Amid Unabated Terror, India’s Main Parties Bicker
July 29, 2008 - 5:23 AMIndia’s main opposition party has caused an uproar by suggesting that a series of deadly bomb blasts were linked to the political crisis over the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement.
Last Tuesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh won a crucial vote of confidence in parliament, after opponents of the nuclear deal tried to force early elections.
During the debate leading up to the closely fought vote, members of the Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) accused the ruling coalition of trying to bribe them to abstain. The claims were denied, but they are under committee investigation.
Following weekend bomb attacks in Bangalore and Ahmedabad that that left at least 51 people dead, senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj told reporters in New Delhi that the blasts, coming just four days after the confidence vote, were “a conspiracy to divert attention from the cash-for-votes scandal.”
They were also part of “an attempt to win over the Muslim votes after the pro-American [nuclear] deal pursued by the government,” she said.
Asked whether she was actually accusing the government of having a role in the bombings, Swaraj replied, “I have said what I wanted, it is for you all to interpret. These are not off-the-cuff remarks.”
Manish Tiwari, spokesman for Singh’s Congress party, called the allegations “preposterous and blatant lies” and threatened legal action.
Shortly before Sunday’s blasts in Ahmedabad, several Indian television stations reported receiving an email announcing the impending blasts, in a name of an Islamic group calling itself the “Indian Mujahideen.” The same group was first heard of when it claimed responsibility last May for bombings in Jaipur, which claimed more than 60 lives.
Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Jaipur are all in states ruled by the BJP, prompting speculation that the perpetrators were trying to make a political point or attempting to provoke Hindu-Muslim tensions.
Swaraj’s allegations have highlighted the deep political chasm between the two leading parties.
“[The] absence of dialogue on key issues as well as hardening postures across the political spectrum is grossly undermining efforts to curtail terrorism in India,” said political analyst Santosh Kumar.
Nearly 550 people have been killed in 12 well-coordinated terrorist attacks across India since October 2005 yet none of the cases have been resolved.
The former BJP government enacted strong anti-terrorism legislation but the Congress-led government in 2004 scrapped it, saying it unjustly targeted Muslims and violated human rights.
Under India’s constitution, law enforcement is the responsibility of state governments. With data having to be shared between national and state agencies with competing political agendas, counter-terrorism activities are seldom successful.
The U.S. State Department’s latest annual report on terrorism says India’s counter-terror efforts are “hampered by outdated and overburdened law enforcement.”
Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, said Monday terrorism was thriving in India because of “endemic and structural infirmities,” including the fact that the country’s police-to-population ratio is among the world’s lowest.
The current central government supports an FBI-type federal intelligence agency, but other parties fear it could be used to harass political opponents.
Following the recent bombings, the government is hopeful of a consensus between state governments, so as to avoid a lengthy process of constitutional amendment.
In its email claiming responsibility for the Ahmedabad bombings, the “Indian Mujahideen” said the blasts were to avenge anti-Muslim riots in 2002 in Gujarat state that left about 2,500 people dead. Ahmedabad is the biggest city in Gujarat.
Police say “Indian Mujahideen” may be a pseudonym for the Students Islamic Movement of India, which has strong ties with al-Qaeda-linked Sunni terrorist groups Harkut-ul-Jehadi Islami (HuJI) and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).