Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Mystery of Malegaon bombings (September 12, 2006)


By Swapan Dasgupta

Some of the curious reactions to last Friday’s Malegaon bombings are reminiscent of what happened in London during the blitz of 1940.

Hitler’s aerial onslaught on London began in the summer that year with sustained attacks on strategic installations. The docks were, predictably, very badly hit, as were the adjoining working class districts of the East End and South-West London. Londoners took the bombings with remarkable fortitude but there was an undercurrent of social tension because the devastation was the greatest in the lees salubrious areas. In late-August, the German Luftwaffe changed its strategy and spread out its bombing. The West End, including some grand houses in Berkeley Square and Park Lane, suffered extensive damage. On September 13, the King George VI and the Queen had a narrow escape when Buckingham Palace was bombed and one of its wings seriously damaged.

Ironically, despite personal losses, the British upper classes greeted the damage to the West End with a measure of relief. “I am glad we’ve been bombed”, the Queen confided to a friend, “Now I feel we can look the East End in the face.”

It is unquestionably cruel to subsume the suffering of those who lost friends, relatives and children in Friday’s outrage to heartless historical analogy. However, I may not be alone in detecting an extra spring in the steps of secularists, usually remarkably reticent on questions of national security, after the Malegaon tragedy. While a pro-Communist media organisation seemed determined to point an accusing finger at Hindu extremist bodies, others couldn’t help mocking those they had earlier charged with Islamophobia. “Has Malegaon redefined the fundamentals of the war on terror?” BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley was asked by a reporter with a smirk after he unveiled the party’s resolution on internal security in Dehradun last Saturday.

Malegaon is fast turning into an instrument of moral equivalence for all those who questioned the wisdom and efficacy of the post-9/11 war on terror. There is, as yet, no evidence that the devotees of Hanuman have complemented their visceral anti-Islamist bile with murderous technology—traditionally disseminated in camps located in either Afghanistan or the wrong side of the Radcliffe Line. Indeed, the reports suggest that the explosives were of “high intensity”, something beyond the ken of the Bajrangis.

Yet, on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 it is tempting to cite recklessly conspiratorial theories pertaining to the Malegaon bombings, or at least raise questions that are not prone to simple answers, to argue that there are rotten apples in all communities. The Urdu press, not known to be inhibited by Anglo-Saxon mores, has already contrasted the unwillingness of the police to blame the usual suspects for Malegaon with its prompt identification of shadowy organisations in Mumbai two months ago—a refrain that found echo on the streets of Malegaon last Sunday afternoon. For a beleaguered government torn between supine multiculturalism—which, as the writer Martin Amis recently observed “is always well represented on the level of the op-ed page“ but inaudible elsewhere—and the whisper that Malegaon was a monstrous Hindu perversion seems cautiously promising.

It is baffling why Islamist terrorists would want to target a Sunni mosque in, of all places, Malegaon on the day Indian Muslims commemorate their ancestors. Islamists are unconcerned about killing fellow Muslims—witness the bombings in Jordan, Egypt and Indonesia—but as long as it serves a larger objective. Malegaon has no larger significance, as far as anyone can make out. Therefore, assuming the bombs are the handiwork of the parallel authority in Pakistan, it follows that there is some diabolical scheme behind choosing Malegaon as the latest carnage venue.

Adding to the already present communal tension in Maharashtra and even triggering a series of riots are some of the more obvious explanations. Then there are those who suggest convoluted links between last Friday’s blasts in Mumbai and Tuesday’s judgment in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case. Finally, the speculation is rife that the Malegaon bombings are an expedient backdrop for a more sinister campaign of reprisals targeting non-Muslims.

If the Mumbai blasts are a guide, the mystery of the Malegaon bombings is unlikely to be resolved in a hurry. However, there is every danger that the haze over the incident will create sufficient red herrings to muddy the larger battle against terrorism. Malegaon has the potential of galvanising a new victimhood which diverts attention temporarily from the grim and unappetising realities of the global terror campaign.

(Published in DNA, Mumbai, September 12, 2006)

No comments: