Right-wing party urges all links cut with Pakistan

A hardline group in India is unimpressed with the Mumbai attack confession and wants diplomatic, cultural and trade ties with Pakistan cut.

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MUMBAI // When Pakistan unexpectedly conceded last week that the Mumbai terrorist attacks were partly planned on its soil, the Indian government welcomed the move with cautious optimism. After three months of heightened tensions between the two nuclear rivals, India described the admission as a "positive development". But in Mumbai, a right-wing political party, unimpressed by the confession, remains strongly opposed to détente with Pakistan.

Considering the move came after months of obfuscation and denial, said the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, Pakistan's sincerity to act against terrorist camps and militant groups operating from its soil is suspect. Pakistan "wilted under international pressure", said Shishir Shinde, general secretary of MNS. "The admission didn't come from the heart." Since 10 Pakistani gunmen attacked the city and killed 163 people in November, MNS activists have crisscrossed the city several times, advocating that all diplomatic, cultural and trade links with Pakistan be cut.

In January, MNS activists threatened Oxford Bookstore, a prominent Mumbai shop, to take all titles by Pakistani authors off its shelves. It drove out Shakeel Siddiqui, a Pakistani stand-up comedian performing in Mumbai last month, warning him against returning to India. And an Indian comedian, Raju Srivastav, was browbeaten by hundreds of MNS activists on a film set, admonishing him for performing with Pakistani artists.

Unconvinced that Pakistan will "act effectively against the licence that terrorist groups enjoy in its territory", Mr Shinde said his party's stance will not soften. MNS will continue to chase down Pakistani artists and businessmen who visit India and Indians who are affable with the "unwelcome visitors", he said. Mohan Sachdev, the 62-year-old owner of an Indian sweet shop, said after running Karachi Sweets profitably for decades in a Mumbai suburb he no longer feels secure operating under that brand name.

In mid-January, MNS served him with a "notice" to get rid of the Pakistani port city's name. The notice read: "We want to disassociate ourselves from anything related to Pakistan. Using Karachi name on an Indian signboard is inappropriate. We demand that the name of the shop be changed and the board removed. If you do not comply, we will agitate." Anxious that his shop might be ransacked if he did not comply, Mr Sachdev decided this month to rename his shop Sri Krishna Sweets after the blue-skinned Indian god.

"After building a brand name over the years, it isn't easy to change its name. It could hurt business interests," he said. "But these are the needs of the times." Mr Sachdev is a second-generation descendant of the Athawani family, who arrived in India as refugees from Karachi after the partition of India in 1947. Leaving their home behind in Karachi, the Athawani family started from scratch in India. They opened Karachi Sweets the following year, promising to deliver original recipes from Pakistan's Sindh province. The family branched out, running their own businesses in different cities across India, all with the same brand name. The name "kept alive" his original Sindhi roots, he said.

But MNS was unrepentant. "Karachi falls under the territory of our enemy nation," said Mr Shinde, who delivered the notice. "The terrorists behind 26/11 came in a dinghy from that country." Mr Shinde claimed his party is a "loudspeaker for people's emotions". Mumbai, which has been targeted several times before, was convulsed by the audacity, style and scale of this latest attack and by the high-profile targets.

"India should play a tit-for-tat game with Pakistan," he said. "Unfortunately, the Indian government is soft on terrorism." Mr Shinde favours a Gaza-style invasion of Pakistan, targeting terrorist camps with precision strikes. He pointed out that his is a view held by a majority of Indians. According to an opinion poll in December by Outlook, an Indian weekly newsmagazine, nearly one quarter of India's growing urban middle class believes that India should declare war with Pakistan.

But political pundits point out that the results of federal elections in five Indian states, immediately after the Mumbai attacks, suggest that such sabre-rattling does not sit with a large majority of Indians. Congress Party, which many observers expected to be trounced by the Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist party, won three of five state polls in December. Many observers dismiss the MNS, calling it a fringe fundamentalist grouping. They point out that beyond Pakistan, a lot of the anger expressed by Indian citizens in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks was aimed at their own government for failing to protect them.

But even if such right-wing parties as MNS do not hold much sway, they are not paper tigers either, said Ramchandra Guha, an Indian historian in Bangalore. "This kind of chauvinism, if unchecked, has the capacity to harass ordinary people and deprive them of their civil liberties," he said. "The state must rein them in." achopra@thenational.ae