Trail Of Terror
Hyderabad has a history of terrorist strikes allegedly masterminded by Islamic groups/ISI. Here is a police roster of the most lethal ones:
- February 26, 2001: Bomb explodes outside state secretariat. No loss of life.
- Nov 21, 2002: Scooter bomb kills one person at Sai Baba temple, Dilkushnagar
- Oct 28, 2004: Main water pipeline to the city blasted at Patancheru.
- Nov 4, 2004: Blast outside police control room. No casualties.
- October 12, 2005: Special Task Force office targeted. Two killed.
- May 7, 2006: Three injured in Odeon theatre blast
- May 18, 2007: Mecca Masjid blast. Death toll 14.
- August 25, 2007: Twin blasts in the city kills 41.
Who was behind the August 25 blasts? Here are some leads the police are pursuing:
- The HUJI Connection: The role of Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HUJI) is under the scanner. Its key operative Bilal is from Hyderabad.
- The Jaish-Lashkar Link: Union home ministry sees a JeM-LeT involvement
- ISI Hand: The real estate boom in Hyderabad has lured outsiders. It has also helped ISI agents set up shop. They funded the operation executed by locals.
- The Ganesh Chaturthi Angle: The August 25 incident happened 20 days before the Ganesh festival. Hyderabad is always tense at this time. So was it some local group?
he cliches and platitudes can all be stated. Hyderabad has kept its calm. The delicate communal balance has not been shattered. The twin blasts that claimed 41 lives have not led to hysterics, violent bandhs or protests. Hyderabad has shown the same resilience of other Indian cities, now far too many to name, that have been struck by senseless acts of terror. The shattered headless corpses of the victims have been removed. There are just poignant reminders. Outside Gokul Chaat, the restaurant where 32 people died, there is a pile of flowers. The sight is simple and moving.
Scene of the blast site, Lumbini Park
The authorities too have played out their roles on expected lines. The Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HUJI), a Bangladesh-based terrorist group, has been named. Bilal, aka Shahid, a former resident of the old city (see box), has yet again been accused of having masterminded the operation from a foreign country. The foreign hand at work again? Perhaps the administration believes there is a comfort zone in blaming groups and individuals abroad, making the average citizen feel safer. It also appears to make the problem go away.
But the most refreshing change in the response to the Hyderabad blasts has come from the citizens themselves. No one here is fooling themselves that some Bangladeshis spent days and nights plotting to kill Indian civilians in Hyderabad. Most people believe the origins of the ghastly act lie in the city itself. They also see it as being intricately linked to the complex political matrix of Hyderabad, particularly the old city.
For all its glossy depiction as a booming cyber city, the sheen of upmarket Hyderabad or the peace of the plush homes in Banjara hills does not rub off on the old city, where a quarter of the population lives in little lanes and bylanes. The old city is poor, backward, lacking in basic civic amenities and divided into areas where some pockets are entirely Muslim-dominated, others have a mixed Hindu-Muslim population. In these mixed localities, people must care about civic issues but they take to the streets only over religious issues. It is disputes over temples and mosques, graveyards and religious processions that determine the politics here.
This is also the turf of the Majlis-e-Ittihad-ul-Muslimeen (MIM), one of the few Muslim parties that survives in independent India. The Majlis wins the Lok Sabha seat from Hyderabad with stunning regularity and currently has five
MLAs in the assembly, all from the old city. The counter to the Majlis is the
BJP—old Hyderabad is one of the last few pockets in the state where the party has some relevance. The entire politics of the old city turns on community and religion. Says Mohammad Osman Shaheed, a public prosecutor who was raised in the old city and has fascinating first-hand accounts of the process through which Muslim youth take to activities that can be defined as terrorist or communal. "More than poverty, it is ignorance and illiteracy that is the problem," he says. Raised in a political culture where they are told that Islam is in danger or Muslims must not tolerate Hindu domination, some youth can be drawn to groups that preach jehad. "Although the MIM does not propagate terror, they keep the religious pitch so high that the conditions are ripe for terror groups to set up base in the maze of the old city," he says.
A blast victim being carried away for cremation
K. Balagopal, a civil rights activist and lawyer who has defended both Naxalites and Muslims, has no doubt that the origins of the blasts are local. There is a seething anger in the old city, he says, and unemployment is rampant. "Hyderabad Muslims have always been very traditional though that in itself is no reason for terrorism. But the problem is that those who do not have the means to leave the old city are trapped in politics where the only way they learn to express their anger is through a religious idiom." He says it is known that in old Hyderabad and Nalgonda district some youth have been attracted to the ideology of radical Islam. He feels the Muslim anger is justified although the manner in which it is now being expressed by some is dangerous for the entire community.
