India directs anger against Pakistan after Bombay blasts

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The Independent Online

The thaw in relations between India and Pakistan was under threat last night as allegations flew after the Bombay car bombs, which killed at least 50 people.

The government in Delhi accused Muslim militants of the bombing, but Lal Krishna Advani, the Deputy Prime Minister, directed blame towards Islamabad on a day of funerals, religious tension and political manoeuvring in India.

While the country contemplated the full damage wreaked by the attacks, the detritus of the explosions still lay scattered around the Gateway of India ­ the triumphal arch overlooking the Arabian Sea that was the scene of one of the two blasts ­ when Mr Advani arrived in town to inspect the scene.

He stopped short of saying Pakistan, which swiftly condemned Monday's attacks, had dispatched the bombers, but declared that "the people responsible before appear to be the people responsible now".

At least five other explosions in the country's financial centre in the past six months have been blamed on the Pakistani-based Kashmiri group Lashkar-e-Taiba and its ally, the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), a militant Muslim students' group banned in 2001. In remarks reminiscent of the tone that characterised last year's nerve-racking India-Pakistan stand-off, he blamed Pakistan for initiating terrorism in India in the past, and said it was "incensed" by India's progress over the past 50 years.

The Pakistan government called Mr Advani's comments "baseless and irresponsible".

Indians are no strangers to bombing incidents. But the ferocity of Monday's attacks, the apparently careful plot and their location in the core of the commercial capital put them firmly in a different category.

Fears abound of more violence in retaliation for the bombings. From the earliest stages there were suspicions that they were sectarian attacks, possibly to avenge last year's mass killings in the western state of Gujarat bordering the state of Maharashtra, which includes Bombay (also known as Mumbai). An estimated 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in a wave of murder, rape, and arson triggered by a deadly Muslim attack on a train carrying Hindu activists.

Certainly, there have been many unsettled scores, which human rights groups say the government and judiciary have utterly failed to address.

There is abundant evidence that police and other officials co-operated in attacks by Hindu militants during the Gujarat bloodletting. A recent Human Rights Watch report declared that more than a year on, the ringleaders remained at large and the authorities had been routinely reducing criminal charges against those accused of taking part.

Last night a senior Maharashtra minister, Chhagan Bhujpal, declared that the bombs were the fall-out of the Gujarat riots, pointing out that the bombs were in Gujarati-dominated areas of Bombay.

Yet the victims came from both sides of the Hindu-Muslim divide. These were mourned simultaneously yesterday. As a Hindu tourist guide, Krishna Thakur, 19 was being cremated in a white shroud, Muslims at a burial ground a few miles away were watching Sadique Ahmad, 42, and his nephew, Sohail, 21, being lowered into their graves.

The country was on edge all day. Security was tightened at airports, railway stations and religious sites.

Gujarat was on high alert. Eight of Monday's victims came from the region and were caught up in the blast while stopping to see the sights in Bombay after returning from a pilgrimage to a Hindu festival in Nasik. Reports said that they had been posing for pictures at the Gateway of India when the bomb, concealed in a taxi, was detonated. Yesterday, police were posted on the route to their cremation site in their home town, Surendranagar.

The bombers, perhaps deliberately, have struck as Hindu nationalists are celebrating the conclusions by government archaeologists over Ayodhya. This is the northern Indian city where Hindu fanatics tore down a mosque in 1992 saying there was an ancient temple beneath, a claim apparently now confirmed ­ to the astonishment of some Indian historians ­ by the Archaeological Survey of India.

The dispute, now likely to grow, underlies waves of communal violence over the past 11 years. In that fraught setting, Bombay's police have began their investigation into Monday's blasts. They have long been criticised as inadequate by the political opposition in Maharashtra, which is administered by Congress.

Yesterday, two Hindu nationalist parties ­ including the Bharatiya Janata Party, which leads the federal coalition government ­ sent a 15-member delegation to the state governor demanding the imposition of direct rule over the state from Delhi. SIMI, with an estimated 400 full-time activists, appears to be high on the police list of suspects. It is believed to have been formed in Uttar Pradesh in 1977, and to have declared a jihad against India, vowing to convert it to Islam.

After the 11 September 2001 attacks, it was banned; its assets were seized and its leader was thrown in jail to await trial under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.