Recent communal tensions in Uttar Pradesh are unfortunately becoming a subject of political point scoring. While some would attribute these developments to political expediency in the run-up to general elections, it would be dangerous to ignore the impact of the undercurrents of communal tensions. During the course of his election campaign, Rahul Gandhi averred that he had been advised by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) that ISI was sending its agents to fan communal tensions in relief camps in Muzaffarnagar. There is no reason to doubt the veracity of what Rahul said. He was obviously referring to the activities of the ISI/Lashkar-e-Toiba motivated Indian Mujahideen (IM). The IB is a highly professional organisation, whose covert role and understandable aversion to coming under public glare are hallmarks of an efficient intelligence organisation.
Amid these events comes the release of a book titled Indian Mujahideen which contains a study of IM, undertaken by scholars from the Laboratory of Computational Cultural Dynamics of the University of Maryland, USA. The authors include a computer scientist (of Indian origin) who has done extensive studies on LeT, a public policy expert, an expert on counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency and former CBI director R K Raghavan. The book traces the origin of IM to the Jamaat-e-Islami and Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and to instances of rising communal tensions in India. It notes that Pakistan’s ISI “recruited some of these angry young men by brainwashing them with the idea that they should take revenge for the humiliation and misery heaped upon them”.
The first instance where the name of Indian Mujahideen emerged was a simultaneous attack on court houses in Lucknow, Faizabad and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh in 2007. Its deadliest attack, however, was the July 2006 Mumbai train bombing. More importantly, the US State Department has confirmed that IM played a “facilitative role” in the 26/11 terrorist strike in Mumbai. The links of the IM with LeT are now very well established and documented. What emerges is that IM mostly resorts to attacking “soft” targets like market places, hitting its targets simultaneously, to create maximum confusion. A major finding is that there is “a strong relationship between the state of Hindu-Muslim relations within India and subsequent IM attacks”. The recent attack on Bodh Gaya suggests that IM also follows the guidance of the LeT, empathising with the Rohingyas in Myanmar, by attacking Buddhist targets.
It has for a long time been the effort of ISI to exploit communal, ethnic and linguistic “fault lines” in India. During the period of militancy in Punjab, ISI mounted concerted efforts to create a “Hindu-Sikh” divide within the country. That this effort was foiled can primarily be attributed to the wisdom of people in both communities to not allow militancy fanned from across the border to succeed. The ISI also orchestrated events that forced the Kashmiri Pandits to flee from their homes in the Valley. Those who crossed the LoC like Syed Salahuddin, the leader of Hizbul Mujahideen, operate from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and promote violence in Jammu and Kashmir.
While the ISI has played the central role in promoting communal tensions across India, through armed groups like LeT, India now faces the added problem of the close association that members of Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League have with LeT. In these circumstances, our political parties would be well advised to prevent communal passions being raised in the ongoing election campaign. Assertions like that of Rahul Gandhi that “Hindu terrorism” poses the greatest threat to India, or that we are threatened by “Muslim terrorism” should be avoided. There is a malevolent neighbour just waiting to exploit our internal “fault lines” and disrupt and discredit our democratic processes.