That there are two Hyderabads can be illustrated by the varying response to the two terror strikes in the city this year. When the blast went off in Mecca Masjid on May 18, killing nine, local residents stoned the police because of the uneasy relations between Muslims and the administration. The death toll would have been higher if a second bomb had gone off. Instead, five more were killed in police firing. But the Mecca Masjid blast was seen as a wholly Muslim affair, by them, against them, amongst them. It was not seen as an assault on Hyderabad. Balagopal points out: "No group called for a strike then as the
BJP did this time. Sadly, even Muslims see themselves this way, as cut off from the mainstream. But the August 25 twin blasts were seen as an attack on mainstream Hyderabad."
It is not as if all Muslims are backward and poor. On the contrary, the vestiges of an educated ruling class from the days of the Nizam's rule has ensured the impressive figure of 8.4 per cent Muslims in government jobs against an overall population of 9 per cent in Andhra Pradesh. Hyderabad city has about 40 per cent Muslims. Not all are ghettoised. There are many progressive elements such as the family that runs the city's oldest Urdu newspaper Siyasat. Editor Zahid Ali Khan, whose family has also been traditionally involved in social work, has now taken the bold step of trying to form a front to take on the MIM. The other leading Urdu daily, Munsif, too has joined in along with the Left parties and efforts are on to rope in the
TDP. This will be first serious challenge to the MIM.
For his efforts, MIM goons threw garbage on Zahid Ali Khan. He says: "If they can attack me, what do you think they will do to the average resident of the old city? It is because of the MIM that Muslims in the old city are trapped and some have taken recourse to unacceptable methods that can only shatter the joint composite culture of Hyderabad. " In the next room, his younger bother Zaheer Ali Khan, managing editor of the paper, says that for three days he has been pondering over an article about how the nuclear deal will really make India a target of international terror groups for whom we are really still not a priority. That is, he believes, the current series of bomb blasts is not the handiwork of outsiders but have local origins.
CM YSR and home minister Patil with a victim
P. Madhu, a CPI(M) MP trying to create an anti-MIM front, also believes the roots of the terror strike lie in the old city. "The atmosphere in old Hyderabad is congenial for a terrorist group to set up base. There are no democratic institutions left there. There is no municipality, no revenue collection, nothing but MIM rule. And if people are so scared of the MIM, do you think they will have the courage to come forward with information about individuals or groups that are inclined towards terror?" Moreover, he says the Congress is so edgy about retaining MIM support, police officers who would crack down on the party's goons have all been removed. "How will the police investigate when the message is, leave MIM alone?"
Even Naseem Arifi, editor of the pro-MIM Urdu paper Ehtemaad, says: "Till the '90s there were riots to divide people. Now there are dhamakas. I don't doubt that some local could have sheltered terrorists." But he sees the MIM as the solution, not the problem. Akbaruddin Owaisi, one of the two brothers who have inherited the party from their father Salahuddin, says Muslim frustration began after Babri Masjid; then the many riots where they were killed but never got any justice. He then narrates an incident: two days before the August 25 blasts, two Muslim boys were picked up by the police, tortured, electrocuted in the genitalia to try and make them confess for the Mecca Masjid blast. When the police got nothing out of the boys, they let them go.
The MIM took the boys to the AP chief minister. "If you carry on like this, pick up innocents, kill Muslims in fake encounters you will create terrorists," Akbaruddin says. As for the charge that the MIM brand of politics only creates conditions for terror groups to set up base, Akbaruddin retorts: "They can't stand the fact that there is a party left to protect Muslims and fight for their rights. This has happened because the government did not wake up after the Mecca Masjid blast and never investigated it seriously because only Muslims had died. We want terrorists caught but we will not stand by and watch innocent residents of the old city being booked."
Yet none of the Owaisis live in old Hyderabad. Akbaruddin himself has a huge plush white house with pink tiles in a posh part of Hyderabad. The historic old city spread across the Charminar is no longer an area people choose to live in if they have a choice. It is the doomed and the damned, trapped in lanes they perhaps always wanted to escape, who are liable to take to inhumane ways of getting their back on society.
By Saikat Datta with Madhavi Tata