In recent weeks, Pune has been in the news after the Maharashtra anti-terrorist squad (ATS) turned its attention here in the investigations into the September 29 Malegaon blasts. The blast killed six and injured 90 and the terror trail led investigators to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and then later to Sameer Kulkarni, Major (retd) Ramesh Upadhyay, Abhay Rahirkar, Rakesh Dhawde and Lt Col Shrikant Prasad Purohit, a serving officer in Military Intelligence. All of them are from Pune and associated with Abhinav Bharat, modelled on an organisation founded several decades ago by Veer Savarkar. Himani Savarkar, married to Veer Savarkar's nephew, has been the Abhinav Bharat national president since 2006 (see
We Can Have Bullet For Bullet, Why Not Blast For Blast?').
Slug for slug: Bhonsala Military School
What Abhinav Bharat Does
Though registered in Mumbai, Abhinav Bharat's association is more with Pune since key members are from the city.
The new Abhinav Bharat took shape over several meetings held by senior members from Maharashtra and MP in 2006. It was at this point that Himani Savarkar was approached to head the organisation. According to her, at last count, Abhinav Bharat had nearly 500 members across the country. While the outfit was supposed to "fight injustice and combat terrorism", its presence began to be felt more through sporadic, suo motu acts of violence.
Where Has It Struck
According to reports, the group has been named in an attack on a Christian family in Jabalpur on August 3. Pastor Sam Oomen and his family were beaten up by a mob allegedly led by a vice-president of Abhinav Bharat. The ATS is also looking for Ramchandra Kalsangra—the brother of Shivnarayan Singh Kalsangra, who is already under arrest in the Malegaon blast case. On November 3, the ATS produced the transcript of an alleged conversation between Pragya Thakur and Ramchandra discussing details of the Malegaon blast. However, the authenticity of the transcripts has been contested by defence lawyers.
On September 16, Abhinav Bharat members held a meeting at the Bhonsala Military School, Nasik, a few kilometres south of Malegaon where the blasts later took place. Interestingly enough, the request for using the school premises came from Lt Col Purohit. D.K. Kulkarni, secretary of the governing council which oversees the school's overall functioning, says, "Purohit had served with the new commandant of the school, Col S.S. Raikar and so requested him to let the Abhinav Bharat hold its meeting in the school. While we didn't know much about the organisation, I remember that its constitution did state that its primary aim was to fight against injustice."
School council secretary D.K. Kulkarni
Spread over 160 acres, the Bhonsala Military School is different from other institutions of its ilk in that the curriculum stresses on religious instruction too. It seeks to instil "Bharatiya values" and the virtues of Lord Ram among its students. The school campus has been named Rambhoomi and its students Ramdandees. The symbolism blends the religious and the martial: they pray to an idol of Ram sculpted out of used cartridges. Kulkarni explains: "We created it out of the spent bullets fired by our students at the firing ranges."
Purohit, who was posted with the local Army Liaison Unit (ALU) in Nasik before he moved to Panchmarhi to attend a language course recently, was a well-known figure at the school. Kulkarni says he "remembers that Purohit was posted here in Nasik. We had invited him to deliver talks to the students for some of the four annual lectures we organise every year". It was the Purohit connection to the blasts that led the ATS to the school and to its commandant, Col Raikar, who has also served with Military Intelligence.
Did The Army Ignore Warning Signs?
Raikar's appointment in the school raises several questions. The officer had sought premature retirement from the army at a time when the official policy was to discourage officers from leaving, except under exceptional circumstances. These, according to the army's official policy, were on compassionate grounds or on being overlooked for promotion. In Raikar's case, there was no such pressing reason for a premature release. On the contrary, he had been sent by the army to attend a course in counter-intelligence in the United States, a reason adequate enough to deny him premature retirement. Strangely enough, Raikar appeared for the selection interview for the school's new commandant while still serving in the army. While agreeing to his release, army HQ seems to have ignored the fact that the officer was joining a school that had strong ideological leanings with the rss.
Cut to Lt Col Jayant Chitale, a retired air defence artillery officer who runs the Maharashtra Military Foundation (MMF). Chitale lives and operates out of a bungalow a few blocks from Purohit's home off Law College Road, Pune. He says with some pride, "I have over 1,000 of my boys serving in the three services today. Each one has been brainwashed by me. They are motivated, determined and will do anything for the nation."
