The Rise of India's Saffro-Nazis

A year before his death in 1964, Jawaharlal Nehru remarked that "The danger to India, mark you, is not Communism. It is Hindu right-wing communalism." Today a wave of Hindu terrorism is raising fears that the country's first prime minister could be right.

Recently, for instance, a young 'sadhvi,' or Hindu woman monk, Pragya Singh Thakur, who rechristened herself as Sadhvi Purnachetnagiri, was arrested by Maharashtra anti-terrorism police in connection with the killing of six and injuring of six at a mosque on September 29 at Malegaon, 280 miles from Mumbai. She was alleged to be a frontline leader of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of India's opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and, according to the anti-terrorism chief, owned the motorcycle used in the blasts, which took place at Bhikku Chowk in central Malegaon, just outside the sealed office of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India.

There are also disturbing signs that the Hindu militants have connections to India's military. Anti-terrorism interrogators rounded up half a dozen army officers including Lt. Col. Shrikant Prasat Purohit, who is believed to have confessed that he was aware of logistics and explosives to be used for the attack at Malegaon. Purohit was apparently posted at the Army Education Corps Training College and Center of Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh, an adjacent central Indian state, although he was actually assigned to military intelligence along India’s borders.

Purohit is said to have been one of the founders of the radical Hindu group Abhinav Bharat at Malegaon and his cellphone memory allegedly contained several conversations with Ramesh Upadhyay, a retired Army major also suspected of being involved in the blast. In one of the conversation, Purohit asked Upadhyay to change his mobile number, presumably to confuse interrogators. Anti-terrorist interrogators have sought permission to question an Army major general and two colonels, and three more commissioned officers below Purohit have been identified with linkages to militants in Kashmir in connection with procurement of RDX explosives.

According to police, the sadhvi was a member of Jai Vande Mataram Jan Kalyan Samiti, another openly anti-Muslim and anti-Christian Hindu terrorist group based in Surat in the adjacent state of Gujarat, which has yet to recover from one of the bloodiest communal riots ever, in 2002. She allegedly also had links with the radical Hindu Jagran Manch in Madhya Pradesh. Both states are under BJP rule and have been accused of torturing non-Hindus.

Although the two organizations issued denials that she was working with them, security forces intercepted 400 minutes of phone calls between them. Two others were arrested and accused of helping to plant the bomb. Two more who were detained are believed to have divulged the names of collaborators.

What is being dubbed “reverse terrorism” by Hindus seeking to get even with earlier blasts perpetrated by Islamists is a worrisome escalation in the cycle of revenge that began with the Gujarat riots, a spasm of communal violence in which as many as 2000 people died and 150,000 were displaced from their homes. But the increasing use of more sophisticated mechanical and electronics devices in detonations against Muslims and Christians is a recent phenomenon.

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“Federal security personnel have been struggling to find out where and who taught the activists bomb-making amid unconfirmed reports that training camps have been created along patterns set by the Taliban or al Qaeda,'' said a senior officer of Maharashtra Police.

Bal Keshav Thackeray, the chief of Shiv Sena, an openly anti-Muslim political party and an ally of the BJP, issued a statement defending Sadhvi and the other suspects, ridiculing the BJP and other organizations for disowning the woman.

In a high-pitched editorial in the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Samna, Thackeray condemned terrorism that "weakens the country and we regret the loss of life in the Malegaon incident." But he went on to write that “Every day Islamic terrorists are planting bombs to kill Hindus in India. The latest blasts in Assam too were engineered by Bangladeshi migrants.” The Malegaon suspects, he said,“cannot be blamed, adding that "The arrests of cultured and educated individuals in connection with the Malegaon blasts is an effort to crush Hindus to please Muslim fanatics in the country."

Ominously, Malegaon may well be the dress rehearsal for 'reverse terrorism'. But it is not the only spot for such experiments. Another activist affiliate, the Bajrang Dal, whose members had been identified as being directly involved in the Gujarat riots, is believed to have been involved in bombings at Nanded in Maharastra, terrorizing inhabitants near mosques.

The distinctive feature of militant Hindu phenomenon is gang rape, which was widespread during the Gujarat riot. After the nationwide communal frenzy following the destruction of Babri Masjid in December of 1992 in Uttar Pradesh, Muslim women were gang-raped openly under floodlights in the suburbs of Mumbai, according to a fact-finding report by a citizens' initiative.

The late Professor I K Shukla, a tireless worker against communalism from all sides, coined the term "saffro-Nazis” to describe the saffron-clad Hindu rightists as a growing threat.

‘"I am glad that sociologists like Sharit Bhowmik (head of labor studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences) saw through the game plan of the saffro- Nazis functioning under various names,” he wrote in an email to Asia Sentinel prior to his death. “Maharashtra is, in effect, still run by the Shiv Sena both in mufti and khaki uniform. The terrorism sponsored by the Hindu Taliban is ‘cultural nationalism,’ while others' retaliatory bid for justice and dignity is ‘Islamofascism.’"