India: Rightwing Hindu Extremists Get Life for ’07 Attack

Akash Vashishtha
New Delhi
2017-03-22
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170322-IN-RSS-1000 Volunteers with the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) march during an event marking the 121st birth anniversary of Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose, in Siliguri, Jan. 23, 2017.
AFP

An Indian court Wednesday sentenced two members of a rightwing Hindu group to life in prison for orchestrating an attack that killed three people at a Muslim shrine in 2007.

Bhavnesh Patel and Devendra Gupta, both former promoters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), were convicted on March 8 of carrying out a bombing inside Rajasthan state’s Moinuddin Chishti shrine, popularly known as the Ajmer Sharif Dargah. RSS is the ideological mentor of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

This is the first-ever conviction of RSS cadres in a terror-related case.

A spokesman for the RSS said it did not support any form of extremism, but he declined to confirm if the two convicted men were ever members of the group.

“RSS cannot be called an extremist organization simply because anyone claiming to be associated with it is convicted. It has to be seen whether they were given any responsibility at that time by [the] RSS or not,” Ashik Thakur, a prominent leader of the group, told BenarNews.

“RSS only preaches character building in the interest of the nation. If someone joins RSS for some time and then involves himself in any wrong activity, the organization should not be held responsible,” Thakur said.

Besides Patel and Gupta, the court also convicted RSS promoter Sunil Joshi, who was found dead under mysterious circumstances in December 2007, barely two months after the attack.

Of the 13 Hindu fundamentalists accused of carrying out the attack, seven were acquitted owing to lack of evidence earlier this month while three others were declared to be absconding.

Among those acquitted was Hindu seer Swami Aseemanand, a well-known member of a rightwing extremist outfit known as Abhinav Bharat, which is blamed for at least one-half dozen attacks in India since the group’s formation in 2006.

Aseemanand has been in jail since 2010 when he was arrested in connection with a bomb blast in Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid that resulted in 16 deaths. He is also an accused in the 2007 blast on the Samjhauta Express – a train that runs between India and Pakistan – that killed 68 people.

Hindu terrorism?

Wednesday’s sentencing has again ignited talks of rightwing terrorism in India at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP government has swept to power in recent assembly elections in four states.

“If any one person is found involved, that does not mean the entire organization is involved,” New Delhi-based political commentator Dushyant Nagar told BenarNews.

“Hindu terrorism has never existed and may never exist. They never believed in expanding their empire. History is witness that Hindus never attacked or harmed anyone,” he said.

“Hinduism doesn’t just symbolize faith, but sentiments of a vast majority in India,” added Nagar.

Of the nearly 1.25 billion people in India, 80 percent pledge allegiance to the Hindu religion, according to official figures.

Legal experts also seemed to agree.

“Just because of this one conviction, you cannot declare it as rightwing terrorism. The law of the land is equal for all, irrespective of caste or religion. It just goes to show that our judiciary does not discriminate,” Neeraj Pandey, a senior criminal lawyer based in Uttar Pradesh state, told BenarNews.

Minority leaders, too, did not wish to communalize the issue.

“Both terrorism and humanity are cultures taught [by] parents. It is not Hinduism or Islam which is wrong. It is only people who are wrong and misguided. Religion never preaches wrong,” Shakir Ali of the All India Minorities Commission told BenarNews.

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