Sixteen persons, 11 of them policemen posted on pre-election law and order duty near the office of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Bengaluru, are reported to have been injured on April 17, when a motorbike fitted with an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded near the BJP office. Some vehicles parked in the area were also destroyed or damaged. Some damage to window-panes of nearby buildings has also been reported.
The blast is in the preliminary stages of investigation by the local police. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) of the government of India has also joined the investigation. The state and central authorities have categorised the blast as an act of terrorism.
No organisation has claimed responsibility for the blast. The motive is still to be established. The only lead the Police have so far is that the motorbike had a fake number plate of Tamil Nadu and was probably stolen from Hyderabad.
From the details available so far it can be tentatively categorised as an act of terror of low lethality carried out with a timed IED mounted on a motorbike. The use of a motorbike would indicate that the intention of the perpetrators was not just to create a scare, but to cause casualties.
While the BJP was the target of the blast, it is not clear whether it was directed against the BJP as a political party and its ideology or against the BJP-led Government which had been ruling the State and its policies or the local police.
It would be premature to say whether the blast was carried out by an angry individual or individuals with grievances against the BJP or by an ideologically motivated organisation such as the Indian Mujahideen (IM), which had operated in Bengaluru in the past.
The explosion coincided with the third anniversary of the blast outside the local Chinnaswami Stadium in 2010 in which the IM was suspected. Fasih Mehmood, an engineer from Bihar formerly working in Saudi Arabia and arrested by the Delhi Police in May last year, was to have been interrogated by the Bengaluru Police in connection with his suspected role in the Stadium blast.
The blast of April 17 has also come about seven months after the high-profile arrests by the Karnataka Police in September last year of 18 educated Muslim youths in Bengaluru, Hubli, Hyderabad and Maharashtra on charges of conspiring to assassinate a number of Hindu personalities believed sympathetic to the Hindutva movement. According to the Bengaluru Police, who were interrogating them, the Muslim suspects in their custody were self-motivated by visiting the web site of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen, also known as the Ansar al-Sharia. The Ansar-al-Sharia was suspected in the assassination of a US diplomat in Benghazi in Libya on September 11, 2012.
There were no subsequent details of these Muslims allegedly in the custody of the Bengaluru Police. What did they say during their interrogation? Was there corroboration of the allegation that they were self-motivated by visiting the web site of AQAP? What happened to the case against them?
There were already pockets of anger in sections of the Karnataka Muslim youth against the police and the government due to various reasons. This anger was reflected in the low-intensity explosions allegedly carried out by the IM in Bengaluru in July 2008.
One should not be surprised if there was aggravation of this anger as a result of the interrogation of Fashi Mehmood and the 18 Muslim youth arrested in September last year.
The anger against the Police and the perceived unfairness of the Indian criminal justice system towards the Muslims have often been cited by the IM as a cause for their movement against the government and the police in different states. The recent execution of Afzal Guru, for his role in the attack on the Parliament in December 2001, has added to this.
One has been seeing reports of such anger in Bengaluru too since the IM struck in 2008. Bengaluru, being an IT nerve centre, has also been an important target of ISI-sponsored Pakistani jihadi organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET).
While the IM reportedly has contacts with the LET, local anger has till now been the motivating factor of its activities and not the objectives of its Pakistani associates.
One has to keep in view these details in order to understand the background to the terrorist scenario in Bengaluru. This narrative should not be interpreted to mean that these elements must have been responsible for the blast of April 17.
One has to keep an open mind as to who might have been responsible and what could have been the motive and avoid pre-conceived assumptions. At the same time , one has to keep in view the background.
The political parties should leave it to the police and the counter-terrorism experts to do the investigation with an open mind. Till they come to definitive conclusions based on reliable evidence, the temptation to exploit the blast for political purposes should be avoided.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of India, New Delhi. This article was written at the request of, and published in, The Times of India