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Saffron terror refers to terrorist acts which are committed by extremists motivated by Hindutva. The term comes from the symbolic use of the saffron colour by many Hindu nationalist organisations.[1][2][3][4]


For broader coverage of this topic, see Terrorism in India, Religious violence in India § Anti-Hindu violence, and Violence against Muslims in India.

The term "saffron terror" was used as early as 2002.[5] It gained popularity in the aftermath of the 2007–2008 attacks which targeted Pakistanis and Muslims and were allegedly instigated by members or alleged members of Hindu nationalist organisations like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Abhinav Bharat.[6][7][8]

The saffron colour appears in the party flags of various national parties of India like the Indian National Congress (Congress) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).[9][10] A saffron-coloured flag is commonly seen in most temples in India. Buddhist monks typically wear saffron robes as a symbol of wisdom.[11] It has been claimed that the term "saffron terrorism" is a misnomer considering the historical descriptions of the saffron colour compared to the definitions of terrorism.[12][13][note 1]


According to the journalist and BJP leader Balbir Punj, the term "saffron terror" was invented and used by the Congress party in the aftermath of the 2007–2008 incidents (see below) in order to denounce the party's political opposition as "terrorists".[15] In an analysis of the security situation during this period, B. Raman referred to acts of alleged reprisal terrorism by Hindus, criticizing "politicisation and communalisation of the investigative process" as leading to a "paralysis of the investigation machinery."[16] Kanchan Gupta and Swapan Dasgupta have said that investigators were using the term "saffron terror" in their statements to the media to promote the agenda of the Congress.[17][18]

In 2008, Rajnath Singh, the then president of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP), spoke of a "political conspiracy" aimed at the "vilification of Hindu saints and army officers in the name of Hindu terrorism".[19] The term "saffron terror" was prominently used by some Congress party members in this campaign, most prominently by Digvijaya Singh.[20][21] The BJP criticised these statements and filed a complaint with the Election Commission of India, citing it as a violation of the Model Code of Conduct for political parties. The Election Commission issued a show-cause notice to Digvijay Singh on this complaint.[22]

Former Home Minister of India P. Chidambaram urged Indians to beware of "Saffron terror" in August 2010 at a meeting of state police chiefs in New Delhi.[23] Since making that remark, a Hindu swami in the Patan district has filed a defamation lawsuit against Chidambaram, saying that the saffron colour is a symbol of Hindu religion and that saints across the country wear attire of the same colour. The swami also said that saffron was a symbol of peace, sacrifice and God, and that Chidambaram has hurt the sentiments of Hindus by linking the symbol with terrorism.[24] On 6 September 2010, a Gujarat court ordered a probe into the use of the term by Chidambaram.[25] Chidambaram was also criticised by members of his own party (the Indian National Congress) for the use of the term, with Congress spokesman Janardhan Dwivedi claiming "terrorism does not have any colour other than black."[26]

In the 2018 book Hindu Terror: Insider Account of Ministry of Home Affairs, R.V.S. Mani, a former officer in the Home Ministry, alleged that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had forced Home Ministry officials to manufacture a narrative about the presence of "Hindu terror".[27]


2007 Samjhauta Express bombings

Main article: 2007 Samjhauta Express bombings

Twin blasts shook two coaches of the Samjhauta Express around midnight on 18 February 2007. Sixty-eight people were killed in the ensuing fire and dozens were injured.[28] It has been linked to Abhinav Bharat, a Hindu fundamentalist group.[29] In November 2008, it was reported that the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) suspected the attacks were linked to Prasad Shrikant Purohit, an Indian army officer and member of Abhinav Bharat.[30] Purohit himself claimed that he had "infiltrated" the Abhinav Bharat. During an army's Court of Inquiry, 59 witnesses stated to the court, along with officers who testified that Purohit was tasked with gathering intelligence inputs by infiltrating extremist organisations.[31][32] On 8 January 2011, Swami Aseemanand, a pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), confessed that he was involved in the bombing of Samjhauta Express,[33] a statement he later claimed to have made under duress.[34][35]

