The future of terrorism in India
Dr Farhan Zahid
Counter-Terrorism and Security Analyst (Pakistan)
Things have remained volatile between India and its neighbors, Pakistan and China, since independence was granted to India and Pakistan by the British in 1947. Considering that the partitioning of the subcontinent has triggered Indo-Pakistan rivalry due to border disputes, these countries have emerged as bitter enemies. Four wars have been fought between them during the last seventy years of their cagey and difficult relationship. Besides its bête noire Pakistan, India has fought a brief but devastating war with China in 1962, with bitter memories still passing on to next generations. Apart from dealing with two nuclear armed nemeses, India has another problem: terrorism. A variety of violent non-state actors (insurgents, terrorists) operates in India. Perhaps no other country is as diverse as the Indian society, having a plethora of ethnic, communal, religious and sectarian groups including some who have indeed resorted to violence because of a wide range of issues.
While studying India’s decades-long fight against terrorism, it is evident that the Indian counter-terrorism efforts have yielded positive results up till recently. Law enforcement and paramilitary forces in India have combatted a range of terrorist groups in 13 India states, and have significantly reduced the number of attacks. Counter-terrorism operations, anti-terrorism legislations, peace agreements and grant of rights to local people have gradually reduced terrorism by manifold in Seven Sister States in Northeast India, and Punjab. Despite these efforts, Islamist terrorism in Indian Kashmir and Maoist insurgency in Indian Red Corridor remain perennial problems in Northern and Central India.
The raison d’être of this article is to analyze the recent rise in incidents of terrorism in India and what would be its possible future course. According to a report, the number of fatalities in terrorist incidents has risen by 17% (289 in 2015 to 337 in 2016)1. It is expected that the number of terrorist attacks will grow, keeping in view of the surfacing of Hindu nationalist wave also known as Hindutva.
The recent surge of Hindu nationalism, after the 2014 electoral victory of ultra-Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), is indeed alarming. The BJP draws its origins from Sangh Pariwar, an agglomerate of ultra-orthodox Hindu nationalist organizations like Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and others. The current BJP reign has ushered in a wave of violent and vigilant activities against minority groups (Muslims, Christians, Dalits).
In total, 28 people (24 Muslims, and 4 scheduled caste Dalits) were killed and 124 were injured in 63 attacks, lynchings and other violent activities triggered by radical and violent Hindu groups against people suspected of eating or supplying beef2. The intensity of communal violence could be gauged from one incident in Mewa (state of Haryana), where two Muslim women were gang-raped and their relatives murdered on suspicion of eating beef in August 2016[3 . “Indian Muslim women ‘raped’ in fatal attack over beef”, BBC News, September 12, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-37336050 ].
All of these attacks, also dubbed as “Gautankwad“ (“Cow terrorism“), were perpetrated by Gau Rakshak Dal (Cow Protection Group), a subsidiary organization of RSS, having units in states ruled by BJP.
Considering the demographics of India, a highly diverse society divided on religious, communal, caste, sectarian, and ethnic lines, the majoritarianism policy of BJP would likely to be a blowback for the Indian State. As prominent terrorism scholar Jessica Stern has pointed out, the major root causes of terrorism are humiliations, alienation and revenge. Hence, it could be projected that the growing alienation coupled with humiliation of minority groups may bring waves of communal violence and particularly pave the way for Muslim youth, living under deeply divided society, to join jihadist groups.
It would be naïve to consider that Islamist terrorist groups only operate in Indian Kashmir. A number of Islamist terrorist groups operate in mainland India, such as Indian Mujahedeen and Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Hitherto the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) has been able to lure in only a handful of Indians, but the current situation may increase ISIS recruitment among the 172 million Muslim community of India3. The communal riots of 1992 and 2002 should have been eye-openers for Indian policy makers in order to comprehend and analyze the alienation and revengefulness of Muslim youth. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government needs to examine their current reluctance in reining over their irregulars and creating havoc in the Indian society. Whether Islamist or Hindu nationalist, vigilantism is precursor to terrorist activities, and the resulting humiliation of minority communities works as catalyst for them to embrace violent groups. The birth of Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s was because of the upsurge in violent vigilantism of Ulster Unionists against Catholic community of Northern Ireland. It took British government 20 years to finally resolve the matter in 1998 with Good Friday Agreement.
Unlike Pakistan, India’s bête noire and a predominantly Muslim majority country (also suffering from Islamist terrorism), the Indian society is much more diverse. Islamist terrorist organizations capitalize on such events and if the current communal policies remain in place, it could provide a breeding ground for radicalization of Muslim youth, hence their eventual joining of terrorist organizations. The majoritarianism of BJP would have serious repercussions of overall Indian society. It would work as a double-edged sword, accelerating both the Hindu nationalist terrorism and its counterpart, the Islamist terrorism in India. Considering the current situation, at least the future of Islamist terrorism in India appears beaming. Most importantly, the present state of affairs would weaken the writ of the state beyond repair.
- Neeraj Chauhani, “India third largest terror target after Iraq and Afghanistan: US report”, Times of India, July 23, 2017, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/india-3rd-largest-terror-target-after-iraq-and-afghanistan-us-report/articleshow/59719216.cms ↩
- Delna Abraham and Ojaswi Rao, “Cow Slaughter row: Since 2010 , 97% of beef-related violence took place after Modi govt came to power”, First Post, July 29, 2017, http://www.firstpost.com/india/cow-slaughter-row-since-2010-97-of-beef-related-violence-took-place-after-modi-govt-came-to-power-3752479.html ↩
- “23 Indians joined ISIS to fight in Iraq and Syria, 17 belong to southern states: Report”, Zee News, December 29, 2015, http://zeenews.india.com/news/india/23-indians-joined-isis-to-fight-in-iraq-and-syria-17-belong-to-southern-states-report_1839650.html ↩