Heavily armed, hooded gunmen have killed more than 100 people and wounded more than 300 in Mumbai in coordinated attacks against two five-star hotels, the city’s largest train station, a movie theater, a hospital, and a Jewish center. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a televised address that the attackers had “external linkages,” an indication that Pakistan and perhaps al-Qaeda, too, would be blamed for the attack. It is clearly possible that the terror rampage had its origins outside India, aimed as they were at international rather than Hindu targets. But in a least one sense it doesn’t matter. For the attacks will aggravate a growing fault line between Hindus and Muslims within India itself.
India is home to 154 million Muslims, the third largest Muslim population in the world after Indonesia and Pakistan. Tolerable inter-communal relations are the sine qua non of Indian stability and ascendancy. India has more to lose from extremist Islam than arguably any other country in the world. The Mumbai terrorists announced themselves as the Deccan Mujahideen. The Deccan is a rugged plateau region in south-central India that Aurangzeb, the fierce Sunni emperor of the Mughals (India’s most historically significant Muslim dynasty) could never subdue and in fact died trying in 1707. The Islamic Mughals vanquished all of northern India, Pakistan, and a good part of Afghanistan, but they could never consolidate the Deccan against the Hindu Maratha warriors. This Mughal history has taken on heightened symbolism in India in recent years precisely as a result of globalization and the expansion of electronic communications and education, all of which have sharpened the country’s religious divide.