Official Names Hindu Nationalist Groups in Orissa Violence

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The ruling party of Orissa state, which labeled last year’s mayhem in
Kandhamal district as “ethnic violence,” has publicly admitted that Hindu
nationalist groups were behind the killings and arson of Christians and their

“It is learnt
from the investigation into the riot cases that the members of the RSS
[Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh], the VHP [World Hindu Council] and
the Bajrang Dal were involved in the violence that took place last year,”
Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik told the state legislative assembly last

Patnaik, in
response to a question by a member of the Communist Party of India, also
disclosed that police had arrested 85 people from the RSS, 321 members of the
VHP and 118 Bajrang Dal members in the attacks. He said that only 27
members from these groups were still in jail.

The others were
either bailed out or acquitted for lack of evidence, which Christians say is due
to shoddy or corrupt investigation by police and government

Soon after
violence in Kandhamal broke out in August 2008, Patnaik blamed it on “conflict
of interest” between tribal people and Dalits, people at the bottom of the caste hierarchy in
Hinduism and formerly known as “untouchables.”

National media
speculated that Patnaik was seeking to deflect attention from the Bajrang
Dal, which had been accused of the attacks on the Christians. The Bajrang
Dal (Army of Hindu God Hanuman) is the youth wing of the VHP, which is seen
as part of the RSS family.

Local Christians
had suspected the role of the RSS and related outfits since the violence began
on Aug. 24, 2008 — one day after Hindu nationalist leader Laxmanananda Saraswati
was killed by Maoists, which are extreme Marxists, and RSS members blamed Christians for

The RSS is a
Hindu nationalist conglomerate whose political wing, the Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP), was part of the ruling coalition during the 2008 eruption of
the violence that killed more than 100 people, mostly hacked to death or burned
alive, and incinerated more than 4,500 houses, over 250 churches and 13
educational institutions.

Patnaik’s party,
the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) broke up its 11-year-old alliance with the BJP
in March 2009, a month before state assembly and national elections were held.
The BJD, which fought the two elections alone, won a majority in the state
assembly and most seats in parliament from the state.

It was only
after the coalition’s break-up that the BJD began to hint at the culpability of
the RSS and related groups.

“It was
important to break up with the BJP, because I don’t consider them healthy any
longer for my state after Kandhamal [violence] — which I think is very apparent
to everyone,” Patnaik told CNN-IBN, a private TV news channel, on April

A state
government-constituted panel, the Justice Mohapatra Commission of Inquiry, is
probing the Kandhamal violence but has yet to issue its final

Meantime, a
report of another panel, the Justice M.S. Liberhan Commission of Inquiry, said
that top leaders of the BJP, the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal
“meticulously planned” the demolition of the 17th century Babri Mosque 17 years

More than 2,000
people were killed in communal violence across the country following the
demolition of the mosque on Dec. 6, 1992. The incident polarized voters along
religious lines and subsequently contributed to the BJP’s rise in Indian

The Liberhan
report, presented to parliament on Nov. 25, indicted several Hindu nationalist
leaders, including former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, current Leader of
Opposition in the People’s House L.K. Advani, VHP leader Ashok Singhal and
former RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan.

Observers said
the indictment of extreme Hindu nationalists, however, has come too late, as the
BJP no longer seems to be powerful at the national level.

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