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Friday, September 08, 2006

Blasts in Malegaon

I'm making this post sticky for now by changing the time of the post. It was originally posted at 6.43pm, September 8.

There have been bomb blasts in Malegaon. At least 30 people have died, as of now. These blasts, in contrast to recent terrorist attacks, have targeted Muslims, in a city known for its communal tension, on the day of a Muslim festival, Shab-e-Barat.

I'll update this as more information comes in. The TV channels are full of speculation, and pictures from the site of the blasts. NDTV says at the bottom of the screen, "Courtesy: Sahara Mumbai." On the top left corner it says, "Exclusive." Whatever.

Update: The country's been put under high alert, and in Mumbai itself I've seen cops on the road doing nakabandi with video cameras. Seemingly superficial confidence-building exercises like this actually have a lot of value, both in terms of deterring would-be attackers and in making normal people everywhere, like me, feel that someone's on the job. Forensic experts have been rushed to Malegaon to examine evidence left at the site of the blasts, and paramilitary forces have also been dispatched.

The Left parties have echoed a common view that "the explosions were calculated to provoke communal tension," and Muslim clerics in Delhi have reportedly been in touch with their counterparts in Malegaon to make sure they "maintain peace and communal harmony." The prime minister has issued the template appeal after such attacks, and his opponents are already out to make political capital. Atal Bihari Vajpayee has predictably blamed the centre and invoked Pakistan. It would seem sensible to wait a bit until we know more about what's going on, no?

Eyewitness accounts from Malegaon can be read here and here. Meanwhile, there's a security alert at Shirdi, as well as in Gujarat. CNN IBN points out that the arms haul in Malegaon in May this year "is now being seen as a precursor to the blasts." PTI seems surprised at the US "[t]erming the blasts in Malegaon in Maharashtra as 'terrorist bombings.'" I would have thought that's stating the obvious. These were no gas cylinders going off.

There have been unrelated blasts in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan as well. This part of the world's had a bad day.

Update 2 (September 9): Things are reportedly normal in Malegaon, with the curfew having been lifted. Sonia Gandhi and the home minister, Shivraj Patil, have landed in Malegaon, though in my experience such visits from dignitaries at the time of a crisis are unhelpful, as too many cops and government officials prepare for the visits instead of concentrating on what they would otherwise be doing.

Even as speculation mounts on who is responsible, the police claim that they have "gathered some clues about the blasts." It seems that the Nashik police had an idea a couple of weeks ago that such blasts might take place.

There is an eyewitness account with a timeline here, and some reactions from Malegaon here. Over 200,000 people have reportedly visited the graveyard to pray since last night. There is analysis in the various papers on why Malegaon is especially vulnerable on Fridays, how the political landscape "may have made things more difficult for the law-enforcing agencies in Malegaon," and on how Maharashtra "has become a hotbed of terrorism."

There have been anti-Pakistan demonstrations by Muslims in Ahmedabad, which might be a gesture aimed at establishing their nationalism, but is somewhat premature as we don't yet know who is behind these blasts.

Meanwhile, "42 rocket launchers, 1,000 empty shells and 35 improvised landmines" have been seized in Andhra Pradesh, which Maoists "apparently intended to use ... on police stations and vehicles carrying VIPs." It's not just Islamic terrorism that plagues India, contrary to some Western stereotypes.
amit varma, 11:43 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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