There have also been allegations that Lashkar-e-Taiba was responsible for the bombings.[36] The United States declared Arif Qasmani, a Pakistani national and alleged 'LeT financier', to be the chief coordinator of the 2006 train bombing in Mumbai as well as the 2007 Samjhauta Express bombings, and labelled him an international terrorist via the United Nations.[37][38][39]

2007 Ajmer Dargah attack

Main article: Ajmer Dargah bombing

The Ajmer Dargah blast occurred on 11 October 2007, outside the Dargah (shrine) of Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, Rajasthan, allegedly by the Hindutva organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its groups.[40][41][42] On 22 October 2010, five accused perpetrators, of which four said to belong to the RSS, were arrested in connection with the blast.[43][44] Swami Aseemanand, in his confession, implicated the then General Secretary Mohan Bhagwat for ordering the terrorist strike.[45] Bhavesh Patel, another accused in the bombings, has corroborated these statements but later claimed that the Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and some other Congress leaders forced him to implicate the RSS leaders.[46]

2008 Malegaon blasts

Main article: 29 September 2008 western India bombings

On 29 September 2008, three bombs exploded in the States of Gujarat and Maharashtra killing 8 persons and injuring 80. During the investigation in Maharashtra, a Hindu group was alleged to have been involved in the blasts. Three of the arrested persons were identified as Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur,[47][48] Shiv Narayan Gopal Singh Kalsanghra and Shyam Bhawarlal Sahu. All three were produced before the Chief Judicial Magistrate's court in Nashik, which remanded them to custody till 3 November.[49] On 28 October, the Shiv Sena, came out in support of the accused saying that the arrests were merely political in nature. Lending credence to this, the party chief, Uddhav Thackeray, pointed out a potential conflict of interest in political rivalry as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) controlled the relevant ministry.[50] NIA, National Investigation Agency, has found no evidence against Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and it has recommended the court to drop all charges against her.[51][52] following which Bombay High Court granted bail to Pragya Thakur on 22 April 2017.[53][54]

The Army officer Prasad Shrikant Purohit was also accused of being involved in the blast.[55] His counsel alleged that he was being falsely framed for political reasons because he has intelligence data of a sensitive nature pertaining to the operations of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, which could embarrass some quarters.[56]

Reportedly, the term "saffron terror" was used to describe this event in mainstream Indian media.[57]

Other incidents

Members of Abhinav Bharat have been alleged to have been involved in a plot to kill Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh President Mohan Bhagwat,[58][59] Headlines Today released a recorded video tested by the Central Forensic Science Laboratory which indicated the uncovering of an alleged plot to assassinate the Vice President of India Hamid Ansari.[60] Tehelka also released alleged audio tape transcripts of main conspirators of Abhinav Bharat, which indicated involvement of Military intelligence officers with the Abhinav Bharat group, in their January 2011 edition.[61]

The Indian Home Secretary R. K. Singh said that at least 10 people having close links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliated organisations were named accused in various acts of terror across India.[62]

According to released documents by WikiLeaks, Congress(I) party's general secretary Rahul Gandhi remarked to US Ambassador Tim Roemer, at a luncheon hosted by Prime Minister of India at his residence in July 2009, that the RSS was a "bigger threat" to India than the Lashkar-e-Taiba.[63] At The Annual Conference of Director Generals of Police held in New Delhi on 16 September 2011, a special director of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) reportedly informed the state police chiefs that Hindutva activists have either been suspected or are under investigation in 16 incidents of bomb blasts in the country.[64][65]

See also


  1. ^ Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who was India's first Vice-President and second President, described the saffron colour as follows: "Bhagwa or the saffron colour denotes renunciation of disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work."[14]


