Saffron terror are acts of violence that have been described as being motivated by Hindu Nationalism. However, in some cases the motivation for the acts has not been clearly determined, and in others it has been determined to be unrelated to Hindu nationalism. The term comes from the association of the colour saffron with Hindu nationalism in India. The phrase "saffron terror" entered public debate in India following the 29 September 2008 western India bombings. It is a controversial phrase. The Home Minister of India, P. Chidambaram urged Indians to beware of "Saffron terror" on the 25th August 2010 at a meeting of state police chiefs in New Delhi. This was the first time the word was formally used by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, though it is used also by other ministers of the UPA Government. The term is used to refer to right wing religious fundamentalists in India, as per its usage by P. Chidambaram.
Investigations and allegations
Hindu extremist organisations have been accused of involvement in terrorist attacks including 2006 Malegaon blasts, Mecca Masjid bombing (Hyderabad), Samjhauta Express bombings and the Ajmer Sharif Dargah Blast.
Samjhauta Express bombing
Twin blasts shook two coaches of the Samjhauta Express around midnight on 18 February 2007. Sixty-eight people were killed in the ensuing fire and dozens more were injured. There have been a number of breaks in the investigation of the bombings. It has been linked to Abhinav Bharat, a shadowy Hindu fundamentalist group. In November 2008, it was reported that the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) suspected the attacks were linked to Prasad Shrikant Purohit, an Indian army officer and member of Hindu nationalist group Abhinav Bharat, albeit Purohit himself claimed that he had "infiltrated" the Abhinav Bharat and he was only doing his job. On 8 January 2011, Swami Aseemanand confessed that Saffron terror outfits were behind the bombing of Samjhauta express, a statement later found to be obtained under duress. Aseemanand claimed that he was tortured to give a false statement. During an army's Court of Inquiry as many as 59 witnesses stated to the court along with Officers who testified that Purohit was doing his job (of gathering intelligence inputs) by infiltrating extremist organisations.
Nevertheless, other allegations also concurred on Lashkar-e-Taiba. United States even declared Arif Qasmani, a Pakistani national and allegedly 'LeT financier', to be the chief coordinator of the 2006 train bombing in Mumbai as well as the 2007 Samjhauta Express bombings and labelled him an international terrorist after approaching the United Nations about it. As of 2013, nobody has been convicted for the crime in India.
2008 Malegaon blasts
In the 29 September 2008, three bombs exploded in the States of Gujarat and Maharashtra of India killing 8 persons and injuring 80. During investigation in Maharashtra, alleged the involvement of a Hindu group in the blasts. The three arrested were identified as Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Shiv Narayan Gopal Singh Kalsanghra and Shyam Bhawarlal Sahu. All three were produced before the Nashik Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court, which had remanded them to police custody till 3 November. On 28 October, the Shiv Sena, in Saamna, came out in support of the accused saying the arrests were merely political in nature. Lending credence to this, party chief, Uddhav Thackeray, pointed out a potential conflict of interest in political rivalry as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) controlled the relevant ministry. His editorial also condemned an attack by NCP party workers on a VHP office in Nashik following the arrest of the sadhvi. Allegations were also made that Pragya was framed for political reasons.
Prasad Shrikant Purohit was accused of being involved in the blast. He was taken in Police custody in connection with alleged forgery in procuring a gun from the military, but not yet because of the investigation of terror charges. His counsel alleged that Purohit was being falsely framed for political reasons and that he could even be eliminated by the ATS because he has intelligence data of a sensitive nature pertaining to Students Islamic Movement of India and Inter-Services Intelligence operations, which could embarrass some quarters.
Mecca Masjid bombing
The Mecca Masjid bombing occurred on May 18, 2007 inside the Mecca Masjid, a mosque in Hyderabad. There are conflicting reports as to the perpetrators of the attack. Fourteen people were reported dead in the immediate aftermath.
On one side, The National Investigation Agency, Central Bureau of Investigation and Anti Terrorist Squad (India) claim former members of the RSS were behind the Makkah Masjid bombing implicating a nationalistic reason behind the attack. On November 19, 2010, the Central Bureau of Investigation produced the preacher Swami Aseemanand before the court in connection with the Makkah Masjid blast in Hyderabad in May 2007. Other cases that he has been linked with include 2007 Samjhauta Express bombings, 2008 Malegoan & Modasa bombing and Ajmer Sharif Dargah blast. But later he has redacted the 'confession' on basis of the claim that he was mentally and physically "pressured" to state that he was behind the blast. Aseemanand stated that the NIA is on the prowl to target nationalists like him in the name of Saffron Terror. Punjab and Haryana high courts to issue a notice to the National Investigation Agency to investigate the allegations of torture. In December 2012 NIA claimed Hindu Right Wing extremist Rajender Chaudhary was the one who planted the bomb and was a key accused. He was remanded in custody for 12 days.
