A talking point

Published : Jun 24, 2000 00:00 IST


MAHANT RAMACHANDRA PARAMAHANS, chairman of the Sri Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)-controlled trust that is designated to oversee the construction of the proposed Ram temple at Ayodhya, returned to Digamber Akharha on June 11 after a relatively prolonged stay in two hospitals in Uttar Pradesh. Fewer than 50 people had gathered to receive him. Paramahans' return to his headquarters in the temple town was a quiet event in comparison to the hullabaloo the VHP made in the latter part of his stay in the hospitals.

Paramahans was admitted to the Faizabad District Hospital for treatment of common ailments in the last week of April, but his stay there acquired special attention following a bomb blast near the hospital on May 15. Sixteen people, including Paramahans w ho was on a morning walk, were injured. Cashing in on the incident, the VHP unleashed a campaign throughout North India that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) had targeted Paramahans because he was a leader of the Ram mandir movement. The VHP went on to blame Islamic organisations in India, branding many of them agents of the ISI. It called for a mass movement against the anti-national, anti-Hindu elements who perpetrated the attack. The campaign, which gathered intensity in early June when P aramahans was shifted to the Post-Graduate Medical Institute in Lucknow, apparently for treatment of complications caused to his health by the blast, vitiated the atmosphere in many towns as communal venom was spewed on the minority community.

The BJP's Uttar Pradesh leadership, including State president Om Prakash Singh and vice-president Vinay Katiyar, called on Paramahans at the Lucknow hospital. Photographs of the visit were released to the media. Their captions, understandably, reflected the campaign mode: "The Hindutva leader who braved the attack of the ISI."

This campaigns should have made Paramahans' return a cause for celebration. But the response it drew from the local population bordered on indifference. Local VHP leaders and followers of Paramahans, however, explained that Paramahans had restrained his friends and disciples from staging a conspicuous show or using the occasion for emotionally charged broadcast of Hindutva sentiments. While this could be partly true, Frontline gathered from local sources, including sources in the administration, that the blast itself had lost any propagandist value within three weeks. A sense of apathy had replaced the initial shock. The factor that appears to have caused much of this decrease in interest is the hyperbole indulged in by the VHP in the days immed iately after the blast.

The VHP had floated several hypotheses regarding the blast, which were willingly propagated by a section of the local administration. However, most of these started falling flat soon. One theory was that the bomb was extremely powerful. VHP leaders claim ed that it contained RDX (Research Department Explosive) and that a remote control device had triggered it. They argued that organisations with ISI links habitually used such powerful devices. R.N. Singh, Deputy Inspector-General of Police of Faizabad, g ave credence to this theory by saying that the police suspected the presence of RDX in the bomb. However, an analysis by a team of forensic experts from Agra and Delhi found no RDX in the bomb. It was also established by the investigating agencies that t he bomb was not that powerful: according to them it had only 700 to 800 grams of explosives.

The investigators also established that no remote-control device was used. The remnants of the bomb showed that it had been fitted with a timer. However, it is not clear whether the circuits for this were connected properly to cause a time-device explosi on. The absence of sophisticated material in the fabrication of the bomb has caused a dent on the theory that high-profile groups were behind the blast. The primary line of investigation had initially centred on the possibility of the ISI's involvement, in the background of Intelligence reports indicating increased activities of the Pakistani agency in the adjoining districts of Baharich and Gonda, which border Nepal.

In the revised context, the investigating agencies have started probing another angle: whether Paramahans was the target at all. One line of inquiry in this framework concerns the operation of certain extortion rackets in the region that set off low-inte nsity blasts from time to time to terrorise the targets.

The person arrested in connection with the case, 73-year-old Sharifullah, has been released on bail after questioning. Sharifullah recently wrote to VHP leader Ashok Singhal and Pakistan's Chief Executive General Pervez Musharraf asking them to desist fr om spreading communal politics, which harm people belonging to all communities. Although Sharifullah was not directly involved in the blast, the authorities took him into custody in view of the other dimensions to the case.

Another angle probed by the investigators relates to the similarity between the bomb that exploded on May 15 and an unexploded bomb discovered at the Ayodhya police station in March 1999. According to senior officials, both the bombs have much in common; even the splinters seem to have come from a single instrument. However, the unexploded bomb was more powerful as it had 8 to 9 kg of explosives in it.

All these aspects would be covered once the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) takes charge of the case. Chief Minister Ram Prakash Gupta told the State Assembly in Lucknow that the blast signified a major threat to national security and demanded a C BI inquiry. The investigating agency is yet to take up the case.

Whatever the outcome of the inquiry, the incident has given a talking point for the VHP and its associate formations at a time when these extreme right-wing arms of the Sangh Parivar are trying to stage a come-back on the national political scene.

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