ON a low plateau in the hills of the Dangs district, Gujarat, stands the Shabarimata temple complex. In the temple itself, devotees file in and out, rituals take place at the appointed hours. In the adjoining part, simply called the ashram, life and time have been more or less at a standstill over the last two years, after furious activity in the preceding five-six years. Temple-goers who have heard of the ashram’s ‘swamiji’ do not fail to glance its way as they descend the temple steps. Some are in awe of what it now represents; the local tribals pretend they don’t see it.
This is where Swami Aseemanand lived and worked till he mysteriously disappeared about two years ago. This is the temple he built to Lord Ram’s tribal devotee, Shabari, after he made the Dangs his home in the late 1990s. On December 14, eyewitnesses say, a convoy of some 20 vehicles brought the swami back for a brief hour or so, accompanied by hundreds of policemen. That day, National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials had brought Aseemanand—arrested on November 19 from a hideout in Haridwar—for verification of the place where the “bomb-for-bomb” theory took shape.
In the Kangadiamal-Subir-Jarsod belt that the temple-ashram overlooks, hardly any local wants to talk about the swami. They are aware that his disappearance is significant, but claim not to know of recent developments, including his much-discussed confession statement of December 18, 2010. Made under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure before a magistrate, it is admissible as evidence. In the statement, the swami mentions the existence of many radical Hindutva outfits, their networking, their involvement in various unresolved or partly-resolved terror attacks carried out from 2006 to 2008 in Muslim-dominated areas, their links to members of the larger Sangh parivar. Besides Malegaon (2006 and 2008), Ajmer (2007), Hyderabad (2007), Aseemanand and comrades he has named in the confession also stand implicated for the blasts on the Samjhauta Express.
Locals say they know nothing about this side of the swami. They’d rather address other issues that affect them. They want to protest against the damming of rivers, and they detest that the area has become a tourist and pilgrimage spot. They want to fight for their land rights. Nevertheless, as Father Xavier, a Jesuit teacher, says, “Tribals here are fed up and confused; tensions between Christian and non-Christian tribals increased after the swami arrived. His ideology is spreading, and the government is helping him by handing over schools to his Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram. The blasts are not an issue here.”
Aseemanand has come a full circle. In November 2008, he had given the slip to the late Hemant Karkare, then chief of Maharashtra’s anti-terrorist squad, who was slain in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Karkare closed in on the swami by tracking the cellphone of his driver Sunil Dahod, which was used to communicate with Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, an accused in the 2008 blast in Malegaon. The confession appears to validate Karkare’s leads on the involvement of Hindutva groups in the Malegaon and Samjhauta Express blasts.
Aseemanand’s statement takes the terror ideology right to the RSS when he talks about Indresh Kumar, member of the national executive, having met him in Shabaridham in 2005 with “many top RSS functionaries.” He details how Indresh Kumar had deputed Sunil Joshi for this job (terror attacks) and would extend Joshi “whatever help was required”, especially by providing finance and men. Indresh Kumar has refuted this; his lawyer sent a notice to the NIA for “leaking” the confession.
Hot brick? Indresh Kumar with TV crew. (Photograph by Fotocorp, From Outlook, January 24, 2011)
Without taking away what the confession discloses, there are areas, former police officers say, where Aseemanand appears to have “revealed something but not conclusively enough”. Consider two examples:
Then, there’s the complication of the Maharashtra ATS having filed a chargesheet accusing some Muslims for the Malegaon 2006 attacks. Even as the cry to release them and compensate them for incarceration gets stronger after Aseemanand’s confession, ats officers say they stand by their chargesheet in the case, which is now with the CBI.
A part of the incontrovertible evidence about the involvement of Aseemanand and others in the Malegaon, Hyderabad, Ajmer and Samjhauta blasts apparently lies in his own papers. Those who knew him say he was in the habit of writing meticulous diaries. Within days of his arrest in November last year, locals claim, something was burnt in the ashram kitchen. The NIA found little material evidence in Shabaridham. Now, the focus is on Joshi’s dairies and notings. If found to be valid, they will add to the tapes and laptops seized from self-styled guru Dayanand Pandey, the sadhvi’s motorcycle used in the Malegaon 2008 blast, Lt Col Shrikant Purohit and Rakesh Dhawde’s money trails to bring together the multiple strands and paint a complete picture of Hindutva terror.
Some of the spin on Hindu terror is incredible (The Confessor in Saffron, Jan 24). Let us condemn terrorism of all hues. Let us not spin it around party politics.
Sajid Khan, Providence, US
Why are mediapersons, who have taken the ‘terror has no religion’ line whenever incidents of Islamic terror have taken place, going overboard while crying foul over ‘Hindu terror’?
Dr Shyam Sarvodey, Mysore
The ISI and its Indian agents must love Swami Aseemanand. He has unwittingly provided the fig leaf behind which Islamic terror in India can hide.
Ashutosh Kaul, Toronto
It looks like the big fish is being protected by sacrificing smaller fish like Pragya Thakur, Lt Col Purohit and Swami Aseemanand. Why not scratch below the surface? The list of the swami’s friends needs to be re-examined. Is it true that boys from an orphanage run by the notorious Sadhvi Ritambhara attended a boarding school where Purohit taught?
Pradip Sisodia, Manchester
None of us—Hindus, Muslims or Christians—are entirely innocent, and each one of us knows it in our heart. So to debate endlessly about who is more guilty is just verbal cartwheeling.
Now the mask is finally off.
Deendayal M. Lulla, Mumbai
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.
Paradigm Shifts by the RSS? Lessons from Aseemanand’s Confession.
Christophe Jaffrelot, Malvika Maheshwari
"In the long run, the ongoing
developments on the involvement
of Hindu fundamentalists in
terrorist acts are disastrous not
only for India but possibly for the
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as
well. India, whose democratic
image is still a key element of its
soft power, will have to restore
the credibility of its rule of law and
of its agencies which were initially
quick to identify the wrong men
as guilty because of deep-rooted
prejudice and the growing
ideology of majoritarianism.
"BHARAT Mohanlal Rateshwar alias Bharat Bhai, who is believed to have financed several blasts with a Hindutva imprint, has been singing like a canary after his arrest by the Rajasthan Anti Terrorist Squad ( ATS) on Friday.
"Among Rateshwar’s many disclosures in his confessional statement is the mention of slain RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi as the perpetrator of the October 2007 Ajmer Sharif blast. Furthermore, he names senior RSS leader Indresh Kumar as the mastermind of Joshi’s murder, corroborating co- accused Swami Asimanand’s version." (Daily Mail)
"The Military Intelligence report on Lt Colonel Prasad Srikant Purohit has revealed that Abhinav Bharat’s “covert operations” in-charge Sameer Kulkarni was in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh, on December 29, 2007 — the same day that former RSS pracharak and Ajmer blast accused Sunil Joshi was shot dead. Kulkarni, code-named Chanakya by Purohit, was associated with the “core group” that executed the IED blast in Ajmer on October 11, 2007."
>> Denying Hindutva terrorism is denial.
No. Until some charges are proved, it is not. Insisting that it exists, before anything has been proved, is bigotry though. You will not understand it, just as you don't understand that Hindutva accused too carry the privilege of being presumed innocent unless proven guilty. Such simple thoughts shall not enter thick, bigoted skulls.
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