India: Bomb blasts in Mumbai

“Nine bombings in as many months, almost 100 people dead, and some 200 injured: Bombay is in the midst of … the longest-running terror offensive any major Indian city has ever encountered…” (Editorial in ‘The Hindu’, 26 August 2003).

The twin bombs that rocked Mumbai (Bombay) on the 25th of August are the second this year and the worst since the 1993 blasts, which triggered ghastly communal riots in which hundreds of Muslims were killed.

While tons of theories are being rolled out as to the possible causes for these attacks, the political establishment, both at the centre and at state level are grinding their axes to take maximum advantage of the situation.

The Shiva Sena, which was in power during the 1993 blasts and the subsequent riots, is gearing itself to take full advantage of these new attacks. In 1993, Shiva Sena was in coalition in the state of Maharashtra with the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). It actually led the riots at that time perpetrated against Muslims. A commission of enquiry indicted them, but the local government headed by them rejected the report.

Shiva Sena is at present conducting a scandalous campaign against the Muslims who have been ghettoised in the teaming slums of Bombay. They are targeting the Bangladeshi immigrants and Bihar Muslims as ‘outsiders’; they want to introduce legislation to throw out all those who have come to Bombay since 1995. One line of inquiry being pursued by detectives has been to establish whether the blasts were a reaction to the publication of a report on the holy site of Ayodhya. This is literally the most explosive issue in Indian politics. Hours before the bombings, India’s chief archaeological body claimed to have found evidence of a Hindu temple that existed centuries ago beneath the mosque in the town which was destroyed by Hindu zealots in 1992.

Such a finding would effectively establish the legitimacy of the area as a Hindu shrine rather than a Muslim site.

Immediate suspicion for the Mumbai bombings fell on Islamist extremists. India’s hard-line Hindu deputy Prime Minister, LK Advani, immediately hinted that Lashkar-i-Toiba, a Pakistan-based militant group, might have been responsible, acting through a banned Indian Islamist student group. But Pakistan, India’s perennial enemy during the half-century since Britain’s departure from the subcontinent, was quick to claim that it had nothing to do with the blasts.

"We deplore these attacks. We condemn all acts of terrorism and I think that such wanton targeting of civilians should be condemned in the strongest possible terms," a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Islamabad stated.

The recent arrests point the finger towards causes closer to home. The four people, including two women, accused of masterminding and executing these attacks are said to belong to an organisation called the Gujarat Revenge Force. They come from the area of India that has seen the worst carnage of any period since the partition days. Whether they are culpable or not in this bomb attack, the Muslim community in Gujarat and in the country as a whole feel horribly betrayed by the failure of the Indian state to protect them.

While the communal sectarians are campaigning for blood, it must be pointed out that there were also impressive instances of cross-community solidarity. The Muslim residents of Jhaveri bazaar, where one of the bombs went off, rushed to the aid of Hindu shopkeepers. They rescued many from the affected are, took them in to their own places and provided much needed comforting and first-aid. The Hindi Gujarati jewellers themselves, when talking to TV reporters confirmed this. Many nearby factory workers also rushed to the hospitals to donate blood to the wounded.

“There is simply no excuse, and there never can be, for the ghastly bomb attacks … There will be some misguided attempts to communalise the incident, and direct natural anger to particular sections of society. This will have to be combated by a vigilant state and central government to ensure that an atmosphere is not created that suits the terrorists and plays into their hands”. (Editorial in ‘The Asian Age’, 26 August)

What high expectations from a government headed by an avowedly pr Hindu party! The BJP is making all the preparations to go to the hustings in four states in the next few weeks and ride to power on a communal platform in general elections scheduled to be held by the end of next year. The findings of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) about the existence of the Hindu Temple at the disputed mosque site in Ayodhya is a powerful time-bomb waiting to explode to the advantage of the BJP and its communal “black hundred” forces.

The BJP, which was peddling soft on the issue of building the temple at the site where the demolished Babri mosque stood for four hundred years, has already become more belligerent after the ASI report. One after the other, communal luminaries of the BJP is coming out with statements to the effect that the building of a new Temple is a foregone conclusion. They are speaking in terms such as: “The Muslim minority should respect and concede the wishes of the Hindu majority, otherwise…”

If this is seen in the context of recent events, everything points towards a certain realignment of forces. Within the span of one week there was the failed no-confidence motion against the BJP in the all-India parliament, then the bombs, the ASI report and also the fall of the Uttar Pradesh state government. The coming elections for four state parliaments will be crucial for the BJP and its coalition partners to test the waters for a communal, anti-Muslim campaign, which gave them a massive victory recently in riot-torn Gujarat.

These elections could be an opportunity for the Left as well to win the confidence of the minorities and other downtrodden people; who feel alienated in this communally- charged society. On 21 May this year, 50 million workers joined the historic all-India general strike. The working class moved into action, dissolving the bad blood between the communities. The strike showed that only the working class is capable holding India together.

But the Left, spearheaded by the CPI (M), is pathetic in its response to recent events. Its blind parliamentarism is leading the working class to disaster. Instead of capitalising on the gains of the May 21 general strike and leading the class into decisive combat against the communal and capitalist BJP, it has once again revived its theory of "lesser evilism". It has announced its unilateral support to the capitalist and sometimes even communalist Congress Party and its leader, Sonia Gandhi.

How could one forget the acts of blatant communalism of Congress against the Sikhs during the anti-Sikh riots (in 1984) led by local Congress ministers and legislators? How could one overlook that party’s passive support of PVN Rao’s Congress government, during the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992? The Congress Party has used communalism to its hilt; to paint them as secular is nothing but political perfidy.

Unfortunately the period ahead is likely to swing back towards the black hole of communalism. One cannot rule out the possibility of 1992-93 type all India communal strife – targeting Muslims and other minorities. But it is the acts of camaraderie and cross community unity seen in the wake of the Mumbai blasts and the class solidarity of this year’s general strike, which show there is a basis for cutting across this communalism. The key to changing the situation across India is the building of the forces prepared to struggle for a genuine socialist alternative to communal and capitalist oppression.

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September 2003