The South Asia Terrorism Portal, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, the National Counterterrorism Center the United States, and the United Nations reported that Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami was actually behind the attacks while excluding involvement by any Hindu group. Noting this, security analyst Bahukutumbi Raman has questioned "the two different versions that have emerged from Indian and American investigators." The South Asia Terrorism Portal cited Vikar Ahmed as a main suspect in the blast, and also noted that on December 3, 2008 Vikar Ahmed and an accomplice, Amjad were accused of firing at police officers attempting to arrest them in Hyderabad. Mohammed Abdul Shahid Bilal, former chief of HuJI’s Indian operations, is also regarded as a key suspect in the Mecca Masjid bombing, later he was shot by unknown gunmen in Karachi on August 30, 2007.
Members of Abhinav Bharat have been alleged to have been involved in a plot to kill Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh President Mohan Bhagwat. allegedly with the help of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence. Headlines Today released a recorded video tested by the Central Forensic Science Laboratory which indicated the uncovering of an alleged plot to assassinate the Vice President of India Hamid Ansari. Tehelka also released alleged audio tapes transcripts of main conspirators of Abhinav Bharat which indicated involvement of Military intelligence officers with the Abhinav Bharat group in their January 2011 edition.
According to some released documents by WikiLeaks, Congress(I) party's general secretary Rahul Gandhi remarked to US Ambassador Timothy Roemer, at a luncheon hosted by Prime Minister of India at his residence in July 2009, that R.S.S. was a "bigger threat" to India than the Lashkar-e-Tayiba. RSS spokesman Panchjanya responded that the statement showed that Gandhi "is totally unaware of the history of Hindutva as well as the concept of nationalism."
At The Annual Conference of Director General of Police held in New Delhi on 16 September 2011, a special director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) reportedly informed the state police chiefs that the Hindutva activists have either been suspected or are under investigation in 16 incidents of bomb blasts in the country.
Organisations and people accused
The following organisations are subject to accusations of involvement in acts of saffron terrorism:
The first known use of the term "Saffron Terror" is from an 2002 article in Frontline in reference to 2002 Gujarat Riots. However it was in the aftermath of the September 29, 2008 bomb blast in the predominantly Muslim town of Malegaon in Maharashtra that these terms came to be used widely. In late 2008, Indian police arrested members of a Hindu radical cell allegedly involved in an attack Malegaon which killed 7 Muslims. For incidents like these, Saffron terror has been used synonymously with "Anti-Muslim terrorism" or "Anti-Muslim reprisals" and also as Hindu terrorism.
Former Home Minister of India P. Chidambaram urged Indians to beware of "Saffron terror" on August 25, 2010 at a meeting of state police chiefs in New Delhi. This was the first time the word was "officially" used by the Government of India. Since making the remark, a Hindu Swami in the Patan district has filed a defamation lawsuit against Chidambaram, on the grounds that the saffron colour is a conventional Hindu symbol and worn regularly by Hindu religious clergy, and that Chidambaram has hurt the sentiments of Hindus by linking the symbol to terrorism. Chidambaram responded by stating "I cannot claim patent on the phrase." On September 6, 2010 a Gujarat court ordered a probe into the use of the term by Chidambaram. Chidambaram was also criticized by members of his own party (the Indian National Congress) for the use of the term, with Congress spokesman Janardhan Dwivedi claiming "terrorism does not have any colour other than black".
It has been debated that term saffron terrorism is a misnomer considering the historical descriptions of saffron colour compared to the definitions of terrorism. Saffron is the colour of the upper band of the Indian National Flag as specified by the Government of India. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who was India's first Vice President and second President, described the saffron colour as follows.
Bhagwa or the [deep] saffron colour denotes renunciation or disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work.
— Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
 The saffron colour appears in the party flags of various national parties of India like Indian National Congress and Bharatiya Janatha Party. Saffron coloured flag is commonly seen in most temples in India. Buddhist monks typically wear saffron robes as a symbol of wisdom. The United States Department of Defense defines terrorism as “the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” According to United Nations General Assembly the descriptions of terrorism is found as follows: "Criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them."
The term has been called as a "myth" by the journalist Balbir Punj who claims that the term is an invention of the Indian National Congress party to demonise their political opposition as "terrorists". Similar views have been expressed by otherjournalists in India Bahukutumbi Raman, former head of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), criticised the term as a tool for political posturing toward the Muslim minority. Kanchan Gupta and Swapan Dasgupta, have accused investigators of leaking statements about saffron terror to the media to promote the agenda of the Congress. Raman accused the media of measuring Muslim and Hindu suspects by different yardsticks.
The Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) president, Rajnath Singh, denounced claims of Hindu terrorists as "vilification of Hindu saints and army officers in the name of Hindu terrorism". In 2010, the internet whistleblower organization WikiLeaks released documents attesting to some leaders of the Indian National Congress alleging involvement of Hindu right-wing groups in the death of ATS chief Hemant Karkare during the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. The cable concluded that such allegations were being used for electoral gains. The term "Saffron Terror" was prominently used by some Congress party members in this campaign, most prominently by Digvijay Singh. The BJP criticised these statements and filed a complaint with the Election Commission of India citing it as a violation of the Model Code of Conduct for guidance of political parties. The Election Commission issued a show-cause notice to Digvijay Singh on this complaint. Hindu spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has also criticized the usage of the term, saying that it is a myth and insult to Hindu religion, which he said is the most tolerant religion.
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