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Location: Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

More ammunition for the Hindutva fundoos

Tuesday's serial bomb blasts in Mumbai (Bombay)which claimed at least 140 lives have come as yet another shot in the arm of the flag bearers of Hindu nationalism.

The rabidly right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers Organization), its affiliates the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and India's main opposition party - the Bharatiya Janata Party are all sharpening their knives against the minority Muslim population of India.

Preliminary evidence just hours after the blasts point to the Lashkar-e-Toiba, an affiliate of Osama bin Laden's Al Quaida organization headquartered in Pakistan. Over the past year, police in Maharashtra State (of which Mumbai is capital), Delhi and other places have busted several LeT modules and recovered several hundred kilogrammes of RDX, ammonium nitrate and other explosives from them.

Since LeT's cells work independent of each other, counter terrorism experts in India have been expecting a major terror attack for the past several months. With LeT attracting even educated middle class Muslims like doctors, engineers and lawyers the entire Muslim community has been under the scanner of even secular minded Indians.

So the serial blasts in Mumbai's commuter trains literally present a heaven-sent opportunity for the Hindu fundamentalists to expand their base across India.

First off the paddocks to make hay was Leader of the Opposition Lal Krishna Advani. On his gunsights is the government of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. Hours after Tuesday's blasts Advani was up on some podium denouncing the government for 'selling out the country'. On Advani's hit list is the government's decision to repeal the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) under which suspects could be held without trial for years. That most of TADA's victims were Hindus including children as young as 14 imprisoned by capricious law enforcement officials has been conveniently ignored by Advani and other right-wing politicians.

Deputy Prime Minister before his BJP government was ousted in May 2004, Advani has been single-handedly responsible for increasing tensions between India's Hindus and Muslims. Through the 1980s Advani led a campaign to destroy a 16th century mosque in the town of Ayodhya allegedly because it was built after razing a temple dedicated to Lord Ram, revered by devout Hindus.

The mosque was subsequently demolished after a bloody campaign on December 6, 1992 which resulted in riots across the country.

The wounds never really healed and vicious riots erupted in the state of Gujarat in 2002 said to be with support of the BJP-ruled government there. Hundreds of Muslims were massacred by Hindu fundamentalist mobs with support from the state police.

Islamic fundamentalists seeking to put down roots in Muslim communities around the country routinely cite the massacres of Gujarat to find support. Organizations like LeT which have tapped the huge Indian Muslim diaspora employed in Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia have thus gained a huge following among the community's elite.

LeT and its front organization, the Students Islamic Movment of India (SIMI) now banned, have found foot soldiers in towns like Aurangabad and Malegaon in Maharashtra which have a long history of Hindu-Muslim riots. Hindu fundamentalist groups like the RSS and the Shiv Sena led by the idosyncratic Bal Thackeray have gained a similar following among the Hindus.

So as the blood of several hundred Indians congeal across Mumbai, the pernicious fanatics on both sides seek yet another opportunity for a macabre embrace.



Tags - Bombay Mumbai Shiv Sena BJP riots communalism Hindutva terrorism Samajwadi Party Azmi

Monday, July 10, 2006

Cowardly Maharashtra government bends before Bal Thackeray

Testicular fortitude is not an affliction usually attributable to the Congress Party in Maharashtra so the Vilasrao Deshmukh government caving in before Bal Thackeray's hoodlums is par for the course.

While the drunken louts of the Shiv Sena trashed shopping malls, Volvo buses and McDonalds outlets in Bombay (Mumbai) yesterday, Deshmukh sent Police Commissioner A N Roy to bargain for peace with the Thackerays. One can imagine the police commissioner walking in before Thackeray, cap in hand shoes respectfully left outside while the aged tiger seated on a gilded throne grants him an audience.

Successive police commissioners under Congress governments in Maharashtra have bowed and scraped before Bal Thackeray allowing him to assume a larger-than-life image in Bombay. So Roy's flexible spine must have come as a big ego boost to the crazy old man who is seeing his life's work dissipate before his ageing eyes.

And what did Roy wangle from the Thackerays? A promise to rein in his hoodlums provided they were allowed to scot-free for the damaged they caused to Bombay all through Sunday. Though no lives were lost, several heads were broken and millions of rupees worth of property destroyed in a few hours of madness.