  1. ^ "Beware of saffron terror too, warns home minister". The Economic Times. 26 August 2010. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  2. ^ "PC defends 'saffron terror' remark". Deccan Herald. 1 September 2010.
  3. ^ "Rise of Hindu 'saffron terror' New straits Times". 25 August 2010. Archived from the original on 20 January 2011.
  4. ^ Vicky Nanjappa (14 October 2011). "Call it Hindutva terror, not Hindu terror". Retrieved 16 December 2014.
  5. ^ Praveen Swami (16 March 2002). "Saffron Terror". Frontline. Archived from the original on 21 November 2021. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  6. ^ "Hindutva terror cases: NIA on the backfoot as apex court questions complicity charges".
  7. ^ Christophe Jaffrelot (29 January 2009). "A running thread of deep saffron". The Indian Express. Retrieved 17 November 2014.
  8. ^ Subhash Gatade (October 2007). "Saffron terror". Himal. Retrieved 16 December 2014.
  9. ^ "Article II-A Party Flag" (PDF). Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  10. ^ "Article II-A Party Flag". Archived from the original on 15 March 2013. Retrieved 21 March 2013.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  11. ^ O'Brien, Barbara. "The Buddha's Robe". Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  12. ^ "On we the people: Is saffron terror a misnomer or real threat". Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  13. ^ "Hindu terror is a misnomer, says RSS chief". Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  14. ^ "flagcodeofindia" (PDF).
  15. ^ "Not terrified of terrorism", Daily Pioneer – 12 December 2008 Archived 16 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Why politicising the Malegaon case is dangerous Rediff — 17 November 2011
  17. ^ Kanchan Gupta (18 July 2010). "'Free' media tars RSS with fiction". The Pioneer. Retrieved 17 November 2014.
  18. ^ Swapan Dasgupta (7 August 2010). "Battleground heats up as the Hand plucks at the Lotus, one petal at a time". Tehelka. Retrieved 30 July 2010.
  19. ^ Jug Suraiya (18 November 2008). "SUBVERSE | Unholy terrors". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 26 January 2013. Retrieved 24 June 2010.
  20. ^ Copy of diplomatic cable dated 23 December 2008 (10 December 2010). "US Embassy Cables: Mumbai Conspiracy Allegations 'Outrageous' – US Ambassador". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 December 2010.
  21. ^ Shekhar, Kumar Shakti (20 December 2010). "Offence is Cong's defence". The Pioneer. Archived from the original on 23 December 2010. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
  22. ^ "Deuce! EC notice to Sonia, Digvijay". The Economic Times. 10 December 2007. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  23. ^ "Saffron Terrorism — a new phenomenon, says Home Minister Chidambaram". 25 August 2010. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  24. ^ Press Trust of India (30 August 2010). "Defamation suit against P Chidambaram for 'saffron terror' remark". Daily News and Analysis. Retrieved 30 August 2010.
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  26. ^ TNN (28 August 2010). "Congress ticks off Chidambaram over 'saffron terror' remark". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 5 November 2012. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  27. ^ "Book by MHA officer reveals how UPA manufactured Hindu terror narrative". The Sunday Guardian Live. 2 June 2018. Retrieved 9 June 2018.
  28. ^ "66 die in 'terror attack' on Samjhauta Express". Hindustan Times. 20 February 2007. Archived from the original on 2 June 2013. Retrieved 11 March 2013.
  29. ^ "The Mirror Explodes | Smruti Koppikar". Retrieved 17 November 2014.
  30. ^ Agencies. "Purohit supplied RDX for Samjhauta bomb: ATS". Express India. Retrieved 17 November 2014.
  31. ^ "Lt Colonel Purohit: Did the Army sell short an effective officer?". 30 June 2012. Retrieved 9 March 2013. One by one, 59 witnesses, all from the Army, have told a Court of Inquiry — step one of Army's legal process- why they believe Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Purohit was just doing his job by fraternising with right-wing extremists. ..Officers have testified that Lieutenant Colonel Purohit had, in the course of his duties, infiltrated organisations like the Students Islamic Movement of India or SIMI. This is exactly what he had been ordered to do as a military intelligence man.
