Homegrown Terrorism in India: A Persistent Threat


While India has been witnessing terrorism ever since independence, the vicious influence and reach of contemporary terrorism is unique and cleaves out potent problems for India. Many of the terrorist attacks against cities in India like German Bakery blast in Pune (Maharashtra) on February 13, 2010 had been conceptualized and planed by Indian Muslims who sought to attack their own country. The arrest of Syed Zabihuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal who was a key player in handling the two terrorists of the11/26 terror attack, and his alleged involvement in recruitment of Indians for jihad will put forward Indian intelligence and law enforcement agencies to check the trends and tendencies of the home grown terrorists. The recent low intensity blasts in Pune on August 1, 2012 also fingers point at the involvement a home grown terror outfit, Indian Mujahedeen (IM).

According to Indian intelligence sources, 800 terror modules are operating in India at present. These groups systematically make an effort to develop their ideological motivation, operational capabilities, safe houses and, strategic capabilities—propaganda, recruitment, funding and procurement of weapons, essential for conducting terrorist strikes inside India. According to Ministry of Home Affairs Annual Report 2011-2012, as many as 60 terror modules and a major IM module had been busted by Indian security agencies. However, by apprehending or busting some cells, Indian government may disrupt an operation, but it may not be successful in preventing the next targeted attack. Even if one cell operative is arrested, another cell operative carries the knowledge and experience forward, improving and using to advance terrorists’ interests. The homegrown terrorist groups (e.g. IM) are learning and continuously evolving organizations. Any action by Indian security agencies, whether successful or failed, demonstrates a continuing level of threat.

As said by counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, terrorist group adheres to and persuades its members to rightly stick on to ‘lose and learn’ doctrine. Despite being the India’s most hunted terrorist group, IM has been able to survive and succeed under different and difficult circumstances only by learning faster than the Indian security agencies. During its protracted battle against the Indian government, the terrorist groups know that they will suffer personnel or infrastructure losses. As there is an inherent risk involved in planning, preparing and executing terror activities, terror groups like IM are showing improved tactics in selecting safe houses, recruitment and planting bombs. For instance, the police have always found it hard to identify the bomber in many blasts as the IM always used paid persons especially migrant labour who were not even remotely connected with the terror cell and who have neither specific records like voter card, ration card etc. nor they are on police records to carry out these attacks. Likewise, IM had preferred Bihar as good recruitment place for operatives chosen from illegal immigrants and unemployed youth from acute poor families and safe pockets to store arms and ammunition.

Indian security agencies were aware of that they are keen to attack high profile, strategic and symbolic targets such as Parliament and Assemblies of states, India’s financial capital Mumbai, transportation infrastructure-particularly airports, railways, subways, petroleum pipe lines, famous temples like Tirumala , dams, places where large number of people gather including cricket stadiums, cinema halls etc. The National Investigating Agency (NIA) discourses that the biggest threat perception for India would be from within. As well, Radha Vinod Raju, former NIA chief advocates that such splinter groups would continue to trouble agencies thus making the job ahead very tough. The home grown terrorist group, IM in particular, has sufficient capacity to carry out smaller strikes even in their weakest form. Currently their activities are keeping low profile, there continues to be fringe groups within the group which carry out individual attacks. While the IM had re-emerged from Bihar, the recent explosions in Pune are indications of their modules are not dead in Pune, which was once their center of operations.

While the threat from the IM would continue to haunt India, India should not downplay the threat by some Hindu and Sikh groups in future. Hindu extremist groups are suspected in the Malegaon (killed 35 people at a Muslim graveyard), Mecca mosque (killed 10 Muslims praying in Hyderabad’s mosque) and Samjoutha Express (killed 68 people) terror attacks. Hindu Extremism is growing due the rise of many right wing fundamental organizations and their appeals to the Hindus through means of modern communication. In this context Robert Hardgrave observes in his paper titled “India: The Dilemmas Of Diversity, published in the Journal of Democracy (October 1993): “even as India reflects a multitude of cross-cutting identities, however, religion has the potential to shape a national majority. Political appeals on the basis of pan-Hindu identity, facilitated by modern mass communications, have begun to forge an increasingly self-conscious religious community capable of transcending its own heterogeneity. The expression of this communal awareness as Hindu nationalism poses a fundamental challenge to India as a secular state.”

Recent investigations have revealed the re-emerging threat from Sikh terror group Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) after the recovery of 5.6 kg RDX near Ambala on October 12, 2011 and the arrest of two BKI terrorists from Delhi in December 2011. In 2011 the security agencies detained nine terrorists while in 2010 the number was 47. Even though, the efforts being initiated by the Sikh militant outfits were foiled by the Indian government, the threat of terrorism from Sikh groups remains in Punjab. Despite the fact that the terrorism was not of the same level as in the past it has come to light that some modules are still active to revive terrorism in Punjab.

The homegrown terrorists pose a great challenge to Indian law enforcement and intelligence agencies because identifying an individual is being radicalized is hard to detect, especially in the premature stages. In general, the persons undergoing radicalization appear as ordinary citizens and are not on the police purview, and in particular the majority has never been arrested in any unlawful activity. To face such threats and new challenges obviously India has to craft new tactics, and new indispensable organizational and institutional performance. The threat created by indefinable and asymmetrical adversaries put emphasis on India, the need to stick down the gap between detecting irregular adversarial activity and rapidly defeating it. The efficiency of Indian strategy will be based on its ability to imagine like a multifarious enemy in predicting how the terror groups coupled with religion operate in an array of situations, supported by internal and external sources. This goal requires that Indian security structure in turn organize itself for maximum efficiency, information sharing, synergy and ability to function quickly and effectively under new operational body like National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC).

Author Note
R. Bhanu Krishna Kiran, Independent Researcher, International Law & Strategic Affairs.