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Bangalore blast: Terrorist attack or political plot?

The lone blast outside the BJP office in Bangalore yesterday sparked the usual flurry of media overkill. There was the usual, knee-jerk speculation about jihadis, Islamic terror, blah blah. This is, of course, par for course these days in the aftermath of a bombing, be it in Boston or Bangalore.

What makes the recent Bangalore incident an exception, however, is that it almost instantly triggered a flurry of political name-calling — an activity usually suspended in the immediate aftermath of a suspected terrorist attack. As wildly inaccurate rumours of multiple blasts circulated online, Congress party spokesman Shakeel Ahmad shot off his Twitter mouth: "If the blast near BJP's office is a terror attack, it will certainly help BJP politically on the eve of election." The allegation in turned spawned its BJP mirror, ie the Congress party staged the attack to consolidate the minority vote.

Cue the high decibel outrage, mutual recriminations and general confusion — which was compounded by the Home Ministry stepping in to insist that the attack "pointed to an Indian Mujaheddin footprint."

The state of hysterical anxiety amongst Karnataka politicians is not exactly news. More surprising is the air of cynicism that has quickly taken hold barely 24 hours after a shocking, if not fatal, attack.

Associated Press

A police official examines parts of a charred vehicle after an explosion at a residential neighbourhood near the office of Bharatiya Janata Party, in Bangalore. Associated Press

"Election Bomb?" screams the headline scrawled across Bangalore Mirror's front page, accompanied by a story that more or less makes the case for a faked terror attack:

The blast has the police and forensic investigators baffled on three counts: One, the bomb was set off in a residential locality instead of a crowded place, as is typical of a terrorist strike. Two, the bomb was an incendiary one — intended to produce fire; not of the type that could cause mass destruction. Third, none of the terrorist organisations has claimed responsibility for the blast; nor there seems to be any motive behind the blast.

Over and again, the print version of the story casts doubt on the claim of a terrorist attack:

Not to be left behind, Karnataka home minister R Ashoka dramatically declared, "Terrorist attack targeted the BJP national and state leaders visiting the party head office during election campaign." This despite not one major leader being in the office at the hour, and not even a window pane at the party HQ cracking in the blast.

The Mirror goes on to note the damage suffered by the house outside which the bomb was actually located, "but it never came into focus. The blast was truly and surely hijacked by the political parties."

What's more interesting is that the story's online version contains none of this language — except the three reasons why the bomb is "baffling" — and carries a far less accusatory headline: "Blast rocks Bangalore."

The Mirror's editorial choices also offer a contrast with its sister publication, the Times of India, which chose to play the story straight, as a possible terror attack, though noting:

Senior intelligence officers, however, said poor execution ruled out the involvement of any big-time terror module. One theory was that the attack could have been carried out by locals or politically motivated individuals. Because the bomb was not packed with nails, nuts and screws, the shrapnel of choice, some felt there was no hard evidence yet of an IM operation.  The casualties would have been higher had the blast occurred during the evening, when scores of people visit temples in the vicinity. Further, with elections approaching, there would have been hectic activity in Jagannath Bhavan.

The weary citizens of the city have meanwhile gone back to their daily business, unmoved by conspiracy theories whether they involve the IM, BJP or Congress. Their attitude best summed up by this quote from a resident of the locality that experienced the blast:

Malleswaram is one of the calmest places in the city which still retains Bangalore’s old-world charm. And in Malleswaram, Temple Street exemplified old Bangalore with its places of worship and low traffic. However, the scene changed with the BJP office shifting here. We do not know who was responsible for the blast or why they chose temple street. If the BJP office was the target, why should we have a political party's office in a residential layout and why should we suffer for just being their neighbours?

For most Bangaloreans, the blast merely confirmed a more everyday truth: Politicians make bad neighbours.

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