Investigative agencies are still clueless. It’s been almost a week since a series of low intensity blasts shook India’s most popular Buddhist site, Mahabodhi Temple, but security agencies are still in the dark about the motive and culprits behind the terror attack.
Located in the Gaya district of India’s eastern state of Bihar, the site of the blast is loaded with historical and religious significance. Here is said to be where Gautama Buddha achieved enlightenment while seated in meditation under a pipal tree. It is on this spot that Mahabodhi Temple has stood since the 6th or 7th century AD.
Arguably the holiest place for Buddhists in the world, Mahabodhi Temple attracts a large number of religious tourists from Buddhist countries.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
According to a news report, Bihar received more than twice the number of tourists than the state of Goa, famed for its beaches. Of the visitors to Bihar, 95 percent went to the Mahabodhi Temple. Though Japanese comprise the largest group of tourists, a growing number of travelers from Thailand, China, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Burma also visit the temple.
When a place with such an international profile becomes the target of a terror attack, it naturally raises many alarming questions and draws international attention.
According to the Indian Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, 10 of 13 bombs planted exploded, injuring two monks. So far no group has claimed responsibility for the attack, although Delhi police issued a warning late last year about a possible strike by the Indian Mujahideen (IM), an Islamic terrorist group.
First Post writes that the intelligence Bureau had issued several warnings of the growing danger to Buddhist religious sites in India, stemming from anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar.
The paper further notes that jihadist groups have been threatening violence against Buddhist targets for over a year now. In July 2012, the al-Qaeda-linked Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan threatened to carry out attacks against Buddhists in retaliation for the communal violence in Myanmar. This June, Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed accused India of helping Burma “wipe out [the] Muslim population”.
Speaking with The Diplomat, Bandana Preyashi, a senior state official and former Gaya district administrator, confirmed the receipt of the “intelligence input and information provided by Delhi police and steps taken in the light of this warning.”
She, however, was apprehensive about the IM’s alleged role in the whole affair. She called it a “mindless act deliberately aimed at creating confusion in the minds of the people.”
One of the senior officials from the Mahabodhi Temple staff told The Diplomat on the condition of anonymity that “it cannot be said with certainty that the Rohingya Muslims were involved in the attack. The way bombs were planted dodging 15 CCTV cameras suggests that locals were involved in the whole affair.”
However, he added, “The Bihar government should have taken steps to beef up security after the intelligence input. There was hardly any security in the Mahabodhi temple. Anybody can walk in and out at any time of day or night without a security check.”
The incident in Bodh Gaya comes at a time when the atmosphere in the country is politically charged with both the ruling Congress and the right wing Opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), leaving no stone unturned in the race to outsmart each other in the run up to next year’s general elections.
Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh blamed the BJP for upsetting the communal harmony of the country, blaming Muslims for the attack. Meanwhile, the Opposition has blamed the local and national governments for neglecting to properly secure the site.
The Hindu in its editorial says that the blast exposes “the gaping hole in India’s armor against terrorism”, arguing the lack of coordination between the central and state governments leads to such attacks, which are preventable.
The paper added: “The temple was clearly not sufficiently protected, to the extent that the perpetrators went undetected even while they placed an explosive device at considerable height on an 80-foot Buddha statue. Countering the terrorist threat needs the Centre and the State to work seamlessly at all levels.”
Meanwhile, the terror attack has affected tourist numbers in Bihar. Citing local tourist operators, Karma Paljor, a monk with ties to the Mahabodhi Temple, told The Diplomat that more than 80 percent of travel bookings to the area have been cancelled since the incident.
Bodh Gaya is the place from which Gautama Buddha first preached his message of peace and nonviolence to the world in the 4th-5th century BC. The message remains valid today.