India: Terrorist attack kills 16 in Hyderabad

By Deepal Jayasekera
23 February 2013

The serial bomb blasts that killed 16 people and injured more than one hundred Thursday evening in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad were a reactionary attack aimed at whipping up communal animosity within India and intensifying tensions between India and Pakistan. 

Around 7 PM Thursday, two bombs went off in an area of Dilsukhnagar, a predominantly Hindu neighbourhood, packed with shops, restaurants, food stalls, theatres and a huge produce market.

The first bomb went off about 15 meters from the entrance to the Venkatadri Cinema and the second at a bus terminal about 150 meters away. According to police investigators, the bombs, which were detonated minutes apart, had been fixed to two bicycles. 

The explosions were clearly designed to cause maximum loss of life and mayhem. They took place in a busy civilian area in late afternoon rush hour. The first bomb detonated as people were leaving the cinema. Many of the victims were daily wageworkers who were busy buying food on their way home.

The capital of Andhra Pradesh and India’s fifth largest city, Hyderabad is home to a large Muslim minority. In recent decades, Hyderabad, as much of India has seen a sharpening of communal tensions. Since 2002 it has also seen a spate of terrorist attacks, including a blast at a Hindu temple in Disukhnagar in which two died and an attack on a Muslim mosque in which 14 were killed. The most lethal bombing in August 2007 killed 42 people.

No one has claimed responsibility for Thursday’s bomb blast. Whoever was behind it, the only beneficiaries will be reactionary forces: India’s bourgeois political establishment—which in the name of fighting terrorism has over the past 12 years greatly expanded the powers and reach of the national security apparatus and police—and the communalist right.

India’s ruling elite has a long history of fomenting communal strife and seizing on terror attacks as a means to divert social tensions. The Hyderabad terrorist attack took place on the second day of a two-day general strike against the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s “pro-investor” socioeconomic policies. Tens of millions of workers—Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, and Christian—took part, defying threats of disciplinary action from the central and many state governments.

Claiming that other terrorist strikes could be imminent, government and police authorities have placed major cities on “high alert.” In Mumbai and across Maharashtra, the state of which it is the capital, police have been deployed in force and ordered to conduct random searches.

Yesterday, India’s Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, visited the site of the twin bomb blasts in Hyderabad, as well as some of the hospitalized victims. Asked by reporters if he suspected Muslim extremists were responsible for the attack, Shinde said, “We have to investigate. We should not come to conclusion immediately.”

Indian authorities have often been very quick to attribute terrorist atrocities to Islamist groups, only to later admit that they were the work of Hindu supremacist groups. Bombings in 2007 at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad and the Ajmer Dargah (shrine) and of the Samjhauta Express train and in 2008 at Malegaon and Modasa were all blamed on Muslim extremists groups. But subsequently police arrested members of what they termed a Hindu terrorist network, whose leaders had ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP – World Hindu Council)—organizations closely associated with India’s official opposition, the BJP.

Following the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament buildings and the 2008 armed assault in the centre of Mumbai, the Indian government charged Pakistan with a role in the attacks. In the first instance, the then BJP-led government brought the subcontinent to the brink of war, ordering the Indian military to deploy 700,000 troops on the Pakistani frontier. In the second, the current Congress Party-led UPA government suspended the “comprehensive peace dialogue” with Pakistan started in 2003—a suspension that continued until February of last year.

Last month, Indian and Pakistani troops were involved in a series of border clashes along the Line of Control (LOC) in the disputed Kashmir region and Indian military and political leaders made a series of inflammatory charges against Pakistan.

To date, however, there have been no suggestions from India’s government of Pakistani responsibility for the terrorist attack in Hyderabad. Pakistan, for its part, quickly issued a statement condemning the Hyderabad bombing in the strongest terms.

Sections of the Indian press, egged on by information fed them by police and security officials, have charged that the bombings were the work of the Indian Mujaheedin (IM), a banned Islamist group. Various reports claim the IM had threatened to avenge the February 9 hanging of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri man who was convicted in a kangaroo special “antiterrorist court” of involvement in the Dec. 2001 attack on India’s parliament. In Indian-held Kashmir there have been numerous protests against Guru’s hanging, despite a severe security crackdown by the police and government.   

Little is known about the IM, which emerged in 2008. But the phenomenon of Islamist terrorism in India—notwithstanding the attempts of the Indian government and media to attribute it entirely to the “foreign hand” (i.e. Pakistan)—is very much bound up with the military-police repression in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, and with the growth of Hindu communalism, which reached new heights in 1992 with the razing of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, precipitating India’s biggest communal bloodletting since Partition. A decade later, Gujarat’s BJP state government instigated a pogrom against Muslims that left well over a thousand dead and rendered tens of thousands homeless.

Indian intelligence officials have said that they had received warnings of an impending terrorist attack in one of a handful of Indian cities that included Hyderabad.

Predictably, the BJP has seized on this to yet again accuse the government of being “soft on terrorism” and of “appeasing” Muslims. “While condemning the dastardly act of terror,” declared BJP President Rajnath Singh, “I put the blame on the Union (central) government for not communicating properly while issuing the alert to the state government.”

Another BJP leader, Balbir Punj said, “Congress has been interested in vote bank politics. They have sent a wrong message. Fight against terror gets compromised.”

The Congress party-led UPA government, meanwhile, is seeking to use popular outrage over the Hyderabad attack to overcome opposition from many state governments to its plans for a National Counter Terrorism Centre. While modeled after the US body of the same name, the proposed Indian NCTC would be granted police powers to mount antiterrorism operations, in addition to massive intelligence gathering and coordination responsibilities.