Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A Note on the Terrorist Bombing in Varanasi

As most readers probably know, a series of bombs recently went off in Varanasi (Benaras), killing 25 people and wounding at least 50 more. One of the bombs went off in a major Hindu temple complex, called Sankat Mochan. It might well have been a preventable incident: officials have acknowledged that while new security measures have been introduced at many major Mandirs around the country, Sankat Mochan was not on that list.

Two other interesting facts: the bomb in the temple was placed in a pressure cooker, which is something I've never heard of before (doesn't it seem like a dumb place to put a bomb?). Also, there a wedding video was being filmed at the temple (a wedding was in progress) when the bombs went off, which may be helpful in finding the culprits.

Two militants have been killed by police following the bombings, one in Lucknow and the other in Delhi. Police say the one in Lucknow was carrying explosives, and that he was a member of the dreaded Lashkar-e-Taiba. It's good that the police are being aggressive in pursuing the people responsible for this senseless act of terror, but I wish the police learned how to detain these guys instead of killing them, so we could actually find out what they know. Indeed, the huge cloud of confusion that often hangs over terrorism investigations in India could be reduced if police changed their tactics and introduced a version of what in America is called "due process." (But perhaps it's understandable at least in the case of the militant killed in Lucknow: you don't want to take chances with someone armed with RDX.)

Following a terrorist attack like this, there should only be three items on the agenda: 1) bring the people who did it to justice, 2) mourn the loss of life, and 3) make sure you have security in place so it hopefully never happens again. All discussions of whether Islam encourages terrorism and so on are superfluous, and the emotional reactions you see from some quarters are unproductive.

Unfortunately, that straightforward agenda is not what we have in store. The BJP instituted a Bandh (an involuntary, city-wide strike/curfew), which actually seems like it might be a good idea in terms of minimizing recriminatory violence. But Advani has announced that he's planning a national Padyatra, clearly hoping to exploit the tragedy to build up some momentum for his party. (Interestingly, ex-BJP member Uma Bharti has said -- quite reasonably -- that a Padyatra isn't necessary, because the onus of security is on the state rather than the national government.)

Two days have passed without any sign of recriminatory violence (other than the deaths of suspected militants at the hands of police). To me that says there isn't going to be any spontaneous upwelling of anger directed against Muslims, either in Varanasi or elsewhere. If there is going to be violence, it is going to be the kind that is ignited, fanned, and directed by BJP-VHP politicians. Ordinary people are ready to go about their business, trusting that the government will get to the bottom of this (indeed, large crowds are already returning to Sankat Mochan).


Sluggish Slug said...

Pressure cooker bombs are the easiest and most accessible to make. In my days in Kabul during the Soviet occupation era, that's what you looked for: unattended pressure cookers in buses, movie theaters and such.

9:52 AM  
Archana said...

I wholeheartedly agree with your three points, but am afraid that the politicking is going to lead to more violence, not peace. Thank you for the additional info on the blasts.

9:59 AM  
Amardeep said...

Sluggish slug, Thanks, I had no idea that this was a common kind of improvised explosive.

And Archana, thanks for your prompt to write about this in your earlier comment. I was kind of dragging my feet...

10:44 AM  
vk said...

I agree with you on all the points, but I don't think it is practicable to safeguard all possible targets (even if they are only temples). There are just too many, as the attacks at IISc showed. It is also really annoying to see the BJP behave in such a irresponsible manner. They are making matters worse and increasing the chance of such attacks leading to communal rioting, which is the actual aim of these kind of terrorist attacks. Of course, this is not entirely out of character for them.

5:12 PM  
Brunda K said...

Our politicians defeat us. I fail to understand how a Padyatra by LK would help the victims or help preventing more bombings. Rather it is going to give the whole incident a religion angle, which is completely unnecessary and untrue.

I dont really think that religion is the reason for bombing. I mean what led to IISC bombing?...

We boast about 8-10% GDP growth, N-Deal, competing with China etc.. but in the end everything is a vain, when our internal security is just beyond help.


9:50 PM  
Anonymous said...

Brunda, you have to be kidding us. The Pakistanis hate Indians because of religion- Indians are the hated "other"- the idol worshipping polytheists whom they ruled over, and who know dare to challenge the original martial muslims of the subcontinent. Please spend some time amongst otherwise rational, sober Pakistanis and the above just bubbles up. Its the result of decades of indoctrination from the military junta, which needed an external threat to consolidate its hold. And what do Pakistanis have to do with the attacks? Everything. Its a foregone conclusion, that a long winded investigation will pinpoint the hand of the Lashkar e Toiba and ultimately, the ISI in this.
The rationale for the attacks is simple- to create chaos in India after the recent POTUS visit wherein he noted India's secular heritage and relatively stable democracy.
The attack on IISc was done to make a negotiating point- dont push Pak on J&K etc.
The problem is that India has still not figured out how to deal with Pak's establishment- which is rabidly bigoted and regards the peace process with India as merely a tactical exercise to keep the US/ International community at bay, while they pull an Al Qaeda rabbit every now and then to keep the US happy.
The nuclear angle means that India cant take the usual 1971 style blunderbuss approach and militarily whack the Pakis beyond a point, to get a decade or two of peace thereafter.
I hate to say this, but India is still struggling how to cope with the Pakistani establishments sponsored attacks (all under deniability) while its internal security situation worsens. More and more people are misdirecting their ire at Indian Muslims (some of whom unfortunately are involved, but a small subset nonetheless) as the GOI seems to be seen as doing nothing.

