Besides the 179 commuters, the peace process is the major victim of the Mumbai train blasts on 11/7. According to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh: “I think the dialogue process has suffered”. Explaining the Indian gripe at the conclusion of a brief tour of Mumbai, he said: “Terrorists responsible for the blasts were supported by elements from across the border. This could not have taken place or they could not have hit with such an effect without the help of sympathisers. Pakistan has to stop helping terrorism to take the peace process forward.” The same Manmohan Singh just a year ago, when General Pervez Musharraf visited India in April 2005, had declared that “the peace process is now irreversible”.
India has indefinitely postponed the peace talks even when General Pervez Musharraf has warned that the “stalling of dialogue serves the terrorists’ objectives”. Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran has confirmed the press reports that a meeting he was to have with his Pakistani counterpart as part of the ongoing Indo-Pakistani “composite dialogue” has been postponed at India’s initiative and that the postponement is indefinite. The foreign secretaries’ talks, scheduled for July 20-21, have also been put off.
This setback to the peace process is a gift for the reactionaries in the subcontinent. Since their electoral defeat in 2004, the Hindu fundamentalists have been trying to fan communal hatred so that they can regain their lost mass base. BJP leader LK Advani warmly praised the Congress government’s decisions to suspend the next step in the peace dialogue with Pakistan. “Dr Manmohan Singh took a brave and the right decision by saying peace talks between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan have to be stopped,” Advani told a BJP “anti-terrorism rally” in Bhopal.
The initial reaction of Hindu fundamentalist BJP leaders was that these attacks were the consequence of minority (read Muslim) appeasement by the Congress-led UPA government and that they would not have happened if POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) had not been repealed. Ironically, India was subjected to heinous terrorist attacks even when the draconian POTA was in place. For instance, the attacks on Indian parliament on December 13, 2001 and the attack on Delhi’s Red Fort took place when the BJP-led NDA government was in office.
As the blood of several hundred Indians congealed across Mumbai, the Hindu fanatics sought every opportunity for a macabre embrace. In Surat, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal went on a rampage in a mosque with impunity provided by the notorious chief minister of Gujarat. The latter’s counterpart in Maharashtra was not far behind: he rounded up more than a thousand Muslim youths, many of whom had participated most energetically in the post-blast rescue operations, in Mahim and other areas of Mumbai merely on suspicion.
Hoping to exploit the post-Mumbai blasts mood, the BJP also decided to effect a leadership change. In place of LK Advani the BJP is bringing Narendra Modi. Advani, the hawkish face of the BJP for years, tarnished his image when he praised Muhammad Ali Jinnah during his Pakistan visit. His statement generated a crisis inside the Sangh Parivar and the Parivar pushed the BJP to seek a replacement for LK Advani. And nobody could be more suitable than Narendra Modi to step in Advani’s shoes. The mastermind of the Gujarat pogrom, BJP hopes, would have a symbolic effect in mobilising the pro-Hindu constituency, and yield rich dividends to the BJP in the future elections. Of course, there are other factors that the BJP thinks will work in its favour. The resentment created by a string of measures introduced by the Congress-led UPA government, like the attempt to introduce reservations for Muslims in Andhra Pardesh or the repeal of POTA etc. But the BJP is pinning its hopes on the Mumbai blasts. Amidst mass anger against the perpetrators of the blasts, criticism against Modi would be easy to ward off. Hence, as a feeler, Modi was sent to Mumbai to lead the BJP’s so-called anti-terrorism rally. But a mature response by Mumbaikers dashed all BJP hopes. No riots followed the blasts as the BJP would have wished for. Mid-Day’s (a tabloid) headline ahead of Modi’s visit reflects the mood in Mumbai: “Go back, Modi, the last thing our bruised city needs now is a riot.”
While the Mumbai blasts have provided the Sangh Parivar with an opportunity, violent actions of the Sangh Parivar help their counterpart, the “green parivar” in India and her Muslim neighbours alike. For instance, several Indian political analysts attribute the emergence of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) to sectarian slaughters like the 2002 Gujarat riots, when 2000 Muslims were killed. Mumbai may have been the revenge, though no government official would dare make the link because it suites the BJP and her allied-press to blame Pakistan. Indian analyst Swapan Dasgupta, however, in the Wall S