A 2006 cable talks about the Muslims of north India being nervous and fearful after the serial train blasts in Mumbai

In a cable sent after the 2006 Mumbai attacks, the United States Embassy reported that its contacts had little faith in the ability of Islamic leaders, political parties, security agencies or the Indian government to prevent a terrorist attack and the anti-Muslim backlash that could follow. “Extremists in Uttar Pradesh barely conceal their activities and seem to operate with impunity,” Charge d'Affaires Geoffrey Pyatt quoted the Embassy contacts as saying in a report on the situation of north Indian Muslims after the serial train blasts in Mumbai.

Mr. Pyatt, in the cable sent on July 13, 2006 (71263: confidential) said the Mumbai attacks had focussed attention on the fragile communal situation in the North Indian Hindi belt, most particularly in Uttar Pradesh. “While Indians are grateful that the Mumbai attacks have not yet set off a communal conflagration, North Indian Muslims remain nervous and fearful.”

Noting that Uttar Pradesh, with a 17 per cent Muslim population and a large concentration of Shias, has endured a string of terrorist attacks since 2001, including multiple bombings on moving trains similar to the Mumbai blasts, he pointed out that the Students Islamic Movement of India and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the two principal suspects in the Mumbai attacks, are both active in the State.

Maulana Arshad Madani, the president of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind, which is the political wing of the Deobandi sect, decried the Mumbai bombings as “barbaric acts calculated to disturb communal harmony.” But there were no similar statements from other prominent Muslim organisations or leaders, especially Wahhabi organisations such as the Jamaat-e-Islami.

“Less prominent Muslim organizations came forward, with generally anodyne statements, including the Muslim Political Council of India, whose President, Tasleem Rehmani rhetorically urged the GOI to declare all victims of the bombings as martyrs to national integrity,” he said.

Embassy's survey

The Embassy conducted an informal survey of Muslim contacts from Lucknow and other cities. “Respondents included several Maulvis (both Sunni and Shia), Urdu language journalists, political and community leaders, scholars and academics. Their responses revealed a remarkable unanimity on ‘Islamic terrorism.' All expressed disdain for what they characterized as the ‘weak response' of India's Muslim leadership to the Mumbai attacks, accusing such leaders of taking a ‘head in the sand' approach and denying stark realities. They pointed out that after a string of terrorist assaults by Muslim extremists throughout India, it is now common knowledge within the Muslim community that the terrorists have established a support system and sympathizers' network among Indian Muslims to help carry out attacks conceived and orchestrated by foreign Muslims.”

In his analysis, Mr. Pyatt wrote: “The Mumbai attacks cannot help but increase unease amongst North Indian Muslims, who have witnessed politically-engineered communal riots in several UP cities over the past six months. Muslim fears are compounded by the lack of governance in UP and Bihar.”

The police force in Uttar Pradesh, the Charge said, had been suborned and corrupted by the Samajwadi Party [the ruling party]: “We doubt that it would be able to maintain security if communal rioting gets out of hand.”

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on the other hand, had begun to stage “anti-terrorism” rallies at various locations in the Hindi belt, including communal flashpoints with large Muslim populations. “In the Hindutva lexicon, ‘terrorism' is synonymous with Islam and most Muslims will see the BJP rallies and statements for a war against terrorism as provocative calls for a war against Islam,” the diplomat wrote.

“North India, and particularly UP remain stressful and the Mumbai attacks have exacerbated an already fragile communal situation. Our Muslim contacts have reported over the past six months that SIMI and other Islamic extremists, (including mysterious individuals they claim are ‘members of al Qaeda') have been active in the Muslim community, recruiting disaffected young men with offers of physical training, study of the Qu'ran, job opportunities and easy money. They are worried that these are nascent terrorist cells that could be activated to carry out attacks at the behest of foreign-based organizations,” he added in the cable.

A community besieged

Painting a picture of a community besieged by both Muslim and Hindu extremists, he said: “Muslims see signs that militant Hindutva organizations are also reviving and could use a terrorist attack as an excuse to mount reprisals. The silence of most North Indian Muslims is most telling, as it indicates a community scared of both Muslim and Hindu extremists and determined to keep a low profile at all costs.”

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)