The people behind the Malegaon terrorist attack fell into three categories — Sangh parivar cadres, army men and old Savarkarites. The first person to be arrested by the police, Pragya Singh, was a sadhvi and former ABVP leader. A second group of the accused comprised army men, retired or not, related to the Bhonsle Military School (BMS). Major Ramesh Upadhyay, a former defence services officer was arrested first, but the key figure was Lt Col Prasad Purohit, who had approached Upadhyay when he was posted at Nasik as liaison officer. Purohit and Upadhyay imparted military training to young activists — including bomb making — and were instrumental in getting arms and explosives.
Most of the training camps took place in the BMS, which had been directed by Rtd Major P.B. Kulkarni between 1973 and 1988, andwho had been associated with the RSS since 1935. In fact, the Bajrang Dal organised training camps in the BMS (Nagpur) as early as 2001. The five accused mentioned above were all members of Abhinav Bharat, a Pune-based movement initiated by Purohit in June 2006, whose working president was Ramesh Upadhyaya but whose president was none other than Himani Savarkar, V.D. Savarkar’s daughter in law, who also headed the Hindu Mahasabha.
The people, the places and the modus operandi are revealing of the continuity that underlines the Hindu tradition of terror, harking back to V.D. Savarkar. The young, revolutionary Savarkar had created the first Abhinav Bharat Society in 1905. The movement drew its name and its inspiration from Mazzini’s ‘Young Italy’, but was also influenced by Frost Thomas’s Secret Societies of the European Revolution, a book dealing mostly with the Russian nihilists. The movement was dissolved in 1952, but ten years back, just before finishing his term as Hindu Mahasabha president, Savarkar had created the Hindu Rashtra Dal, another militia whose mission was to impart military training to the Hindus in order to fight the Muslims, Gandhi’s followers and the Mahatma himself. This movement cashed in on the work of the same institution — the Bhonsle Military School, started in 1935 by B.S. Moonje, another Nagpur-based Savarkarite, after a European tour which had exposed him to Mussolini’s Balilla movement.
Like the Abhinav Bharat of today, the Hindu Rashtra Dal attracted Hindutva-minded Maharashtrian Brahmins — especially from Poona — who found the RSS insufficiently active. Some of them also had connections to the British Army.
Nathuram Godse and N.D. Apte, the two main architects of Gandhi’s assassination, are cases in point. Godse thought that RSS strategy contented itself with “organisation for the sake of organisation”. The Hindu Rashtra Dal, by contrast, organised training camps where volunteers learnt how to manufacture bombs and use guns from bicycles and cars. The key instructor was N.D. Apte who had served the army as Assistant Technical Recruiting Officer. In this capacity, he could use the War Service Exhibitions — which were intended to attract young Indians to the army — to initiate Hindu Rashtra Dal members into the art of modern arms.
The Hindu Rashtra Dal’s terrorist agenda culminated in the assassination of Gandhi, who had already been a Savarkarite target before — in 1934, they threw a bomb in Poona Municipal Town Hall where Gandhi was making a speech against untouchability.
While today’s Abhinav Bharat belongs to an old tradition harking back to Savarkar and even Tilak, the new element here lies in the implication of one serving officer of the Indian army. Certainly, any institution can have a black sheep. But was he that isolated? He has already named other officers who would have been his more or less passive accomplices and his colleague, Upadhyay, who once headed the Mumbai unit of the BJP’s ex-servicemen cell. The BJP, indeed, inducted ex-army men in large numbers since the 1990s. After the BJP came to power in 1998, two dozens ex-servicemen more joined the party. This inflow of ex-army men may reflect the increasingly communal atmosphere of the institution. In December 2003, a survey by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies for Tehelka, one of the first among army men — and probably the most comprehensive — showed that 19 per cent of the soldiers interviewed felt that the army practised some religious discrimination — and 24 per cent of the Muslims among them shared this view.
Instead of distancing itself from the Hindu terrorists, as it had done in the 1940s, this time the Sangh Parivar has decided to support the Malegaon accused. Bajrang Dal chief Prakash Sharma declared that “policy makers should be worried if the Hindus were taking to arms because of the government’s skewed approach to war on terror” and admitted that the Bajrang Dal was running training camps too “to boost their morale [the Bajrang Dal’s members]. The country wouldn’t get its Abhinav Bindras if there were no armed training for the youth”.
In a way, the RSS, with the Bajrang Dal, has created a buffer organisation to handle the dirty work that the Sangh was earlier obliged to do itself — work similar to that of the Savarkarite organisations, whether they are called Hindu Rashtra Dal or Abhinav Bharat.
The writer is a political scientist and South Asia specialist at CERI, Paris
Christophe Jaffrelot, Indian Express, Jan 29, 2009