Analysis: Patna blasts deepen India’s political and religious dividesBy Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay Oct 29, 2013 2:06PM UTC
More than one day after the serial blasts executed by suspected terrorists in Patna at the venue of the campaign meeting of extreme Hindu nationalist leader and prime ministerial nominee of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Narendra Modi, Indian political leaders are busy trading snide comments instead of worrying over the possibility of the forthcoming election being held in the shadow of terrorist threats.
A series of blasts in Patna on Sunday left six people dead and over 80 injured, hours before the Gujarat Chief Minister addressed a massive crowd in the state capital where the BJP was a part of the coalition until June. What has queered the pitch is the fact that Bihar Chief Minister and Modis bête noire, Nitish Kumar, has been locked in a war of words with opponents after reports surfaced that Indian intelligence agencies forewarned his administration of a possible terrorist strike.
The BJP is campaigning that the anti-Modi campaign is so virulent that its opponents are paying scant attention to his security. They cite the fact that Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde attended a film-related event in Mumbai hours after the serial blasts claimed several lives. Though Shinde justified the act, saying he was directly in touch with top officials who were briefing him about the developments in Patna, his explanation did not cut much ice.
Noted social scientist and celebrity author, Ram Guha, tweeted on Monday: “To nominate India’s best ever Home Minister is easy (Sardar Patel); as for the worst, Mr Shinde and Mr Shivraj Patil must be contenders.” For the uninitiated, Patil was the custodian of India’s security during several macabre terrorist strikes from 2004, including the attacks of 26/11 in Mumbai. Among other indiscretions, Patil was known for changing his spotless while suits when going from one site of a terrorist attack to another and changing again before going to the hospital to check up the injured.
However, security in India is a state subject, because of which the state government is being faulted for not drawing up a detailed security plan for Modi’s rally despite knowing that the state capital would be swamped with people. The police did not draw up an evacuation plan despite the ground being packed with more than two million people. Moreover, there were only a few security check points and almost no metal detectors. No wonder the serial blasts occurred with such ease.
There are two deep implications of the serial blasts: the first obviously suggests the possibility of terror lurking behind each and every meeting of political leaders, particularly the BJP. Over the years, India has witnessed has seen the emergence of several homegrown terror groups owing allegiance mainly to Islamists – Sunday’s incident is being ascribed to the Indian Mujahideen. There are alleged Hindu terror groups but most security analysts argue that they have not been able to develop the wherewithal for such coordinated multiple strikes. Moreover, due to the state offensive on alleged ‘saffron terror’, most such groups are in disarray.
The second implication is that Sunday’s terror strikes will further consolidate support for Modi and the BJP. Without invoking any hate speech, the turn of events is bound to further deepen prejudices and widen social cleavages on the basis of religious identity. On Sunday, Modi argued that Hindus and Muslims must unite to fight poverty. He also cited comparative figures to claim that Muslims in Gujarat were more prosperous than in Bihar. However, Modi glossed over the fact that out of the estimated six million Muslims in the state under his administrative and political control, more than 10 per cent of them live in probably India’s largest Muslim ghetto, Juhapura – located on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.
Civic amenities in this overgrown slum are non-existent even though the population accounts for among the richest and the poorest Muslims of the city. Most moved there after the riots in 2002 because they felt more secure in living in areas where Hindus do not go.
But the Patna meeting did provide an insight into the unfolding strategy of Modi. Given the fact that he does not have to resort to unreason and politics of prejudice, Modi is clearly going to go the extra mile to sound reasonable and one who is extending his hand to estranged communities. Despite this, the cleavage in society will become wider because the politics which has resulted in such schisms now runs too deep in India.
As a result, the other participant in what is so far a two-horse race – Rahul Gandhi – is in a spot of bother over what tactics he should adopt. Should his strategy be to attack Modi or should he sidestep his adversary and raise basic issues which may concern people? So far Gandhi has vacillated between the two options and this lack of consistency is the cause for results not being encouraging.
India has three categories of voters – those who decide early, those who make up their minds in the course of the campaign and the last lot who decide with whom to cast their lot in the dying stages of the campaign. In the campaign so far, Modi has established a significant lead over Gandhi and other aspirants for the top spot. It remains to be seen if he is able to keep up the momentum or whether his chief adversary be able to pull a surprise. There is no denying that events like the Patna serial blasts will help to take Modi closer to realising his ambition of becoming prime minister of India.