A Note on the Terrorist Bombing in Varanasi

As most readers probably know, a series of bombs recently went off in Varanasi (Benaras), killing 25 people and wounding at least 50 more. One of the bombs went off in a major Hindu temple complex, called Sankat Mochan. It might well have been a preventable incident: officials have acknowledged that while new security measures have been introduced at many major Mandirs around the country, Sankat Mochan was not on that list.

Two other interesting facts: the bomb in the temple was placed in a pressure cooker, which is something I've never heard of before (doesn't it seem like a dumb place to put a bomb?). Also, there a wedding video was being filmed at the temple (a wedding was in progress) when the bombs went off, which may be helpful in finding the culprits.

Two militants have been killed by police following the bombings, one in Lucknow and the other in Delhi. Police say the one in Lucknow was carrying explosives, and that he was a member of the dreaded Lashkar-e-Taiba. It's good that the police are being aggressive in pursuing the people responsible for this senseless act of terror, but I wish the police learned how to detain these guys instead of killing them, so we could actually find out what they know. Indeed, the huge cloud of confusion that often hangs over terrorism investigations in India could be reduced if police changed their tactics and introduced a version of what in America is called "due process." (But perhaps it's understandable at least in the case of the militant killed in Lucknow: you don't want to take chances with someone armed with RDX.)

Following a terrorist attack like this, there should only be three items on the agenda: 1) bring the people who did it to justice, 2) mourn the loss of life, and 3) make sure you have security in place so it hopefully never happens again. All discussions of whether Islam encourages terrorism and so on are superfluous, and the emotional reactions you see from some quarters are unproductive.

Unfortunately, that straightforward agenda is not what we have in store. The BJP instituted a Bandh (an involuntary, city-wide strike/curfew), which actually seems like it might be a good idea in terms of minimizing recriminatory violence. But Advani has announced that he's planning a national Padyatra, clearly hoping to exploit the tragedy to build up some momentum for his party. (Interestingly, ex-BJP member Uma Bharti has said -- quite reasonably -- that a Padyatra isn't necessary, because the onus of security is on the state rather than the national government.)

Two days have passed without any sign of recriminatory violence (other than the deaths of suspected militants at the hands of police). To me that says there isn't going to be any spontaneous upwelling of anger directed against Muslims, either in Varanasi or elsewhere. If there is going to be violence, it is going to be the kind that is ignited, fanned, and directed by BJP-VHP politicians. Ordinary people are ready to go about their business, trusting that the government will get to the bottom of this (indeed, large crowds are already returning to Sankat Mochan).