The following three events have contributed to the growth of militancy, often amounting to terrorism, in the Indian Muslim community, particularly among its young members:
- The demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, by some Hindus in December,1992.
- The incidents of violence thereafter in Mumbai in which many Muslims were allegedly involved and Muslim complaints of disproportionate use of force by the Mumbai Police for suppressing the acts of violence.
- The anti-Muslim massacres in Gujarat in 2002 in the wake of the alleged massacre of some Hindu pilgrims travelling by train at the Godhra railway station by some local Muslims.
These events contributed to the radicalisation of two Muslim organisations which had existed before the demolition of the Babri Masjid and to the birth of a new organisation after the anti-Muslim massacres in Gujarat. The two old organisations were the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which is a pan-Indian organisation, and Al Umma, which is an organisation with its following confined to South India-particularly Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
The SIMI and Al Umma took to organised, pre-meditated violence with the use of improvised explosive devices (IED) after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. There were a number of explosions in trains in North India allegedly organised by the SIMI. There were a series of terrorist strikes in Tamil Nadu starting from 1993.The most serious of these were the serial explosions in Coimbatore in February,1998, coinciding with the visit of Shri L.K. Advani, the leader of the BJP, to Coimbatore in connection with the election campaign. Neither the SIMI nor Al Umma claimed responsibility for the terrorist strikes organised by them due to a fear that this could lead to a harassment of innocent members of the Muslim community by the police.
The investigation of these incidents did not bring in any evidence of any contacts between Al Umma and Pakistan. Al Umma was a purely indigenous movement of Muslim anger with no Pakistani influence or inspiration or instigation. It had organised the explosions with IEDs fabricated out of material allegedly stolen from granite quarries. In the case of the SIMI, there was evidence of contacts with Pakistan's Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) and Inter-Services Intelligence even before the demolition of the Babri Masjid during the Afghan jihad of the 1980s against the Soviet troops
Tamil Nadu was the epicentre of Al Umma terrorism. The Tamil Nadu government handled it in two ways. The Tamil Nadu Police identified all those involved in terrorism and arrested and prosecuted them. The government paid attention to the general grievances of the Muslim community and ensured that there were no instances of excesses by the Police against the Muslim community. As a result, acts of terrorism emanating from some angry elements in the Muslim community have been controlled in Tamil Nadu. The subsiding of the anger over the demolition of the Babri Masjid also helped in controlling terrorism.
While anger over the demolition of the Babri Masjid has generally subsided in the Muslim community, grievances or even anger arising from the perceived non-implementation of the Sri Krishna Commission report on the excesses allegedly committed by the Mumbai police against the Muslims and the anti-Muslim massacres in Gujarat and the alleged inaction of the Gujarat government in the initial stages of the massacres persist in some younger elements of the Indian Muslim community all over India, including among some highly educated elements in the community.
Their main cause of anger is no longer the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Nor is it due to social or economic factors. Their anger is due to their perception that the Indian criminal justice system is anti-Muslim. When they talk of the Indian criminal justice system, they essentially mean the police and the judiciary.
This anger in sections of the Indian Muslim community over the alleged non-implementation of the Sri Krishna Commission report and the anti-Muslim massacres in Gujarat gave birth to the Indian Mujahideen (IM) by some members of the SIMI and others not associated with the SIMI in the past. In its propaganda, the IM projects the suburban train blasts in Mumbai in July,2006, as its first act of reprisal and has claimed responsibility for many other acts of terrorism that followed.
The IM projects itself as a movement of reprisal terrorism to protest against alleged injustices and excesses against the members of the Muslim community. It denies any links with Pakistani jihadi organisations or the ISI. Despite its denials, Indian intelligence and investigating agencies believe that the SIMI and the IM have clandestine contacts with the Pakistani jihadi organisations and the ISI and have had the benefit of some training assistance from them. There is some evidence of their links with Pakistan and the ISI. There is no doubt about it.
It is a fact that the ISI-directly as well as through the Pakistani jihadi organisations- has been trying to take advantage of the continuing anger amongst some Indian Muslim youth to create indigenous groups in the rest of India outside Jammu & Kashmir to wage a militant struggle against the government of India without implicating Pakistani organisations.
In dealing with the phenomenon of reprisal terrorism by some members of the Muslim community, we should adopt a five-pronged approach as indicated below:
- Avoid demonising the Muslim community.
- Avoid dismissing and demonising the Muslim youth who have taken to terrorism as the proxies of Pakistan. If you do it, your mind gets closed to their legitimate grievances.
- Identify and address the legitimate grievances of the Muslim community and stress upon the police the need for greater sensitivity in dealing with our Muslim co-citizens.
- Act firmly in accordance with the law against Indian Muslims indulging in terrorism.
- Be ruthless in dealing with Pakistani elements trying to exploit these indigenous elements for promoting the Pakistani agenda.
No organisation has claimed responsibility for the three explosions in Mumbai on July 13, 2011. Till the police is able to identify the perpetrators, arrest and interrogate them, we should avoid speculating. When evidence is poor, speculation is rich. The flow of evidence in this case has been poor. This has given rise to all sorts of speculation. Let us keep our mind open and wait till the police are able to make a break-through in their investigation.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.