  32. ^ "I infiltrated Abhinav Bharat: Purohit". Hindustan Times. 29 June 2012. Archived from the original on 15 May 2013. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  33. ^ "Aseemanand owns up to strike on Mecca Masjid". The Times of India. 8 January 2011. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  34. ^ Rajinder Nagarkoti, TNN 10 Jan 2011, 02.57am IST. "Swami Aseemanand 'confessed' under duress: Counsel". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 9 March 2013.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  35. ^ Staff Reporter (18 July 2011). "My arrest illegal: Aseemanand". The Hindu. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  36. ^ "US review finds five warnings of Headley's militant links — India — DNA". Daily News and Analysis. 8 November 2010. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  37. ^ ramesh (9 January 2011). "Curious case of Qasmani, who US, UN named in bombing". The Indian Express. Retrieved 9 March 2013. "In return for Qasmani's support, Al-Qaida provided him with operatives to support the July 2006 train bombing in Mumbai, India, and the February 2007 Samjota Express bombing in Panipat, India. Qasmani also facilitated the movement of Al-Qaida personnel out of Afghanistan in 2001", states the UN's narrative summary justifying the action against Qasmani. The US justification is similar.
  38. ^ Sachin Parashar (11 May 2011). "LeT trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction with help from Qaida". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 11 August 2011.
  39. ^ "Samjhauta Express Blast Vs Mumbai Terror Attacks by Radhavinod Raju". Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  40. ^ "What is the Ajmer Dargah blast case?". 24 March 2017.
  41. ^ Mohan, Vishwa (9 January 2011). "Co-conspirators saw RSS man as ISI mole". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 4 November 2012. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  42. ^ "Ajmer blast case: Two 'RSS pracharaks' sentenced life imprisonment". 20 August 2018.
  43. ^ "Four of five Ajmer blast accused have RSS links: ATS". The Indian Express. 1 November 2010. Retrieved 18 January 2011.
  44. ^ "India jails Hindu radicals for life over Ajmer Sharif shrine blast". 22 March 2017.
  45. ^ "Aseemanand links Mohan Bhagwat to terror attacks: Report". 6 February 2014.
  46. ^ "Shinde forced me to name RSS chief: Ajmer blast accused". IBNLive. Archived from the original on 27 September 2013.
  47. ^ "Arrests of 'Hindu terrorists' embarasses BJP". Hindustan Times. 28 October 2008. Archived from the original on 5 January 2014. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  48. ^ "Sadhvi in jail for Malegaon blast". The Times of India. 25 October 2008. Archived from the original on 4 November 2012. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  49. ^ "Front Page : Malegaon blast; three remanded to custody". The Hindu. 25 October 2008. Archived from the original on 26 October 2008. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  50. ^ PTI, 28 October 2008, 04:39PM IST (28 October 2008). "Real masterminds still at large, sadhvi Pragya a victim: Sena — Mumbai — City". The Times of India. Retrieved 9 March 2013.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  51. ^ "NIA set to drop case against Sadhvi Pragya, others arrested by MP Police". 27 December 2013.
  52. ^ Sadhvi Pragya's freedom now depends on HC ruling
  53. ^ "Why blame judiciary for granting Pragya Thakur bail when investigative agencies show no spine?".
  54. ^ "Sadhvi Pragya Singh may not like saffron terror, but that doesn't mean it was a 'bogey'".
  55. ^ "Malegaon blast: ATS says Purohit main conspirator". The Indian Express. 20 January 2009. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  56. ^ Agencies. "Malegaon probe: 'Purohit could even be eliminated by ATS'". Express India. Retrieved 17 November 2014.
  57. ^ "Rip off 'secular' media's mask", The Pioneer – 24 November 2008 Archived 16 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  58. ^ Shibu Thomas, TNN (28 June 2010). "Did Abhinav Bharat plan to kill RSS chief?". The Times of India. Archived from the original on 11 August 2011. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
  59. ^ Gangan, Surendra (9 April 2010). "Abhinav Bharat used derogatory words against RSS chief: RR Patil". Mumbai. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
  60. ^ Khetan, Ashsih (15 July 2010). "Saffron brigade's terror plots exposed: India Today". New Delhi. Retrieved 28 July 2010.
  61. ^ "The Unturned Stone". Tehelka. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
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  64. ^ "Hindutva activists behind 16 terror blasts in the country?". South Asia Mail. Retrieved 14 November 2012.
  65. ^ Anirban Bhaumik, New Delhi, 20 Sep, DHNS (21 September 2011). "'Saffron terror' role being probed". Deccan Herald. Retrieved 14 November 2012.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

Further reading