On this day, sixteen years ago, one of the holiest cities of Hindus, Varanasi, came under the attack of Islamic terrorists. A series of bomb blasts took place in the city on 7 March 2006, leaving at least 28 dead and over 100 injured. A Pakistani terror outfit, Lashkar-e-Qahab, took responsibility for the attacks.
The first bomb blast took place at the hallowed Sankat Mochan Hanuman Mandir that is located in the vicinity of the Banaras Hindu University. The location of the attack was specifically chosen presumably to inflict maximum damage and send a message to Hindus given that it was Tuesday, an auspicious day regarded by Hindus to worship Lord Hanuman. Hundreds of devotees had gathered in the temple in the evening to offer prayers when the bomb went off.
The explosives were planted near the temple’s gate, where women usually sat for worship. At 6:20 pm in the evening, when the temple was teeming with devotees, the bomb exploded, causing the death of 10 people while causing grievous injuries to at least 40 others.
A few minutes later, another blast took place at Varanasi Cantonment railway station, claiming 11 lives and rendering scores of people seriously injured. As per reports, the explosive had been packed inside a pressure cooker and left inside an unremarkable bag. Here again, it was conjectured that the timing of the bomb blast was decided meticulously, to coincide with the large number of passengers waiting for the Shiv Ganga Express.
After the two blasts, police swung into action, launching a widespread search operation across the city to locate more explosives planted by the terrorists. Consequently, they found six explosives—three live bombs from a temple complex and three from other parts of the city—averting what could have been an even deadlier and catastrophic attack.
In the aftermath of the bomb blasts, a call originating from Pakistan claimed the responsibility for the attacks. A caller who identified him as Abu Feroz contacted a private news organisation to claim that he is a spokesperson for a terror outfit named Lashkar-e-Qahab who had carried out the attacks in Varanasi. Feroz threatened to carry out similar attacks unless the Indian government stopped its operations against terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir.
However, preliminary investigations into the blasts revealed that the call from Abu Feroz could have been a hoax as the role of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the same terror outfit that carried out Mumbai terror attacks two years later, in 2008, began to emerge in the Varanasi bomb blasts. It was also reported that the bombs were made in Bihar and the explosives were procured from Nepal, which was then smuggled into India via porous Indo-Nepal border. Shamim Ahmed, a HuJI worker was one of the accused in the case, who was claimed to have planted a bomb, which remained unexploded. The UP special task force had arrested one Waliullah, an imam of a mosque, for playing a pivotal role in the execution of the bomb blasts.
Protests erupts across India against US president’s visit in 2006 and against depiction of Prophet Muhammad in European newspapers
While the investigation centred around the perpetrators of the dastardly bomb blasts that roiled Varanasi, one of the oldest cities in the world and the foremost cultural centre of the Hindus, what is often glossed over is the turn of events that transpired before the attacks. The bomb blasts were treated as an isolated incident, carried out by terrorists based out of Pakistan, who harboured a deep hatred for India and were brainwashed with supremacist Islamic beliefs.
However, it is worth noting that the fateful bomb blasts in Varanasi took place just weeks after the widespread protests that broke out in India against the publication of cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in European newspapers. The protest had touched off after a Danish newspaper had published a caricature of Prophet Muhammad, triggering massive protests across the globe, including in India.
Thousands of Muslim protesters who felt aggrieved at the depiction of their Prophet, something which is banned under Islam, took to the streets in cities across India, shouting slogans, carrying placards denouncing European newspapers for publishing the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad. While they claimed the protests to be peaceful, they were marked with riots, vandalism and arson as protesters hurled stones at cars, clashed with law enforcement officials and torched vehicles that came their way.
The protests against the depiction of Prophet Muhammad were spurred by the visit of the then US President George Bush. The former US President was on his visit to India in the first week of March 2006, just days before the ghastly bomb blasts in Varanasi. Several Muslim organisations, nursing hatred for America, hit the streets in many cities around the country, most notably Mumbai and Delhi, where rioters went on a rampage protesting against Bush’s India visit.
As Bush was having lunch with India’s then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, tens of thousands of protesters gathered at Mumbai’s iconic Azad Maidan, demonstrating against the US president. The crowd gathered burnt American flags and stepped on them. A young boy named Shoaib, who was in third grade, who also accompanied the protests, urinated on the flag after being spurred by the demonstrators.
