In post-9/11 era, scholarship on terrorism has heavily revolved around Islamist terrorism. In recent years, there has been a significant uptick with regards to far-right violent extremism. However, violent attacks perpetrated by Hindu extremists have often remained overlooked or failed to gain significant attention. This analysis attempts to provide a timeline of Saffron Terrorism and how it has evolved over time in India.
Saffron terrorism, also known as Hindutva terrorism, is a neologism used to describe acts of violence perpetrated by Hindu nationalists, usually members of Hindu nationalist organisations, mainly belonging to Sangh Parivar (Sangh Family), such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and various other outfits inspired by Hindutva ideology.
In 2002, Praveen Swami, an Indian journalist, introduced the term “Saffron terror” for the first time in an article in Frontline – a fortnightly English language magazine. The word comes from the symbolic use of saffron colour by many Hindu nationalist organisations. The Indian government used the term for the first time when former Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram asked Indians in August 2010 at a meeting of state police chiefs in New Delhi to beware of “Saffron Terrorism.”
In recent times, literature about Hindutva terrorism has started to appear gradually. However, the topic still remains one of the most under-researched topics in the field of terrorism.
In post-partition India, the first prominent violent attack carried out by a Hindu nationalist was the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by former RSS member Nathuram Godse. Following the assassination, RSS was banned and its chief MS Golwalker was arrested by the Indian government. In August 1948, it was revealed that RSS members were planning to carry out terrorist attacks on Pakistani soil. However, the plan failed due to premature bomb explosion that killed two of the RSS members in Karachi. Fast forward to 1975, the organisation was banned once again when Indira Gandhi declared emergency rule. Nearly two decades later, the organisation met another ban in 1992. This time the group was banned due to demolition of Babri Majid by militants associated with RSS, VHP and BJP.
At the turn of the century, 2002 Gujrat pogrom became the first high profile manifestation of Hindutva violence. The complicity of Narendra Modi as Chief Minister and Parvin Togadia behind the curtain ensured that VHP and Bajrang Dal cadres unleash terror in the state. During the late 2000s, Hindu nationalist organisations like Abhinav Bharat, Rashtriya Jagran Manch and Sanatan Sanstha have been involved in terror attacks across India.
Amidst troubling economic situation, the prevailing environment in India is today conducive to the growth of Saffron Terrorism.
Despite adopting a hard-line religious approach for decades, Hindu nationalist groups like RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal found new vigour when Narendra Modi and his political party BJP assumed power. Ever since BJP came into power, the frequency of violent incidents perpetrated by Hindutva-inspired groups and individuals has increased. According to the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research’s Hindutva Violent Groups Database, nearly 100 people were killed and about 60 had been injured in 74 incidents till December 2018. According to the database, a violent incident is defined as “an incident in which Hindutva-inspired individual or group is responsible for the killing of at least one person.”
There are multiple factors at play regarding the increasing frequency of violent attacks by Hindutva-inspired outfits. First, a sense of impunity has been provided by state machinery, by not going after those perpetrating violence. Second, the on-going investigations against suspected perpetrators have been delayed or tampered with. Third, Hindu nationalist leaders have been openly reiterating to transform India as a Hindu theocratic state or a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu nation). In December 2014, BJP leader and RSS missionary Rajeshwar Singh said that Muslims and Christians should be wiped out from India by December 31, 2021.
The growing tendency of Saffron Terrorism will have far-reaching implications on Indian minorities and the Hindus who oppose Hindutva ideology.
In recent times, literature about Hindutva terrorism has started to appear gradually. However, the topic still remains one of the most under-researched topics in the field of terrorism. In June 2018, the Central Intelligence Agency classified VHP and Bajrang Dal as “militant religious outfits.” Global Terrorism Database – an authoritative database documenting global terror attacks – recognises various Hindutva groups of perpetrating violent attacks.
Amidst troubling economic situation, the prevailing environment in India is today conducive to the growth of Saffron Terrorism. Therefore, there is a growing need to highlight this type of terrorism. More scholarship needs to be produced on this emerging threat. The growing tendency of Saffron Terrorism will have far-reaching implications on Indian minorities and the Hindus who oppose Hindutva ideology. Additionally, destabilisation in India will surely impact the regional stability. Pakistan can be held responsible for destabilisation in India in future, which could escalate the rivalry between the two nuclear-armed countries. At global level, there is a growing concern about the convergence of interests of Hindu nationalists and far-right extremists. The manifesto of Anders Breivik, the infamous terrorist responsible for 2011 Norway attacks, was influenced by Hindutva writings. Therefore, it is imperative that global community especially scholars of terrorism studies understand the rise and lethality of Saffron Terrorism and facilitate the preparation of effective response mechanisms.