The attack on the Maha Bodhi temple complex in Bodh Gaya on 7 July 2013 points to the rapid growth and spread of terror modules in India, which has serious ramifications for the nation's security. The sound of explosives that shattered the early morning calm fortuitously caused only minor damage to the temple complex and there was no loss of life, though two people sustained injuries and were hospitalised.
This however, does not detract from the seriousness of the matter. Of the thirteen improvised explosive devices planted in the temple complex, each with 4 kg of explosives, ten exploded and the bomb squad later defused three. This indicates sophisticated levels of planning and coordination, and suggests the attack to be the handiwork of a highly trained, motivated and equipped terrorist organisation.
But perhaps there is something more sinister in the overall pattern of violence enveloping the country. Since the beginning of this year, Maoist violence has resurfaced with a number of high profile attacks in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar. That the Maoist has the capacity and will to strike at specific targets is well known.
But the targets chosen point to more ominous designs. On 7 January 2013, Maoists ambushed a police party on combing operations and killed ten policemen in the Karmatiya Forest of Latehar District in Jharkhand. After the dip in Maoist violence over the preceding two years, many in the security establishment had come to believe that the Maoist movement was on a down swing. That was a misreading of the situation, as the movement is simply in a state of strategic stalemate. The Maoists had overstretched in the last few years and the heavy toll taken of their leadership was the cause of a lower terrorist footprint.
The Latehar attack should hence have been a wakeup call for the police forces across the country. A month later, on 22 February 2013, the Maoists triggered a landmine blast in Majhauliya village in Gaya district of Bihar, killing eight people in the first landmine blast of the year. Then on 25 May 2013, the Maoists wiped out in one fell stroke, the top leadership of the opposition Congress Party in Chhattisgarh in a well-planned ambush between Sukma and Jagdalpur in the Bastar Division of Chhattisgarh. A month later, in June, Maoists attacked a train by day in Bihar and more recently, on 02 July, a Superintendent of Police was deliberately targeted and killed in the Dumka district of Jharkhand.
Maoist violence has already claimed about 250 lives in the first half of this year, a sharp increase from the corresponding figure for last year. But the more sinister aspect is that targets are now being chosen for maximum impact in the media domain. The violence perpetrated by the Maoist, when seen in conjunction with increasing violence levels in Jammu and Kashmir and parts of Northeast India points to the possibility of a cohesive strategy being orchestrated and played out by forces inimical to India.
The violence in Kokrajhar, in the Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District in July 2012, which subsequently assumed communal overtones, had a spin off effect in major Indian cities where radical Muslim groups targeted people from Northeast India, forcing thousands to flee from cities such as Pune and Bangalore.
The social media was a catalyst in spreading hate and fear. Ethnic violence in neighbouring Myanmar, between the local Buddhist population and the Bengali speaking Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar's Rakhine Province also contributed to the above retaliatory attacks. Anti-Muslim violence again flared up in Myanmar in March this year in Meiktila, and quickly spread to other parts of Myanmar, exposing deep ethnic and religious tensions.
The clashes suggest that radical strains of Buddhism may be spreading; all too often, the police and security officials are perceived to be either unable to prevent attacks or believed to be complicit in them.
What began last year on the fringes of Burmese society against Rohingya Muslims has grown into a nationwide movement whose agenda now includes boycotts of Muslim-made goods. Its message is ominously spreading through regular sermons by monks across the country that draws thousands of people. A common refrain heard is "If we are weak, our land will become Muslim."
This appears to be an overstatement, as Muslims comprise just about four per cent of the population. However, many in Myanmar see Buddhism under siege by Muslims who are having more children than Buddhists and buying up Buddhist-owned land.
In this context, to draw a linkage between the attacks on the Maha Bodhi Temple in Gaya in retaliation to the attacks on Muslims in Myanmar is certainly in order. But the larger implication is that a network appears to have been established between radical groups operating in Myanmar, Bangladesh and Pakistan to target India in retaliation for the communal violence in Myanmar. The ISI has not been a silent observer in the affairs of Myanmar and has consistently tried to radicalise elements among Myanmar's Muslim population.
This, allied with increased funding from some of the Arab countries, has led to increased levels of distrust between the majority Buddhists and the minority Muslims. The spillover of this conflict into India is however not accidental but deliberately instigated. Thousands of Muslims have died in sectarian and ethnic clashes in Pakistan, Afghanistan and in many parts of Africa, but that has never caused anguish to India's Muslims, to the extent that they take to arms. Why then is this anger against the Myanmarese being taken out in Indian cities? There appears to be more than what meets the eye.
The attack on the Bodhi temple took place a day after the birthday of his Holiness the Dalai Lama. Is there a linkage there? It is possible that the attack was planned for a day earlier to coincide with the birthday of the Dalai Lama, but for some reason could not be executed. The purpose could well be to send a message both to the Tibetan people as well as the Buddhists of Myanmar.
The possibility of foreign inspired terrorism on Indian soils cannot be ruled out especially in the context of Beijing's concerns over Tibet. This attack also indicates the possibility of linkages having been developed between the Maoists and terrorist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba of Pakistan and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Aslami Bangladesh (HuJI-B), based in Bangladesh. The Maoists have strong linkages with China while the Indian Mujahidin has strong linkages with Pakistan and Bangladesh based groups.
The strong Pakistan-China friendship, which the two countries claim to be ‘higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans', naturally converges on India's fault lines. While the ideological disconnect between the Maoist and Islamist groups is apparent, their cooperation at the tactical level could create serious security concerns for India. The Temple attack is thus ominous and the nation and its security agencies must prepare accordingly to negate the threat.
About the Author:
Major General Dhruv C Katoch, SM, VSM, (Retd)
Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)
RPSO Complex, Parade Road, New Delhi - 110010, India