down from above and prevailing upon him!

Pawar had given inaccurate number of explosions of bombs on March 13, 1993 in Bombay. He was camping in the metropolis as the Defence Minister of India. He did that to restrain further exacerbation of the situation against the Muslims. However, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra Sudhakarrao Naik publicly accused Pawar as the one behind the anti Muslim riots in the city. The deputy Municipal Commissioner GR Khairnar also maintained that Pawar, Bal Thackeray and Dawood Ibrahim were old cronies.

To say all these is not to lessen the importance of what Pawar had said that the root cause of terror in India was the rath yatra of LK Advani. It had begun in September 1990 from Somnath, Gujarat, when there was terrible anti Muslim riots on the occasion of Ganesh immersion in Vadodra, and, it left a trail of violence, murder, rape, riots and arson in its wake. Advani’s progeny Narendra Modi was the chief architect of the yatra.

“I found it was a civil conspiracy, I still believe in it. From all the evidence produced before me, it was clear that the Babri Masjid demolition was meticulously planned… I remember Uma Bharti categorically took responsibility for it. It was not an unseen force that demolished the mosque, human beings did it,” Justice Manmohan Singh Liberhan remarked.

Despite of what the court said there were some RSS hardcore volunteers who wondered how natural justice prevailed when that some saw in it when first Ganesh festival after the demolition there was massive earth quake in Latur. One of them went even to the extent that he remarked that on the last day of the festival their god chose to kick them by seismic attack in Latur.

When all is said and done there remains the most dynamic man who derived maximum political advantage: Narendra Modi. He not only had launched the rath yatra but also revived the josh in 2002 and enacted it so deftly that he won election in Gujarat successively in 2002 and thereafter. Unlike Bal Thackeray, he was at Naroda Patiya enthusing the murderous mob. His tryst with destiny has more to account for.

Modi with Bal Thackeray

There are three different countries fighting terrorism. Pakistan suffered most because of internal upheaval like the Peshawar public school attack and the unfinished legacy of partition, India in addition has grafted terror like the attack in Mumbai where the Intelligence Bureau had accurate warning before hand and yet did not act because there was the Hindutva angle: eliminating Hemant Karkare. Indonesia suffered heavily because the US thrust “either you are with or against us”. Some of the complications can be seen in Bali attack of 2002.

The blasts that rocked the tourist hive of Bali island in Indonesia, killing over 300 people and maiming as many more in mid October 2002, have sent an ominous message that the spectre of terrorism is alive and kicking despite the much touted “war on terror.”Australians were the most hit in the explosions, which led it to being linked to Australia’s role in wresting independence for East Timor from Indonesia. US President George Bush, Australian PM John Howard and Indonesian Defense Minister Matori Abdul Jijalil were too quick in blaming the Al Qaida with Abu Baker Ba’asyir and Riduan Islammudin as the masterminds-even when no proof was available with the investigators except that two years ago on the same day of the Bali blasts, the Al Qaeda had struck at the USS Cole in the Gulf of Aden Yemen.

The choice of Bali for the terror strike is both simple and difficult to explain. Bali is predominantly (93 percent) a Hindu province in a Muslim majority country. Thousands of temples dot this “Land of Gods”, but the majority of the visitors are Christian Westerners. But President Megawati Sukarnoputri is regarded as one of the most secular that Indonesia has seen. (When the Gujarat genocide of Muslims, 2002 took place, Sukarnoputri as head of the largest Muslim country, merely asked Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee about it, and thereafter stayed quiet). The blasts also could not have been due to a religious dislike of revelry and revelers, as such a sentiment had not been previously expected.

Bali blast

More than religion, politics seem to have been the motivating factor. It is well known that Indonesia and the US don’t hold each other in high esteem. When the US embassy warehouse in Jakarta was attacked on September 23, 2002, the Indonesians were not convinced about America’s list of suspects. President Bush had earlier said that his patience with Indonesian government was wearing thin as it was not cooperating in his war on terrorism. David Wright Neville of Montash University in Australia, who has studied the terrorist network in Southeast Asia, outrightly dismisses the claim that the Bali blasts were meant as an ominous signal to the US; he thinks the attack is “archipelagic” in nature and the perpetrators wanted to show that they can strike at will on any part of Indonesian Island. Wright Nevile also feels that choosing a Western target was secondary to the terrorists’ purpose the main aim was to de-establise Indonesia so that people would opt for a hardline Islamic party. But the fact is the majority Indonesians are moderate Muslims, and do not toe a fundamentalist line.

Some Islamic militant outfits, meanwhile, have blamed the US itself for conceiving the attack. They say the US did so in order to put pressure on the Indonesian government to join its war on terrorism. The United States intelligence agency is behind the Bali bombings in an attempt to justify their accusation that Indonesia is a terrorist base, said Abu Baker Ba’asyr the leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, denying his group’s involvement in the Sari night club mayhem. “All the allegations against me are groundless,” he said at a press conference. “I challenge to prove anything.”

These Islamic groups say that Indonesia’s unwillingness to join US bandwagon has been viewed by Washington as hostile act, as in ‘you are either with us or against us’. Indonesians also have been strongly opposing the US plan to attack Iraq. Some others say that the attack was planned to cripple the tourism industry and thereby damage the Indonesian economy, which would then make Jakarta crack down on the suspected Al Qaeda sympathizers. They also point to the US keeping an eye on the China Sea and its aspiration to dominate the region. Another argument that is doing the rounds is that since Western tourists were killed in Bali, the likes of France and Germany and even Russia would finally agree to declare war against Iraq which the US sees as a “terrorist” country. Interestingly, three days before the attack the US had issued a warning about some imminent terrorist attack.

All said, the tourism industry in Indonesia has taken a beating, and the backpackers and surfers are nowhere in sight. It may stay that way for a long time to come.

There is a great relevance to the subcontinent of what happened in the China Sea. As Modi surrendered to President Bush when he was not even asked to do so, he had coined his own facile and sycophantic Islamic terrorism in a debate anchored by Rajdeep Sirdesai in the same week as 9/11 attack on the New York, Washington and the Pentagon. Pakistan on the other hand had to go through baptism by fire. First it had to fight the Russian occupation in Afghanistan and had suddenly a somersault to fight the Afghan Talibans themselves and also face Balochistan insurgency thanks to its eastern neighbor.


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