The mayhem took precious little to be unleashed. Some muck thrown on the bust of Meenatai, late wife of Bal Thackeray. That the bust was located a few hundred metres from the party's headquarters must rubbed the Thackerays the wrong way. After all India is a country where statues of Mahatma Gandhi provide a nice perch for crows. Just outside Churchgate Railway Station in Bombay, statues of freedom fighters are used as mannequins by roadside vendors peddling clothes.

But then Meenatai by virtue of just being the wife of Bal Thackeray is special.

Few would have noticed the 'insult' if Uddhav, son of Bal Thackeray, hadn't expressed his anguish. Broken hearted supporters bristling under newfound efforts to civilize the Shiv Sena decided that it was old times once again that called for some stiff doses of pyromania.

The first to burn was a Volvo bus, the air-conditioned model of middle-class comfort, so near and yet so far for the middle-aged thugs past their sell by date in the new Bombay. Several of these symbols of India's fast liberalizing economy bore the brunt of the Shiv Saniks' existentialist angst today.

The past decade has seen the once lean, mean and hungry tiger of the Shiv Sena grow fat on the spoils of office. Bal Thackeray, who kicked off the party at the Shivaji Park 40 years ago, is no longer the poor cartoonist of old. He and his family are immensely rich, the silk shawls and imported SUVs are testimony to that. His one-time lieutenants have moved up the ladder as well and become experts in backroom deals.

Thackeray's streetfighters who were left out of the picnic however decided to flex some of their muscles on Sunday. Out were the blackboards, the Sena's equivalent of the jungle telegraph. The clarion call to the faithful beckoned for shopfronts to be trashed, pubs preparing for the world cup final to be smashed.

Sunday's turbulence has surely come as a dose of viagra injected up the Sena's middle-aged veins. Elections to the Bombay Municipal Corporation are due next year and with little to show for its 20 years in office, the party is looking for opportunities to reverse its flaccidity. It remains to be seen if Sunday's orgy is a curtain-raiser to some good times or just a painful memory of the past that slipped away.

The Thackerays must now be hoping that the ruling front in Maharashtra continues to be as generous over the next few months. Then the tiger would be seen to roar even though it wouldn't be audible to too many ears!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Bombay burns again

Bal Thackeray's lumpens are at it again. After his nephew Raj stuck the Sena a body blow by raising the flag of rebellion, the boys were looking lost till some muck was literally thrown on the face of a Thackeray.

Unfortunately it happened to be only a bust of Meenatai, the elder Thackeray's late wife who passed away nearly a decade ago. That the bust was installed at Shivaji Park, a stone's throw from party headquarters Sena Bhavan, only added insult to injury.

The spark was lit after Uddhav, the unassuming son and heir of Thackeray, came to see the damage and expressed his anguish. Broken hearted supporters decided that it was old times once again that called for some stiff doses of pyromania.

The first to burn was a Volvo bus, the air-conditioned model of middle-class comfort, so near and yet so far for the middle-aged thugs past their sell by date in the new Bombay. Several of these symbols of India's fast liberalizing economy bore the brunt of the Shiv Saniks' existentialist angst today.

The past decade has seen the once lean, mean and hungry tiger of the Shiv Sena grow fat on the spoils of office. Bal Thackeray, who kicked off the party at the Shivaji Park 40 years ago, is no longer the poor cartoonist of old. He and his family are immensely rich, the silk shawls and imported SUVs are testimony to that. His one-time lieutenants have moved up the ladder as well and become experts in backroom deals.

Thackeray's streetfighters who were left out of the party however decided to flex some of their muscles today. Out were the blackboards, the Sena's equivalent of the jungle telegraph. The clarion call to the faithful beckoned for shopfronts to be trashed, pubs preparing for the world cup final to be smashed.

The cops were of course left twiddling their thumbs. Bombay's police commissioner A N Roy promised to catch the culprits but also threatened to crack down on the Shiv Sena. A few unfortunate souls may well catch the business end of the cop's boots but it is unlikely that the culprits who vandalized Meenatai's bust would ever be caught.

But the Shiv Sena has had a dose of viagra injected up its middle-aged veins. Elections to the Bombay Municipal Corporation are due next year and with little to show for its 20 years in office, the party is looking to reverse its flaccidity. It remains to be seen if Sunday's orgy is a curtain-raiser to some good times or just a painful memory of the past that slipped away.


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