- Akash

1:38 AM  
SMR said...

"Rather it is going to give the whole incident a religion angle, which is completely unnecessary and untrue."

Say what? Bombing one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Hinduism isn't a religion angle??

"but in the end everything is a vain, when our internal security is just beyond help."

Honestly, these are some of the most inane comments I've read, ever. How exactly is Indian security supposed to guard every freaking site in India? It's impossible!

Having said that, there's evidence to suggest UP has been on communal slow boil for a while - apparently the govt recd. tips about possible bombings in Varanasi but Mulayam's secular government, SO reluctant to ruffle feathers among its base, did little to crack down.

If secularism in India has come to mean means not taking terror threats against Hindus seriously then a padayatra makes perfect sense.

10:07 AM  
Amardeep said...

SMR, I'm curious -- where did you read about the possible tips of an attack? Can you provide a link for us?

As I understand it, the state government had some general idea that something was up after the violent/communal Lucknow protests last week, but I haven't seen anything indicating a specific tip. (See this article in the HT) Mulayam's administration may be accused of laxity, but not the national UPA government.

As for protecting every place in India, I don't think anyone has been talking about that. But obviously the state governments can provide security at major Mandirs, Gurdwaras, and Mosques at least. You don't need a lot: even just some jawans stationed at the front gates with rifles will discourage many bad guys.

And a national Padyatra is bad because it will lead to riots in places like Gujurat -- which have no connection to what has happened in Varanasi.

10:21 AM  
SMR said...

I accuse the Mulayam govt of laxity, not the UPA govt. I don't have the link (sorry, I know that sounds sketchy) - I read it in the Pioneer (and yes, it's a right wing rag) but the Pioneer doesn't save pages on its website. But at the very least, the UP govt has been on notice since the Hindu-Muslim riots around the time of the "cartoon protests." Also, I'm not sure if you've been to Varanasi or Brindavan, but there are TONS of cops around those temples anyway (almost like Ayodhya).

Yes a padayatra is generally bad news - I wrote that mostly in anger.

But saying that places like Gujarat have no connection to what happened in Varanasi is incorrect. Surely even a Catholic living in Goa would care if the Vatican were blown up?

11:02 AM  
Brunda K said...

How on earth can you be so sure that "The Pakistanis hate Indians because of religion- Indians are the hated "other"- "..

Are you tolerant of them at all? At least the tone of your comments does not say so. A simple cricket match between the two countries draws so much of attention? Why does it do so? Because the animosity exists on our side also.

Have we ever taken an initiative to demand peace from our Govt? Nope..

During last few years folks like Sandeep Pandey others have been demanding peace... but did we participate? Did we say that we want peace between two nations irrespective of our religious faiths?

Yes, I strongly believe that a padyatra is complete waste of time. How does it help at all? The politicians do it for their benefit.

There is a march lead by some groups from Bhopal to Delhi demanding justice for 1984 gas survivors. How many politicians have said a word about it? None..People have been marching day in and day out for basic necessities like water, food, and still cannot manage it...

The politicians do not care 2 cents about Bhopal victims or zillion farmers who are committing suicides or the displaced people from Sardar Sarovar Dam project... all they want to do is organize unnecessary rallies....

12:21 PM  
Hemant said...

I agree with you here on most, but detaining terrorist!
There hardly any evidence or major mishap is being prevented by information provided by any terrorist, And once detain these terrorist face trial and than again exploit the indian justice as you said on 13th march post, and if terrorist is at big level, he must be killed on the spot to avoid incidents like AI hijack in kandhar.

4:18 AM  
Anonymous said...

They should substitute the name terrorists to read 'idiots'. They have no real purpose to society and their actions are totally misguided. They obviously do not have anything better to do than cause problems for other people.

When will they realise that we are just 'human beings' and stop namimg people as being 'muslims', 'hindus', 'christians', 'catholics' etc., etc., as this only creates ideas that we are different whereas we are not.

Religion does not come into the argument due to the fact that there is no God anyway, it is a made up idea used in the past for a form of control and is outdated in the modern society. People should begin to think for themselves, instead of following other ideas like sheep, and then some real progress will be made. Time spent praying could be used to produce something useful and in any case if there was a god then I am sure he would want that anyway.

8:26 PM  

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