With Islamist militancy, has India passed the tipping point?
The bombings that killed 45 people in the communally sensitive city of Ahmedabad have shaken India’s establishment. It is now sinking in that India faces homegrown Islamist militant groups operating with a scale and sophistication unheard of in
A group called “India Mujahideen” claimed responsibility for the attacks, the same group that said it carried out the bombings in Jaipur in May that killed 63 people.
For years, India had been seen as country that had largely rejected the attractions of global militancy spurred on by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. President George W. Bush notably said there were no Indians in al Qaeda.
But mainly Hindu India is home to one of the world’s biggest Muslim populations, around 13 percent of its 1.1 billion people.
It only takes 0.0001 percent of India’s roughly 150 million Muslims to form a nucleus of 15,000 militants, as Uday Bhaskar, former director of New Delhi’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, told me.
And the attacks on Ahmedabad may have involved dozens of people.
“We have crossed the tipping point,” he said.
Has India being ignoring a simmering revolt from disaffected Muslim youth? Over the last two years there have been a wave of bombings, nearly all blamed by the government on some local Islamist groups funded or backed by Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Reading the Indian newspapers, they are quick to blame Pakistan and Bangladesh. The home-grown front — perhaps the banned Students Islamic Movement of India — is seen as having its roots abroad.
But there has been signs of growing dissatisfaction within the Muslim community, especially since the 2002 riots in Gujarat when around 2,500 people, mainly Muslims, were massacred by Hindu mobs.
Take the Gujarat riots. Hardly anyone has been brought to justice. The Hindu-nationalist chief minister at the time, Narenda Modi, was accused of turning a blind eye during the riots, is now a rising political star in India.
Data also shows that Muslims are one of the poorest segments of Indian society, and some of the most neglected people.
The years since Gujarat has also coincided with a rise in global Islamist consciousness, with television and the Internet providing people in remote Indian villages with news of what is going on in Iraq and Guantanamo.
Some commentators point to the fact that ultra-conservative versions of Islam like Wahabism have been making inroads into India in recent years.
There has been a “well-funded effort to bring these ideas and these ideologies to Muslim communities across India,” said Ajai Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management.
Rasheed said his peace movement had received support from the influential ultra conservative Darool-Uloom Deoband madrasa in northern India, whose strict interpretation of Islamic law is said to have inspired the Taliban in Afghanistan.
But how many young Muslim youths are now ignoring these clerics? How will these bombings in India’s most entrenched Hindu-nationalist state be received among alientated and poor Muslim youth in other parts of the country?
Or will the Indian Mujahideen tactics of bombing hospitals as well as many in their own Muslim community backfire?