By Ajai Sahni
December 14, 2017
The brutal killing of Afrajul Khan by Shambhunath Raigar at Rajsamand, Rajasthan, recorded by his nephew and advertised on social media with pride by the perpetrators, raises certain fundamental questions. Had identities been reversed, had the killer been a Muslim and the victim a Hindu, and had the justification been to "protect the honour of Muslims", we would have been fairly confident in the assertion that this was an act of Islamist terrorism. There might have been some debate over whether this could be dismissed as 'lone wolf' terrorism, or whether the perpetrators drew 'inspiration' from a radicalising preacher on the electronic media or from the Internet, and whether this demanded a deeper investigation into such 'linkages'. However, the fact of Islamist terrorism is unlikely to have been brought into significant question.
So is Shambhunath Raigar the beginning of Hindutva terrorism? The answer must clearly be in the negative.
Hindutva terrorism long predates Raigar. The first incident documented by the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM) was in December 2002, when an improvised explosive device was found at the Bhopal railway station, evidently intended to target Muslims arriving in the city to attend a Tablighi Jamaat gathering. At least 18 incidents, resulting in 137 fatalities, including eight Hindutva extremists, have been listed by the ICM since. In some of these instances, investigators insisted their cases were watertight as long as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power but, since the change of regime, are now in enthusiastic agreement with the courts that the evidence is not quite so sound (it is useful to remind ourselves that Pakistani investigators and courts are equally at a loss to find any credible evidence against Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed and his co-conspirators in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks case).
These are, of course, small beginnings, and cannot in fairness be compared with the high tide of Islamist terrorism across the globe. Raigar's act, moreover, fits into a model of savage communal violence that we have witnessed again and again, across India, and across communities-which we have not seen fit to describe as terrorism in the past. And Raigar is, in any event, in jail and likely far too insignificant for anyone to care enough to interfere with the processes of law.
These past, no doubt occasional, incidents, nevertheless, fall into a pattern that feeds off, and will increase with, the rise of fringe Hindutva extremist provocation, open calls to arms, death threats to adversaries who question the new catechisms, or to those who are arbitrarily deemed to have 'insulted the honour' of the Faith. In a Faith that embraced the most extraordinary plurality and permitted limitless challenges, not only of doctrine but of value and practice, the notion of a core and unquestionable dogma, of blasphemy and sacrilege-the legacy of Semitic religions, including Islam-is being entrenched. We are witnessing the rise of Takfiri Hindutva, and the escalation of Hindutva terrorism cannot be far behind. The principal dynamic of this escalation flows from collusion, on a wink and a nod from those in power, on the sustained effort-not unique to the present regime but now somewhat more blatant-to calibrate violence for partisan political gains. As the state continues to make every action or movement that claims a 'religious' motive an exception to the imperatives of the rule of law, there will be no escape from a coming anarchy. Pakistan's history is a cautionary tale on the outcome of such a pattern. As Primo Levi observed: "It is impossible to calibrate levels of brutality."
More and more Indians are being drawn into the regressive magnetism of an imagined past, ignorant of their scriptures and traditions, as of science and reason, seduced by a strident gospel of purifying violence, unmindful of the infinite complexity and terrifying fragility of the world they live in. This is not the profile of an emerging great power.