New Delhi: Union home minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday defended his use of the phrase “saffron terror”—a reference to Hindu extremist groups—after coming under fire from his Congress party as well as the main Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Explaining his stand at a news conference in which he presented his ministry’s monthly report, Chidambaram said he was not the only one to use the phrase.
“I cannot claim patent over the phrase saffron terror,” he said. “The message is that right-wing fundamentalist groups are suspected to be behind some bomb blasts. These are religious fundamentalist groups. The message ought not to be lost in phrases.”
He added that his use of the controversial phrase had, however, helped highlight his message. “So, the purpose in a way has been served.”
At a meeting of directors general and inspectors general of police last week, the minister had warned against the threat of religious extremism.
“There is no let-up in the attempts to radicalize young men and women in India. Besides, there is the recently uncovered phenomenon of saffron terrorism that has been implicated in many bomb blasts of the past. My advice to you is that we must remain ever vigilant and continue to build, at the Central and state levels, our capacity in counter-terrorism,” he had said.
The home ministry says right wing extremists may have perpetrated at least five bomb attacks in recent years— at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, Ajmer Sharif in Rajasthan, Goa, Malegaon in Maharashtra and Modasa in Gujarat.
They are also being probed for an attack on the Samjhauta Express between India and Pakistan which left 68 people dead in February 2007.
Chidambaram’s statement had evoked sharp reactions from the BJP and its ally Shiv Sena, which created an uproar in Parliament.
Senior BJP member and leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said: “The word saffron depicts sacrifice, it can’t be used for terrorism.”
The Congress, which heads the United Progressive Alliance government and was counting on the BJP’s support to clear several Bills in Parliament, had to issue a clarification. “The issue is terrorism. Terrorism does not have any colour,” spokesman Janardan Dwivedi said.
On Wednesday, the home minister denied differences with his party on the issue. But soon after, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh said: “I have an objection to associating a colour with terror.” Singh has earlier differed with Chidam-baram openly over how to deal with the Maoist insurgency plaguing many parts of India.
At the news conference, Chidambaram also said the government was willing to speak to all groups in Jammu and Kashmir—which has been reeling under a surge of violence over the past three months—that come forward for talks.
He said the Canadian firm Research In Motion Ltd (RIM), which makes BlackBerry phones, has agreed to provide India access to some of the messages transmitted through its systems.
“These have been operationalized with effect from 1 September. Discussion on technical solutions for further access are continuing and the matter will be reviewed within 60 days,” he said.