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Revenge likely motive behind temple attack
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

Harvest of rage: The slain terrorists (left) show how easy it is to die, and kill, if you are among the survivors of a pogrom (right)

Ahmedabad: The night-long operation to clear the Swaminarain temple in Gandhinagar, Gujarat state's political capital, ended September 25 morning after a 12-hour standoff when two terrorists were killed by the elite National Security Guard (NSG) commandos who were flown overnight from Delhi. One NSG commando too was killed in the encounter.

Announcing the end of the operation, Inspector General of Police Pramod Kumar said there were three terrorists in the age group of 22 to 25 and efforts were on to identify them. Later this number was brought down to two.

According to a police official in Gandhinagar, three NSG commandos and seven other security men including one superintendent of police were injured during the operations. The other security man who was killed in the operations belonged to the State Reserve Police. 

Earlier official estimate of the terrorists talked of "two to four" terrorists while eyewitnesses were quoted as saying that they were five. The earlier reported number of the casualties too was brought down from 44 to 30. 

The remaining 50 people who were trapped in the temple complex overnight were rescued after the end of the operations. Others, totalling around 500 had succeeded in leaving the sprawling temple complex amid a hail of bullets and grenade blasts on September 24 evening when the terrorists entered it. It is a mystery how a BJP legislator managed to reach the place within ten minutes of the start of the attack and confessed to have used his licensed gun to attack the terrorists.

According to official and eyewitness reports, the terrorists came in an Ambassador car of Indian make at around 4.45 on 24 Sept. evening. They entered the Swaminarain temple by jumping over the fence. The temple is the largest shrine maintained by the Swaminarain Hindu sect which is popular among Gujratis at home and abroad. 

The terrorists first hurled grenades, and opened fire indiscriminately at people inside the temple. Security forces from Gandhinagar were rushed to the spot who surrounded the temple and a gun-battle followed. More troops soon joined them and within hours a plane-load of NSG commandos arrived from Delhi which had looked the other way for weeks while Gujarat burnt last March and April.

The terrorists reportedly took a vantage position inside the complex from where they inflicted injuries on security personnel trying to get closer.

The terrorists were using Austrian-made plastic grenades which, Brig Sitapati said, were commonly used by terrorists infiltrating across the line of control. Foodstuff like chocolates, raisins, almonds and dates were also found in the possession of the two terrorists which means that they may have planned to take hostages.

As if a rehearsed line, both Gujarat state and central ministers within hours started talking of a Kashmiri angle to the incident. Home Minister LK Advani said while still in Delhi that the attack was "a deliberate design to divert attention from the successful J&K poll". Prime Minister AB Vajpayee, on official tour of the Maldives, repeated the same in Male and their protégé in Gujarat, chief minister Modi, too parrotted the same and clearly accused Pakistan of engineering the attack. LeT too was blamed while Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson was saying that the identity of the attackers was not known.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee cut short his Maldives visit and returned immediately and went to Gaandhinagar. His deputy LK Advani visited Gandhinagar and toured the temple alongwith Modi. In sharp contrast these very officials were not seen anywhere for days and weeks while Gujarat burnt last March and April.

Also in sharp contrast to the earlier pogroms, Army was quickly deployed this time in sensitive areas of Gujarat as a precautionary measure. A brigade comprising over 3,000 personnel was placed on “precautionary deployment”. A red alert was sounded across Gujarat on September 24 evening immediately after the attack on the temple.

Patrolling had been stepped up in all areas of the city. Ahmedabad city police force had been put on high alert. Security was stepped up in Vadodara and Surat as well. A Rapid Action Force company reached Surat late in the evening and staged a flag march. 

In Delhi too "special alert" was sounded all over the city. Police personnel were also deployed outside important gurudwaras, churches, mosques, Buddhist monasteries and Jain temples. 

The attack came in for sharp condemnation by all forces in India including Indian Muslim organisations. Condemning the terrorist attack on the Swaminarain temple, President APJ Abdul Kalam said it was "cowardly act intended to destroy the country's secular fabric. The incident needs to be condemned in strongest possible terms by all peace loving people. It would make us more resolute in our resolve against terrorism."

