Blast From The Past – The Varanasi Explosion


By Firdaus Ahmed

Varanasi was recently rocked by a terrorist explosion which targeted worshippers at the evening prayers ceremony at the Ghats. Two additional IEDs were recovered later. The Indian Mujahideen (IM), in an email reportedly sent from Mumbai, took responsibility for the attack. The ostensible reason was to avenge the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992; its plausibility was seemingly enhanced by the anniversary of the event only a couple of days earlier. Taken along with the bomb blast at the German bakery in Pune, it appears that India has not transited its past yet, despite the calm since 26/11.

That the IM are behind the blasts is the dominant expectation. Two recent headlines would indicate that the extremist group would like to claw its way back into reckoning. Recent media reports had it that the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the events in Gujarat let off the Chief Minister for culpability in the events of 2002. The second was the earlier judgment of the Allahabad High Court on the disputed site in Ayodhya, splitting the land three ways. Extremists can be expected to have a grouse with both.

Pakistan’s shadowy ‘deep state’ can be expected to keep India off balance and seek to periodically remind it of its underbelly. A  WikiLeaks-disclosed cable of a conversation with President Zardari post 26/11 shows him rationalizing the Mumbai attack as one that could not have been done without Indian collaborators. He hinted, referring to the Sachar Committee report, that India’s minority has reservations about India’s benign credentials, which may have led to some disgruntled Muslims lending a hand to the Pakistani terrorists.

The media, as is its wont, has latched on to the dominant discourse and furthered it. For the opposition to go after political dividend, both at the State and the Centre, can be expected. The government being on the back foot due to a poor political showing in Bihar and arraigned for corruption, would want to avoid opening up another front. Security analysts, sensitive to facts placed in the public domain by police, past commentary and their reputations, cannot be expected to chase after alternative explanations, termed ‘conspiracy’ theories. With the IM’s self-confession and Pakistan implicated by extension, there is little chance of all angles being explored. Therefore, the blast will be consigned as the handiwork of the IM, building up the notoriety of the group.

Nevertheless, revelations from ongoing investigations into the cases of terror bombings by majoritarian extremists by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) suggest that other candidate explanations cannot be ruled out. Earlier bombings by this terror group had been designed to implicate the IM and had succeeded in doing so till investigations revealed otherwise. The group is under considerable pressure, brought on by ongoing investigations identifying functionaries of the revivalist formations. The motive, if they are instead involved, could be diversionary. The other gain is to bring into focus a link, howsoever contrived, between India’s minority and wider global Islamist extremism as yet another stick to beat the minority with.

The domain of terrorism being murky and dirty, placing anything beyond their imagination is to give them undue credit. In their mind’s eye the political end justifies the means. In case this was minority-based, they were seeking to engineer a backlash – one not necessarily violent – that would then place them at the vanguard of ‘defence’ of the community. If numbering among the majority, discrediting the minority and the government would be two birds with one stone.

In the neoliberal scheme of things, the populace is too busy gainfully participating in India’s economic miracle. The expanded resource cake from the 9 per cent growth can be shared out in ending any perception of deprivation. A deprivation-alienation-terror link is made. Consequently the need is for statecraft that ensures social stability is maintained till the rising tide lifts all boats.

Periodic blasts prove that this is not enough. Action on three levels is required. At the international level, the impetus to radicalism needs defusing. The clash of extremisms emanating from Arabia between Wahabbism and Salafism has had a back drought thus far. With the war in AfPak set to continue till 2014, no end is in sight. At the regional level, the government could be more proactive on the Pakistan front. The July promise of a repeat meeting of the foreign ministers at the year’s end has not materialized. The sparring over the perpetrators of 26/11 continues. Reconciling with Pakistan has asymmetric benefits for India, including eased internal social relations.

In terms of internal security, it needs acknowledging that much has been done, such as acting on the Sachar report on the one hand and exposing majoritarian terrorism on the other. Much is also on the anvil, such as operationalizing the NCTC. The government can only do so much. It is for the majority and minority, in their multiple communities, to reach out to each other externally and deny intellectual space to extremism internally. One thing is certain: the media will be of little help.

Firdaus Ahmed, Freelancer may be reached at [email protected]


IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

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