The challenge of Pulwama is not the first one that Narendra Modi is faced with. The first such test was on July 26, 2008 — when 21 serial blasts conducted by Pak-sponsored terrorists of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) killed 56 people and injured another 200 in Ahmedabad, shaking the entire country.
The atmosphere in Gujarat on that particular night was one of shock and despair. But Modi and his then-minister of state (Home), Amit Shah, showed fortitude and the Gujarat police under their leadership cracked the case in just 21 days, arresting a jihadi maulvi from Azamgarh and flying him to Ahmedabad in a special plane, thus setting a great example of quick investigation.
It was in fact the investigation of the Gujarat police, under the bold leadership of Amit Shah, that finally enabled India to uncover in full several Pak-sponsored plots, including one by Indian Mujahideen that led to terror attacks in several Indian cities during 2005-2008, Faizabad, Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai and Bangalore amongst other places.
The atmosphere in Gujarat on July 26, 2008, was one of shock and despair. (Photo: India Today)
The 2008 Batala House encounter in Delhi, soon after the Ahmedabad blasts, virtually brought an end to terror attacks in the country — the tip-off for the Batala House encounter was provided by Gujarat police. Except for the Mumbai blasts in November 2008, no major blast has taken place since then in the country in the past nine years. This is because the terror networks were virtually smashed by the police of UP, Maharashtra and other states, following clues provided by the Gujarat police.
Interestingly, as soon as the blasts started in Ahmedabad, one after another, the normally elusive Shah, after a quick consultation with his chief Narendra Modi, took over command and started speaking to various news channels in swift succession. It was seen as a brave act as the blasts were still on while Shah was hopping from one channel to another and telling people to observe calm, even telling some channels that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.
It reminded me of George Bush’s statement in Delhi in 2006, when terrorists carried out bomb blasts in Pakistan on the eve of his visit. Bush openly warned the terrorists while taking off for Pakistan from Delhi, with the words, “We are not going to come under any pressure. Do whatever you want but we are not going to relax our war on terror in our quest to dismantle the entire terror network.”
How things unfolded in the 2008 Ahmedabad blasts is interesting.
From the very next day the blasts took place, Shah started meeting senior Gujarat police officials every day. The meetings would go on for three to four hours wherein he would reportedly discuss various options. After about four days, the officers apparently got tired of the long meetings without realising what was on Shah’s mind. One officer told me: “Nothing is going to come out of these meetings. We have to act rather than hold meetings’. However, the same officer admitted to me after the case was cracked: “Those long-drawn meeting of Amit Shah to discuss various options to zero in on the perpetrators actually gave us the breakthrough”.
Narendra Modi and Amit Shah ensured the Gujarat police got the support it needed to crack the case in 21 days. (Photo: PTI)
The first clue came within days of the serial blasts when the police flashed pictures of two suspected cars used by the terrorists that had come from around Mumbai and passed through a toll point.
As soon as the pictures were flashed on television, a Muslim businessmen, incidentally following the orthodox Wahabi stream of Islam, came running to the crime branch of the Ahmedabad police which was investigating the case and informed Abhay Chudasama, then a DCP, now an IG with Gujarat police, that the drivers of the two cars had stayed as paying guests at his home on the very date they had passed through the toll point.
Soon things started unfolding. Another clue came from an Ahmedabad youth, hailing from the moderate Sufi stream, whom the local conspirators had allegedly tried to involve but who had wriggled out as soon as he came to know that he was being drawn into a terror plan. Eventually, one of the Ahle Hadis (a Wahabi stream) maulvis, reportedly named Mufti Abu Bashar, who was apparently involved with the terror training camps, was traced out at Azamgarh.
Bashar was arrested in Azamgarh — and Modi sent a Gujarat government plane from Ahmedabad to Lucknow to bring him to Ahmedabad. This happened at the end of the third week of the blasts and it was perhaps the first time that a state government had used a plane to ferry a terror suspect. It showed the alacrity with which Modi and Shah worked. The maulvi was not the main conspirator but a radicalizer of youths. He was still an important conduit of information.
The Gujarat investigators found through Bashar about four training camps held by inter-connected ultra-Wahabi groups in Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. The maulvi told Gujarat police that a conspiracy was hatched apparently to exact revenge for the 2002 anti-Muslim Gujarat riots that had started soon after the killing of Hindus in Godhra.
Within a month, the entire conspiracy had unfolded, its details including the local involvement of workers of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) who had banded themselves together as Indian Mujahideen, and the role of Pakistan.
Eventually, around 75 Wahabi youths (following the tanzims of Deoband and Ahle Hadis) were arrested, including about two dozen from Gujarat and the rest from various states, including the coastal town of Bhatkal in Karnataka which is known for ultra-Wahabism and from where the Pakistan-based terrorist Riaz Bhatkal originally comes.
Bhatkal was found to be one of the key conspirators in the case.
Apart from Abhay Chudasama, Ashish Bhatia too played a key role in cracking the case, along with young IPS officer Himanshu Shukla — now the SP of the Gujarat Anti-Terrorist squad — who flew in Bashar from Azamgarh in 2008. Says Bhatia: “That investigation by Gujarat police is very crucial in the terror history of India because it played a key role in smashing the terror networks in the country and bringing peace. It is proved by the fact that no major terror strike has taken place in India — minus Kashmir — in the past nine years. The political will demonstrated by the Gujarat government in 2008 played a very significant part.”
However, the situation created after the Pulwama tragedy is now more serious than 2008 because India is dealing with a nuclear-powered Pakistan.
But theconduct of Modi and Shah in 2008 does show the way they could combat such situations, a fact again underlined by the manner in which the Prime Minister has conducted himself after Pulwama, showing a firm, resolute and mature manner.
The Pulwama terrorist strike presents a similar challenge, where intelligence and courage must go hand in hand. (Photo: PTI)
Interestingly, the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror group of the Bahawalpur–based terrorist Maulana Masood Azhar — the mastermind behind the Pulwama attack — follows the Deobandi brand of Wahabi Islam while Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) chief Hafiz Sayed (both global terrorists) follows the Ahle Hadis brand of Wahabi Islam. In terms of tenets, there is very little difference between the two as both follow an exclusive brand of Islam and both condemn Sufism.
The madrasa syllabus of the two tanzeems is also very similar. For example, a radical book titled Taqwiat-ul-Imaan (Strengthening the Faith) that teaches an exclusive brand of Islam, preaching hatred for Sufism and customs of non-Islamic religions, is reportedly taught in the madrasas of both the tanzims across South Asia. Incidentally, the book, written by an Indian Wahabi maulvi called Shah Ismail Shaheed in the 1820s, is also very popular among radicals in Saudi Arabia and in fact, ultra-Wahabis across the world.
Significantly, a Sufi organisation named Paswan-E-Watan from Uttar Pradesh is reportedly to soon file a petition in the Supreme Court, seeking a ban on Taqwiat-ul-Iman along with three other books taught in Wahabi Madrasas.