Government documents accessed by The Caravan reveal the doublespeak behind the Bharatiya Janata Party’s rhetoric against linking religious communities to terror activities. While the BJP’s public position persistently disavows the notion of violent religious fundamentalism such as Hindu terror, a note circulated by the multi-agency centre—which is led by the Intelligence Bureau and comes under the ministry of home affairs—states that it has constituted a standing focus group on terror financing, specifically to look into terror funding “for Islamist & Sikh Terrorism.”
The BJP and its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have long held that there is no such thing as Hindu terrorism—the term gained traction against the backdrop of investigations into the Samjhauta Express blast of 2007 and the Malegaon blasts of 2008, among others. More recently, on 14 May 2019, the Tamil Nadu police booked the actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan for his comments on Hindu terror during a political rally two days earlier.
The Caravan has in its possession the circular dated 28 March 2019, by Col Devendra Mishra, the additional deputy director of the MAC. The note is titled, “Standing Focus Group of Terror Financing (SFGTF).” It states that “various terror outfits and its modules, active in India and elsewhere, have been observed operating their financial supply chains through several channels-both formal and informal for recruitment, spreading its ideologies/propaganda, procurement of arms/ammunition & explosives, organizing training, nurturing sleeping modules, sustenance of ex/arrested/injured cadres and legal support for arrested cadres etc.” The note adds that money is also being sent to over ground workers of various terrorist organisations, to finance active militants and their families.
According to the note, the annual conference of director-generals and inspector-generals of the police—held in 2018 in Kevadiya, Gujarat, from 20 to 22 December—was the genesis of the standing focus group. The group was proposed at the conference to “monitor and choke terror funding in the country as well as those operating from the outside.” Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended parts of the conference as well.
As per Mishra’s directions, the first meeting of the focus group was to be held on 11 April, at 4 pm, at the multi-agency centre conference hall in the North Block. The agenda for the meeting was to discuss: the frequency of such meetings to share and follow-up on inputs by member agencies that had “a bearing on terror funding for Islamist and Sikh terrorism”; the creation of a database of entities that are active or suspected to be involved in terror financing; capacity development of state anti-terrorism squads through sharing of information; and any other suggestion proposed by other member agencies.
Mishra’s note was addressed to the chiefs and directors of 12 agencies: AK Dhasmana, the chief of the Research and Analysis Wing; YC Modi, the director general of the National Investigation Agency; Pankaj Kumar Mishra, the director of the Financial Intelligence Unit; Rishi Kumar Shukla, the director of the Central Bureau of Investigation; DP Dash, the principal director general of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence; Sushil Chandra, the former chairman of the Central Board of Direct Taxes; Mitali Madhusmita, the director general of the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau; Sharad Sharma, a regional director at the Securities and Exchange Board of India; Sanjay Kumar Mishra, the principal special director of the Enforcement Directorate; Dilbagh Singh, the director general of the Jammu and Kashmir Police; Dinkar Gupta, the director general of the Punjab Police; and Amulya Patnaik, the commissioner of Delhi Police. They were asked to depute a joint-secretary level officer to attend the meeting.
The Caravan reached out to Mishra's office for a response, but he refused to comment. Madhusmita, of the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau, said that “the meeting was constituted by the home ministry, I would suggest that it is better that you contact them.” Upon being questioned further on the details of the meeting, she shared contact details for Mahesh Rastogi, an officer in the CEIB. Rastogi said, “These details are of secret nature, so they cannot be shared.”
The creation of the standing focus group, with its mandate on Islamist and Sikh terrorism, gains importance in the context of multiple terror cases over the previous decade for which associates of the RSS, such as Pragya Thakur and Aseemanand, have been arrested and tried. The BJP’s stated position, in each case, has been to reject any link between religion and acts of terror. In April this year, the party was widely criticised for its decision,to field Pragya Thakur—who is currently facing trial under sections of The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for her alleged role in the Malegaon blasts—as its Lok Sabha candidate from Bhopal. Its defence so far has been to attack the very phrase “Hindu terrorism,” and to claim that it is a myth conjured up by the Congress for electoral gains. At a recent rally in Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh, referring to the outcome of the on-going general elections, Modi said, “The fallacies of Hindu terrorism that they”—the members of the Congress—“have spread, and their defaming of our grand religious heritage is why they will be paid back through the answer they get.”
The domestic politicking is in line with Modi’s diplomatic outreach too. In March 2018, when Jordan’s King Abdullah II visited India, Modi reportedly asserted that the fight against terrorism could not be misconstrued as one that was poised against any particular religion. “Terrorism has no religion ... the fight against terrorism and radicalisation is not against any religion. Our war is against the radical mindset that misguides youth,” he had said. It now appears that Modi and his colleagues within the BJP are willing to insulate religion from charges of terrorism but only selectively, for one particular community.