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Indian government's crackdown after Mumbai train bombing
The search for scapegoats

July 28, 2006 | Page 11

NAGESH RAO reports on the train bombings in Mumbai, India, and the government repression that followed.

A SERIES of bomb blasts ripped through packed commuter trains July 11 in Mumbai, India. The seven bombs exploded one after another during the evening rush hour, leaving more than 200 people dead and some 800 injured. Hundreds more people were still missing as Socialist Worker went to press.

So far, no organization has claimed responsibility for the bombing, but the media wasted no time speculating about which Muslim group might be to blame.

With little evidence at hand, the Times of India cited "intelligence sources" who were "pretty sure" that the Student Islamic Movement of India and Lashkar-e-Toiba, an Islamist insurgent group operating in the disputed province of Kashmir, were behind the attacks. Both groups have denied any involvement. In the past, Lashkar has taken responsibility for its attacks, so its denials are significant.

Despite the lack of evidence, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh immediately issued a statement calling on neighboring Pakistan to "act against terror groups."

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ACCORDING TO press reports, the bombings--followed by heavy monsoon rains--brought travel to a standstill, leaving thousands of people stranded.

The bombs destroyed several first-class coaches reserved for the few who can afford them. Ironically, the first people to arrive on the scene of the bombings to help the survivors were local slum-dwellers, who brought tattered bedsheets to serve as makeshift stretchers.

The Indian government's response, by contrast, has been to crack down. At least 200 people were rounded up following the explosions, and many more are certain to end up in Indian jails.

Singh openly accused the Pakistani government of complicity and declared, "We will leave no stone unturned--I reiterate--no stone unturned in ensuring that terrorist elements in India are neutralized and smashed with sustained action."

The ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) clearly sees this as an opportunity to ratchet up its own version of the "war on terror" with repression against Muslim organizations at home and point-scoring against rival Pakistan on the international scene.

Meanwhile, the right-wing Hindu nationalists in the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) are demanding blood. According to writer Praful Bidwai, the BJP "has accused the government of 'ignoring' national security. It demands the return of draconian anti-terrorism laws, in particular, the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act, which was repealed after numerous instances of its abuse came to light."

The train tragedy is being compared to a 1993 bombing of the Mumbai stock exchange, in which 257 people died. But the current atmosphere stands in sharp contrast to communal violence that shook the city in 1993.

The 1993 bombings in Mumbai took place in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya in December 1992, and at the end of weeks of communal violence instigated by a resurgent Hindu nationalist movement. Fascist goon squads of the Hindu right had gone on a rampage, inciting riots and massacres, in which hundreds of people, mostly Muslims, died.

This violence was a warning of worse to follow if the Hindu nationalists were to gain power. In 1998, the BJP-led coalition called the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won the national elections. In 2002, nearly 2,000 Muslims were massacred and some 100,000 displaced in state-sponsored pogroms in the BJP-ruled state of Gujarat.

The NDA was defeated in the 2004 elections. Since then, India has been ruled by the centrist UPA, led by the Congress Party. The UPA is supported in parliament by left parties, including the country's two Communist Parties, CPI and CPM.

However, the UPA has followed through on most of the policies of the NDA. On the economic front, it has continued the process of neoliberal "reform," opening up markets and privatizing industry. In foreign policy, it has courted the U.S. government, seeking to become a junior partner in Washington's grand strategy for Asia.

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INDIA'S RULERS have not only regional, but global ambitions that are gaining ground, thanks to a booming economy and cozy relations with the U.S.

The Indian government toed the U.S. line at the International Atomic Energy Agency last year, voting to refer Iran to the United Nations (UN) Security Council. In return, the U.S. granted India's nuclear program special status, paving the way for the transfer of nuclear technology to India.

In a show of diplomatic savvy, Indian officials brokered a deal with China that ended the two country's longstanding border disputes over Tibet and Sikkim. Recent reports have speculated on the possibility that the next UN Secretary General might be the Indian author and diplomat Shashi Tharoor, and India has been pushing hard for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

But the Indian ruling class faces two nagging, and related, obstacles to realizing its ambitions: a continued insurgency in Kashmir in the north and simmering tensions with neighboring Pakistan.

An attack on the Indian parliament building in 2001--thought to have been carried out by Pakistani-backed militants--brought the two nuclear-armed rivals to the brink of an all-out war.

The ongoing Indian occupation of Kashmir has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and produced a widespread desire for independence among ordinary Kashmiris. But this sentiment has been derailed by Pakistan's rulers, who have funded, armed and trained Islamist militants in an attempt to destabilize the region and hijack the self-determination struggle.

Indian rulers hope to capitalize on their strengthened relationship with the U.S. to force Pakistan to crack down on Islamist groups and accept the current Line of Control as the permanent border between the two countries. This "normalization" of relations will tilt the balance of power in India's direction, as it will further consolidate Indian regional hegemony.

In this context, the Mumbai train blasts should be seen as a symptom of the instability caused by the U.S. government's "global war on terror" on the one hand, and the nationalist rivalries whipped up by Indian and Pakistani rulers on the other.

Thus, it is unfortunate that sections of the Indian left have issued calls for "bringing the terrorists to justice." Such a position plays into the hands of the Indian elite and their foreign policy objectives.

It also gives a green light for the Indian government to further tighten the screws in Kashmir in the name of "fighting terrorism." Until the Kashmiris are granted the right to determine their own future, any talk of justice by the Indian government is a sham.

The climate of terror and violence can only be fought by building inter-religious and international unity among Indian and Pakistani workers and by upholding the right to self-determination of oppressed minorities in both countries.

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