It has never happened before. This is the very first time that Malegaon, a Muslim majority town, 300km North-east of Mumbai, has awakened to the horrors of the bomb blast culture. The target was carefully chosen and so was the occasion—Hamidiya Masjid inside the premises of perhaps India’s largest Muslim cemetery on the occasion of Shab-e-Barat. (Shab-e-Barat, according to one tradition, is one of the holiest nights in Islam; the day Muslims visit cemetery in large numbers to offer prayers to their ancestors). The other target was a crowded and centrally-located area called Mushawerat Chowk. This “tit-for-tat-terrorism”, to borrow Pritish Nandy’s phrase, claimed 40 innocent lives and left 300 injured. This “specific and successful targeting of Muslims in significant-scale violence for the first time in India” raises some unanswered questions. So far, the Government has always associated the menace of terrorism with the so called “Islamic fundamentalists.”
The “terrorists” have become victims. A “town of rabble-rousers” has been hit and yet the “terrorists living in Malegaon” have shown exemplary calm and behaved like the civilised human beings of a secular India.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had issued a clear and unambiguous warning of the terrorist strikes on September 5, 2006, but as usual our intelligentsia and guardians were caught napping. The Ganesh Utsav got over on September 7, so the Malegaon police were in a lax mood although the next day was Shab-e-Barat. When it comes to the security of Muslims, the relaxed behaviour of the police speaks volumes about their general attitude. It’s quite worded: How can there be trouble with trouble-makers?
The security at the Muslim cemetery was specifically discussed in the local Peace Committee meeting just before Shab-e-Barat. So grave was the concern that the committee members in fact discussed whether the policemen should be posted in plain clothes or in khaki inside the premises of the cemetery. A proposal to restrict the influx of beggars was also discussed—they should be restricted till the Sulaimani Masjid which is located 250 metres away from the blast site.
There was no implementation on these proposals. This Peace Committee meeting will go down in the dustbin of Malegaon’s history as ‘remarkable’.
Didn’t this security rumble reach the ears of the Malegaon police? Or did they deliberately choose to ignore it?
When the believers were struck right after the Friday prayer, there was not a single policeman there. Isn’t it a security lapse? A classic example of the security blunder directly from a B-grade Hindi movie.
Our deputy Chief Minister, RR Patil agreed. But the explanation given was rather preposterous—since Muslims start visiting the cemetery only after the evening prayer there was no bandobast for the Friday prayer which is held in the afternoon!
Khuswant Singh summed up the essence of the Indian police quite wryly:
“They seem always wise after the event.”
“Who were these sons of Satan who carried out this diabolical operation?”
Unlike any other bomb blast where the investigating agencies are quick to indulge in a name-calling ceremony, Malegaon has seen a marked departure from the ‘standard pattern’. The Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) which was infected with Acquired Teasing Syndrome (ATS — I could not think of a better term. There is no law in India which gives sanctity to demonise an entire community. Yet they got away with it in the aftermath of Mumbai train blasts) is in “no hurry to name the culprits” may I add, openly.
Instead of let’s call a spade a spade; they turned to the Media which like a willing whore complied. That is not to downplay the excellent role of the media as far as the reporting of the human interest stories are concerned. Since our topic is ‘whodunit’, I shall not deviate from it.
From the very next day, stories were planted by the security agencies in the national dailies. ‘Desperate Jehadis at Work — Malegaon Blasts Aimed at Creating Communal Riots’ read one headline in The Times of India.
“Security agencies feel the Malegaon blasts were triggered by desperate jehadis anxious to escalate communal tension and tap resulting schisms to garner support and sanction for terror strikes during the forthcoming festival season……..Though counter-terror experts said they would wait for details of explosive, they seemed to have few doubts that it was the handiwork of jehadis.” (Emphasis added).
It went on to divide the believers against the believers:
“Considerable significance is also attached to the target of attack being Barelvis who are looked down upon for persisting with ‘un-Islamic’ practices like ‘Shab-e-Barat’ involving visiting and lighting of candles at graves of ancestors—a custom not in line with beliefs of puritanical sects like Ahl-e-Hadis from which Lashkar-e-Taiba is derived, Tabligh-e-Jamaat and, to a lesser extent, Deobandis.”
It didn’t stop there:
“Top intelligence sources also confirmed that a major jehadi plot, hatched with the same aim to incite communal flare-up by attacking targets in Maharashtra on the day of Ganesh immersion on Wednesday, could not be carried out only because of the vigil by security agencies”.(Emphasis added).
Congratulations to the security agencies for being ‘vigilant’ during the Ganapati immersion only. What stopped them from extending their ‘vigilance’ to the holy Shab-e-Barat?