Interestingly, a visitor's book that Chitale has carefully preserved for nearly two decades lists the names of all the young men who trained under him. An entry on February 20, 1993, lists a young Shrikant Prasad Purohit, residing on Law College Road, Pune. "He was a brilliant boy," says Chitale, "This Malegaon blast could be the reaction of years of frustration within the army over denial of their rights and prestige. The politicians and the bureaucrats continue to ignore the military at their own peril and these acts could just be the beginning."
Chitale, whose MMF is now floundering for lack of funds, had several ideas that upset the military establishment. In 2002, he raised a "suicide commando squad" of "dedicated Maharashtrian youth" to be covertly deployed "inside Pakistan". As news of this reached officialdom, the military brass rushed and requested him to desist from such activities. "There are several kinds of terrorism and these range from petty acts like chain-snatching to terrorism sponsored by foreign countries like Pakistan. If they blow up one bus in India, we must have the capability to blow up five of theirs. That is the only way we can tackle this kind of terror," says Chitale.
His words echo Himani Savarkar's credo: "I don't believe in the philosophy of turning the other cheek if someone slaps you. We must strike back...why can't we have a blast for a blast?"
The arrest of Abhinav Bharat members for the Malegaon blasts has shattered the myth that only minority fundamentalism breeds terror. The arrests of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Lt Col Shrikant Prasad Purohit are just the tip of the iceberg. The bjp stands exposed. When the Jamia Millia Islamia vice-chancellor said he would organise legal defence for students held as terror suspects, the bjp objected. But now it has no qualms about organising defence for the sadhvi and the army officer.Kanwarpal Singh, on e-mail
Your magazine is increasingly becoming a mouthpiece of pseudo-secular jholawalas. So far, the Maharashtra ATS hasn’t been able to prove anything. I won’t be surprised if Purohit and the sadhvi are innocent.Rupesh, on e-mail
Historian Eugene D’Souza’s work shows that the Hindu right-wing was quite taken by German propaganda before World War II. He notes that many vernacular papers belonging to the Hindu Mahasabha openly preached National Socialism for India and an Indian fuhrer in the mould of Hitler. Strangely, Nazism also appealed to the proto-Islamists. He says: "The otherwise irreconcilable reactionaries among both Hindus and Muslims were attracted to the totalitarian doctrine, though their approach was from two opposite directions."Sunder Reddy, New York
Himani Savarkar’s interview (‘If we can have a bullet for a bullet, why not a blast for a blast?’) indicates that the first thing her organisation Abhinav Bharat needs is a shrink. This country does not belong to her, or to anyone from her illustrious parentage, so she has no business telling people of other faiths to leave India.Rahul Noronha, Bhopal
Why should Himani Savarkar not be arrested for spouting such subversive, hateful nonsense? Give me a reason.Sarah Nathan, Faridabad
If the interview with Himani Savarkar is really true, it is really sad for Hinduism and India. The lady ought to be put in a mental asylum. She has done harm to the Hindu cause because now the secularists will blame all blasts, including those owned up by simi and other Islamist groups, on Hindus. As far as support goes, didn’t the Samajwadi Party support simi and the Congress groom and train the ltte? How come they are secular while the bjp is fanatic for supporting some terror suspects? And what about Outlook itself? Doesn’t Outlook convey that the Indian Mujahideen struck only in response to so-called Hindu atrocities on Muslims?Vaidya Anand, London
Himani Savarkar’s interview makes for sad reading, for it shows that we have such sick people in our society. They are best kept in asylums for the safety of society.Radhakrishnan, on e-mail
I wonder how Himani Savarkar can call herself patriotic. She has no idea of issues and is just talking out of her hat.Asad A. Khan, Doha, Qatar
Himani Savarkar is foolish and no better than the jehadis she and her ilk condemn. While the jehadis are desperately trying to persuade Muslims that they are oppressed in India, she helps their cause by having no qualms about blowing up innocents. She is doing great harm to the ideological battle to defeat Islamists.Akram Haider, on e-mail
I can understand the desperation from which Himani Savarkar’s thoughts come. Let us not get carried away by emotions, for, as Gandhiji said, an eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.Vijaya Laxmanan, Mavelikkara, Kerala
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
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