According to a report published in New York Times, a dozen men who participated in the protests in Azad Maidan held a banner declaring that they were ready to become suicide bombers. “Bush is here. If I get a chance, I will bomb him to death,” said Sajid, a protester who was resentful of America’s actions to eliminate Islamic terrorists.
Scenes on the streets of India’s capital, New Delhi, were not too different. As per reports, thousands thronged the protest against American President, with many of them carrying placards calling for Bush to return. The protests were also attended by several Indian politicians, including Prakash Karat of the CPI, a party that has been pushed into the abyss of political irrelevance in the one and a half decades since the Varanasi attacks.
However, in 2006, Prakash Karat defended the protests that were taking place across the country against the visit of the US President. “George Bush is the guest of the government of India but not of the people of India,” Karat had reportedly said then, even though CPI was supporting Singh’s Congress-party led UPA government at the Centre.
2020 anti-Hindu riots in Delhi: How protesters under the pretext of opposing CAA unleashed violence against Hindus
Interestingly, 14 years later, a similar protest preceded and accompanied the visit of American President Donald Trump in 2020, when thousands of anti-CAA protesters ran riot on the streets of New Delhi, in a bid to draw America’s attention to their concerns and build international pressure on the Indian government to revoke the Citizenship Amendment Act, a bill that sought to grant swiftly the citizenship of India to persecuted minorities from the neighbouring three countries, namely Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
And just like the protests against US President George W. Bush and the depiction of Prophet Muhammad in European newspapers culminated into the bomb blasts that targeted Varanasi, one of the holiest cities of Hindus, similarly, the anti-CAA protests following the visit of US President Donald Trump reached a crescendo, touching off a horrifying bout of anti-Hindu riots in Delhi’s northeast region.
Muslim mobs, be it those who reportedly lynched IB officer Ankit Sharma after allegedly dragging him inside AAP leader Tahir Hussain’s house or the one who attacked Dilbar Negi, who was burnt by a Muslim mob after being cut off with a sword during the Anti-Hindu Delhi riots in the national capital, were on a murderous rage against what they perceived as injustice committed against them.
The stark resemblance between what led to 2006 Varanasi bomb blasts and 2020 anti-Hindu riots in Delhi
There is a stark resemblance between the events that led to the Varanasi blasts in 2006 and those that took place before the horrifying anti-Hindu riots in Delhi in 2020. In both cases, the carnage was preceded by protests carried out by Muslim organisations and protesters on account of perceived injustice committed against Muslims. In 2006, it was the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad and the American action against Islamic terrorists. Fourteen years later, it was against the naturalisation of persecuted minorities from neighbouring countries.
An uncanny symmetry between the two cases illustrates how protests are just a smokescreen, used as a means to mobilise susceptible Muslims by drumming up the hackneyed trope of “Islam is in danger” or “Discrimination meted out against Muslims” so that thousands of Muslims are galvanised into hitting the streets, protesting against what they assume to be against their faith and rights. As protests start taking place, the local authorities are compelled to shift their focus on maintaining law and order rather than deploying their resources to avoid terror attacks and outbreaks of riots.
The distraction caused by such protests is then exploited by rabble-rousers to realise their nefarious designs. For instance, during the 2006 Varanasi blasts, the terrorists planted explosives inside Hindu temples with the express desire to cause Hindu casualties. Similarly, during the anti-Hindu riots in Delhi in 2020, Hindus and their places of worship were specifically targeted by frenzied Muslim mobs that were purportedly carrying out protests against the CAA.
Thus, a pattern emerges out of these two incidents, which shows protests that have borne out of perceived Muslim resentment usually ends up bearing cataclysmic consequences for the Hindus. They are a prelude to something much more sinister and dangerous, threatening to not just disrupt the peace and tranquillity of the country but also cause grave human loss and deepening societal fissure. It demonstrates that “peaceful” protests carried out in the name of ‘Discrimination against Muslims’ and ‘Islam is in danger’ are nothing more than a ruse designed by Islamists to disguise their real intentions, which include unleashing violence against Hindus and throwing the country into chaos and disorder.