The conviction of Abu Salem Ansari and Mustafa Dossa on Friday for their role in the1993 Mumbai bombings can only pass as the most meagre kind of closure: A quarter-century, almost, has passed for the loved ones of the 257 who died that day, knowing that key perpetrators Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar and Ibrahim “Tiger” Memon are still out of the law’s reach, in Pakistan. Yet, as India passes through a time when its communal fabric is strained more severely than at any time since 2002, this is also a time to reflect on why the bombings happened. From the Supreme Court’s 2013 judgment upholding the conviction of several other bombing-accused, and from Justice B.N. Srikrishna’s judicial investigation, we know the terrorist strike was conceived as vengeance for the organised anti-Muslim violence of January, 1993. That riots were sparked off by violence by Muslims, culminating in the killings at Radhabai chawl, which in turn had its genesis in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December, 1992. Both Hindus and Muslims were mired in a polity where religion sustained criminalised leaders.
In ways that are not generally understood, these events marked a transformation in India’s communal landscape. From 1992 onwards, small groups of Indian Muslims began to reach out to jihadist organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, seeking training and resources to avenge what they saw as a genocidal assault by Hindu nationalism. Following the 2002 violence in Gujarat, a fresh wave of recruits joined the cause, evolving into the Indian Mujahideen — the authors of India’s most lethal, and long-running urban terror group. Now, the Indian Mujahideen’s fugitive leadership is at the core of the Islamic State threat. Hindu nationalists, in turn, have seized on the jihadist threat to legitimise and propagate their own violent, dystopian vision. Fringe groups like Abhinav Bharat resorted to terrorism; others have sought to militarise civil society itself.
There ought be no doubt where this cycle of hate will lead us: Unchecked, it promises the annihilation of the foundational values which have allowed the Indian republic to flourish. The answer, too, is just as evident. Even though the Indian state has acted against one form of terrorism, its record against communal violence, another form of terrorism, after all, is less than luminous. Twenty five years after the Mumbai riots, the perpetrators of the 1993 riots, identified by Justice Srikrishna and others, roam free — just as do perpetrators of communal riots across the country. This day of judgment should give all Indians an opportunity to reflect, not just rage, for without justice, there will be no peace.