First terror strike to hit Buddhist site: What’s the message?

The holy Bodhi tree, under which Lord Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment centuries ago, has emerged unscathed, but a string of horrendous blasts targeting the famed Mahabodhi temple in the Buddhist pilgrimage town of Bodh Gaya has come as a rude awakening to the new-fangled faces of terror in India.

There have been dozens of terror attacks in India in the last few years, the most spectacular being the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks over four years ago, but this is the first time a Buddhist pilgrimage centre has been targeted in the country, home to around eight million Buddhists.

Nine coordinated bomb blasts shattered the quiet of the Buddhist town in south central Bihar early Sunday morning, injuring two monks.

Pakistan-Rohingya link?

The motives of the attackers are hard to figure out, and have kindled all kinds of conspiracy theories. Some analysts have linked the July 7 terror attack to the Pakistan-based terror groups working on behalf of the Rohingya Muslims, who are being persecuted in Myanmar. “The links between Pakistan’s intelligence-backed militant groups and Rohingya Muslims have existed for over a decade. At that time, Pakistan’s ISI had deployed the Harkat-ul-Jihadi Bangladesh to recruit and train Rohingya Muslims,” Ajai Sahni, a well-known counter-terror expert, told India Writes Network, indiawrites.org.

“Pakistan’s Lashkar e-Taiba and India-based Indian Mujahideen have been harvesting the grievances of Rohingyas to use it as a pretext to target India,” he added. Sahni, however, cautioned against jumping to premature conclusions. “We have no direct evidence of the Rohigyas’ involvement of the attack in India,” said Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management and the founder-member of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

Indian intelligence agencies have begun a probe to unscramble the plot and the message behind it.

Global Buddhist Hub

The Mahabodhi temple complex, which houses the Bodhi tree, is a hub of global Buddhists circuit, attracting pilgrims from all over the world, specially Southeast Asian countries.

An exquisite 50-meter high structure, the Mahabodhi temple, a UNESCO heritage site, is an architectural marvel. It was first built by Emperor Ashoka in 270 B.C. but later rebuilt by another ruler in the 5th century.

Hundreds of thousands of Buddhist pilgrims visit Gaya every year from Japan, China, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and several other countries. Bodh Gaya is the only place in Bihar that has attracted tourists and substantial funding from Buddhist countries. Japan provided $1 million fund through Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 2008 for improving the living conditions in Patna and Bodh Gaya.

Politics of terror

The terror attack has been roundly condemned by the Indian prime minister and president, who made it clear that such attacks on religious places will “never be tolerated.”

But, sadly, the Bodh Gaya terror has become a political football, with India’s chief opposition party BJP targeting the central government and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, with which it parted ways recently, for failing to act on intelligence inputs. “It is a serious issue that central agencies had warned about this attack and given specific inputs that Bodh Gaya would be attacked and still no proper arrangements were made (by the state government). The central government must also take responsibility to avoid such attacks,” says BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, Dalai Lama, was quick to voice his pain over the blasts and termed them as unfortunate.

“The incident is really unfortunate,” he said, adding that “few individuals” could be behind the attack.

 

 

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