Mecca Masjid blast verdict gives BJP ammunition against Congress, allows it breather from negative headlines
After the verdict in the Mecca Masjid case, the BJP will try and build momentum against the Congress on the issue of saffron terrorism.
Addressing the Congress party’s chintan shivir in Jaipur on 20 January, 2013, the then home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said, "Reports have come during an investigation that the BJP and RSS conduct terror training camps... Bombs were planted in the Samjhauta Express and the Mecca Masjid, and a blast was also carried out in Malegaon….we will have to think about it seriously and remain alert." Later that day, he clarified that he had not said anything new and said, "This is saffron terrorism that I have talked about.”
Shinde's charges, which were nationally televised, were made in front of the Congress' top leadership, including Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi (who had been anointed party vice-president only a day earlier in the same meet), then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, all top central ministers and chief ministers of party-ruled states.
Clearly, Shinde, as the home minister and a senior leader, couldn’t have made a charge as serious as this without thorough background work and due clearance from the leadership. His predecessor P Chidambaram had been speaking of “saffron terrorism” for quite time on various forums. The only difference between the allegations made by Shinde and Chidambaram is that the latter did not link Hindu or saffron terror with the BJP.
The investigations in numerous cases, including the Samjhauta Express, Malegaon and the Mecca Masjid blasts were focused on establishing a 'Hindu terror' link. The Congress also sought to shape the public discourse on this issue. In the Batla House incident, although the Delhi police claimed that the encounter was a genuine one, leaders like Digvijay Singh and Salman Khurshid built a hypothesis that the encounter was fake.
Several Congress leader were talking about the emerging threat of saffron terror. They all appeared to have taken a cue from the statement of Rahul Gandhi to the US Ambassador in 2009 that Hindu extremist groups could pose a greater threat to the country than Muslim militants.
In December 2010, Wikileaks had revealed that in July 2009, Rahul Gandhi was at a lunch hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. There, he warned Ambassador Timothy Roemer, saying, "Although there was evidence of some support for Islamic terrorist group Laskar-e-Taiba among certain elements in India's Muslim community, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community."
Rahul spoke of "the risk of a "homegrown" extremist front to the US Ambassador while reacting to terror attacks in which Pakistan was involved, or attacks perpetrated by Islamist groups. He said that homegrown extremism was a growing concern and one that demanded constant attention.
Allegations of 'Hindu terror' came to haunt the Congress on Monday after an NIA court in Hyderabad acquitted five accused, including Swami Aseemanand, in the Mecca Masjid blast case. A piped bomb had rocked Friday prayers on 18 May 2007, killing eight persons and injuring 58 others.
During initial investigations by the Hyderabad police, some Muslim youth were detained for allegedly planning and executing the blast. However, the case took a different turn after it was transferred to the CBI in July 2007, and later to the NIA in April 2011. It was during investigations by the central agencies that members of Abhinav Bharat were named in the blast.
Now, successive cases built up by the NIA, lending credence to the saffron terror charge, have fallen flat in court — including the Malegaon blast and Mecca Masjid blast. Revelations have been made by former union home ministry official RVS Mani that he was “coerced” during the reign of P Chidambaram as home minister to file a modified “second affidavit” in the Ishrat Jahan case. These revelations have put the Congress party on the defensive. A court has dropped charges under the MCOCA against Colonel SK Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya Thakur in the 2008 Malegaon blast case and both are out on the bail.
The BJP has launched a blistering counter-offensive against the Congress leadership, accusing it of inventing 'saffron terrorism' to shift attention from Islamic terror.
The timing of the NIA court ruling, the acquittal of Swami Aseemanand and others and the re-ignition of the saffron terrorism debate, may have major political implications. The verdict came at a time when the heat was on the BJP for its mishandling of the Kathua and Unnao rape cases. A shift in the media headlines will give a breather to the BJP.
The shrillness with which the BJP has lashed out at the Congress indicates that that the ruling party at the Centre wants to make this an electoral issue in Karnataka. In this state, Rahul Gandhi is making hurried visits to temples and mutts to reclaim the credentials of himself and the Congress so that they are seen as supportive of the Hindu community. At a recent conclave organised by India Today, Sonia Gandhi had suggested that Rahul’s temple visits were part of the party strategy to counter the BJP’s portrayal of the Congress as a “Muslim party”.
The decision of the Congress government in Karnataka to recommend minority status to the Lingayats, and take them away from the Hindu fold, is also a hotly debated issue in the state.
Under these circumstances, the BJP will try and build momentum against the Congress on the issue of saffron terrorism. A beginning was made by a party spokesperson about an hour after the NIA court in Hyderabad announced its verdict.
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