In New Delhi, Imam of Delhi's historic Jama Masjid Syed Ahmed Bukhari September 24 night condemned the attack on the Swaminarain temple terming it as "anti-Islamic" but said Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi's 'Gaurav Yatra' [pride march] could have provoked it. 

"Islam does not permit killing of innocent civilians. I appeal to Muslims and our Hindu brethren to join hands to wipe out terrorism from the country's soil," Bukhari said. He, however, said that some anti-minorities statements allegedly made by Modi during his 'Gaurav Yatra' and the post-Godhra violence in the state "could have provoked a retaliatory act." 

Condemning the attack as a "conspiracy to defame Islam and Muslims," president of the All India Organisation of Imams of Mosques, Maulana Jameel Ilyasi, demanded stern action against the culprits. "The attack is against the teachings of Islam and this kind of anarchy is unacceptable to Indian Muslims," he said. 

Security forces in Gandhinagar said that documents found in the possession of the two slain terrorists confirmed that they belonged to a militant outfit called "Tahreek-e-Qasas-Gujarat". Roughly translated, the organisation would mean 'movement of revenge for Gujarat'. 

Brigadier Raj Sitapati of the NSG, who led the operation, said that two separate leaflets written in Urdu were recovered from the pockets of the two terrorists who were aged around 25 years. "The letter mentions that the killings were to avenge what happened during the Gujarat riots", he said. The leaflet stated that the two terrorists planned this attack "for the satisfaction of their souls because they could not tolerate what happened to children, women and Muslims during the Gujarat riots". 

Officials believe that the outfit Tehreek-e-Qasas was formed specifically to avenge the Gujarat riots. Within a week the Advani-Modi duo managed to delink the temple attack from riots. After the initial talk and realisation that the attack was a reaction to the anti-Muslim pogrom allowed and perpetrated against the Muslims of Gujarat, the new government line refused to look within for reasons of the attack.

Pursuing the line taken by Chief Minister Narendra Modi, additional chief secretary (home) Ashok Narayan was quoted as saying that there is no point "wasting time" in finding out whether local connections existed. “The official position, it is believed, arises from the fact that the government would not like communal riots to emerge as the root cause of the attack.” (Times of India, Oct. 3).

The new line perfected by the perverted minds was that “the letters were planted to misguide probe agencies. There is no point in doubting that view..The main thing is to fight terrorism, not to go into its social roots." (Gujarat chief secretary (home) Ashok Narayan- TOI, 3 Oct.). 

Gujarat officials emphasised that both the deputy prime minister LK Advani and Modi, by declaring that there was no local connection, put an end to all investigations even before they actually began. Such is the situation now that no one is even considering the letters found in the terrorists’ pockets as a prima facie evidence. “In an effort to prove Advani and Modi correct, the investigating officers are trying to find the outside connection", said a senior police official (ibid).

Gujarat Congress unit president Shankersinh Vaghela said on Oct 2 that Narendra Modi's controversial utterences were responsible for the terrorist attack on Akshardham temple and charged the BJP government with plunging the state into an unprecedented communal cauldron. "Why was Akshardham attacked, the Urdu message found with two slain militants made it clear that it was reaction to what anab shanab (nonsensical) things you (Modi) keep uttering," Vaghela said

On Sept. 28 Vaghela had said that Modi knew about threat to temple. He disclosed that the Intelligence Bureau had on March 30 warned of attacks on temples. He said that this report followed the attack on the Raghunath temple in Jammu and a copy of the report was sent to all the district heads and concerned police officers. He allso disclosed that a similar report was sent again on April 18, warning of attacks on religious and cultural places.

The VHP called for a Gujarat bandh on 26 Sept. This time round the BJP, having learnt its lessons hard, refrained from supporting it. The bandh was successful in Gujarat only and was felt only partially in Mumbai due to Shiv Sena support. According to a TOI report on 28 Sept it cost the country Rs 1,000 crore (US$ 200 million). Incidents of violence were reported from several pockets of Gujarat, including Ahmedabad, where a 500-strong mob attacked a mutton shop in Bapunagar. Two roadside stalls including a nauto-repair shop were damaged in the subsequent violence. Fourteen people were arrested later. The minority community spent the day behind closed doors. Many went back to the relief camps for the day. In Surat, two people were injured by Bajrang Dal activists in separate incidents. Reports of stray violence came from Rajkot and Vadodara as well. 

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