How can you expect Hindustan Times to be left behind in the ‘commodification’ of news? It went one step ahead and declared — ‘LeT Chief Raheel Planned Blasts with Aides: Police’
“According to police, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) commander Raheel Abdul Sheikh (also the alleged mastermind of the 11/7 blasts) could have taken the help of associates Abdul Latif Khan and Junaid Hussein to plan the Malegaon blasts. The duo are said to be members of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Khan and Hussein, say officers, are absconding since May and may have ‘taken instructions’ from Raheel to execute the blasts. Raheel, said a senior officer, stayed in Malegaon for a few weeks before fleeing to Bangladesh in May………………………….Top officers believe that the blasts could have been the LeT’s and SIMI’s Plan C to force a ‘communal divide’, their attack on RSS headquarters in Nagpur being Plan B, and the 11/7 blasts Plan A.”
But if so much was known, why could not the police “destroy them while the conspiracy was being hatched instead of waiting for the violence to blast our lives?”
Malegaon bomb blasts have given birth to a new journalistic term: selective-judgmental reporting. And the above report has given a vertical dimension to the term. And thanks to the media moguls who drive their sustenance from the selective official concoction.
Why am I making so much fuss over the alleged Muslim connection? My approach is simple—Why relinquish all other lines of investigation?
It seems that the media is in no mood to recall the recent developments in Maharashtra. Let me quote the noted lawyer and columnist, A.G. Noorani at length to drive my point:
“At Nanded, on April 6, two Bajrang Dal activists, Naresh Rajkondwar and Himanshu Phanse, were killed while attempting to make a bomb in the former’s house along with three others. The police reportedly recovered a second bomb, timers, switches, detonators and gunpowder, as well as evidence that they had struck before. A diary recovered had pictures of all ex-RSS chiefs and notes on bomb-making techniques. It also had mention of the Bajrang Dal sponsored camps that Himanshu had attended……… The warning was overdue. Kondwar and Phanse were suspected to be key figures in a bombing incident at Parbhani that very month, in which 25 persons had been injured. It was at a mosque, as were the bombings at Parbhani and Jalna in April 2004, where 18 persons were injured.
These incidents obviously formed a pattern. A reasonable, though not conclusive, presumption arises that Malegaon formed part of this pattern. Pointing fingers while investigations are on is unfair and hazardous. Fingers accustomed to pointing in one direction, however, pointed in the same direction after Malegaon. (Emphasis added)……….On September 13, two unidentified packages of fake bombs were discovered. The Additional Commissioner of Police, ATS, Subodh Jaiswal, gave the following explanation. ‘The aim was to unleash panic.’ The motive: to create ‘rage against the police and Hindu residents so that riots could break out.’ With equal speed he asserted: ‘They were planted by the same terror outfit that triggered the Friday blasts.’ This gave the game away. By then no ‘outfit’ had been identified officially. Evidence was admittedly scant. The investigators seemed to be groping in the dark. Yet, Subodh Jaiswal was all certitude.
On September 16, the Additional SP, Rajwardhan, attacked the media: ‘There seems to be a deliberate attempt in a section of the media to pressurise the police into taking a line of investigation — of Hindu fanatics being involved — but we will go by the ground reality and the rule book, and explore all the possibilities.’ Precisely what he had in mind became clear when he added: ‘But it seems to be the handwork of organised terrorists who want to destabilise the country and incite communal violence.’ The patriotic Bajrang Dal was exonerated.” (Emphasis added).
Even a political commentator like Swapan Dasgupta wrote in Daily News & Analysis, “There is, as yet, no evidence that the devotees of Hanuman have complemented their visceral anti-Islamist bile with murderous technology. Indeed, the reports suggest that the explosives were of ‘high intensity’, something beyond the ken of the Bajrangis.” (Emphasis added).
Of course there is no evidence as yet because the investigations are still going on. But how can one give a clean chit to Bajranj Dal which in the recent past, as the evidence suggests, has attacked mosques. And there is, as Praful Bidwai writes, “convincing photographic evidence to show that the Bajrang Dal was indeed running a bomb-fabrication operation. Some of the pictures also showed that the local police tried to cover up Bajrang Dal-VHP involvement by planting fire-crackers — to suggest that the blast was caused by crackers, not bombs — and false beards.”
Whoever said ‘ignorance is bliss’, I am his slave for life. Senior journalist Kuldip Nayar has given a new twist to the story by declaring, “I have no doubt that Al Qaeda had a hand in the Malegaon bomb blasts.” He didn’t elaborate any further.
Sounds like the ‘breaking news’ of the decade? Or is it the emergence of one-line-journalism of the full stop kind?
According to M.J. Akbar, one of the seven deadly sins of media is ignorance and Kuldip Nayar perfectly fits in the description. Wisdom, as I always say, evaporates with old age.
It took 40 innocent lives to highlight the sheer governmental apathy and the neglect which has persisted for decades in Malegaon. The bomb blasts have exposed the vulnerable underbelly of ‘two Indias’ — The India of Mumbai and the India of Malegaon. Pamela Philipose rightly remarks, “The tragedy of the September 8 blasts in this town served to uncover the greater tragedy of Malegaon, a town that Maharashtra — and India — remembers only in times of blasts and riots.”
In Malegaon, the Creator’s own house is under threat from His most civilised creature. Old and sturdy locks hanging in the iron gates of the town’s major mosques are a rare sight in this textile town. Fear still looms large in the prying eyes of a muezzin as he peeps out from the Iron Gate.