PATNA, India (AFP) - Multiple small bomb blasts at one of Buddhism's holiest sites - the Bodh Gaya temple complex in eastern India - wounded two monks on Sunday, but the historic temple itself was not damaged, police said.
The Indian government called the blasts a "terror attack" after eight bombs exploded at the complex in Bihar state, which attracts Buddhists and other visitors from all over the world.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but police said they earlier warned officials that Islamic militants could target the site, as revenge for Buddhist violence against Muslims in neighbouring Myanmar.
"Eight low-intensity serial blasts took place early this morning, injuring two people," said senior police official S.K. Bharadwaj.
Two more bombs were found and defused inside the complex, one of them near the temple's celebrated 80-feet-tall (24-metre) statue of the Buddha, Bharadwaj told AFP.
"The holy bodhi tree is safe and there is no damage to it," Bihar police chief Abhayanand, who goes by one name, told AFP.
Along with temples, dozens of monasteries, housing monks from around the world, are located near the complex, which is believed to contain the tree under which the Buddha reached enlightenment in 531 BC.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the blasts at the complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and said, "such attacks on religious places will never be tolerated".
Junior home minister R.P.N. Singh told reporters "it is clear that this was a terror attack" and teams of investigators were probing the incident.
Police in New Delhi had warned state officials last winter that Islamist militants from the Indian Mujahideen group were planning to attack the complex, an official focused on anti-terror operations told AFP.
"We told state police that the Indian Mujahideen planned to carry out an attack as retaliation for Buddhist violence against Muslims in Myanmar," the official said on condition of anonymity.
"We told them that Bodh Gaya is a probable target for attack," he said.
Indian Mujahideen has admitted carrying out numerous bomb blasts in recent years, and is often listed as a suspect in attacks across the country.
Attacks on Buddhists are rare in India but there have been tensions in the wider region recently following clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Additional security forces have been deployed to guard the complex after the blasts, which wounded two monks, a 50-year-old Tibetan and a 30-year-old Myanmar national, who have been taken to hospital.
Windows were shattered at one of the buildings, while a wooden door at a small temple was destroyed and debris was strewn inside another building.
Sri Lanka Buddhist monk Gomarankadawala Hemarathana, 28, who raced to the scene after the blasts, said one of the bombs had been placed at the base of the statue.
"It is a miracle that the Buddha statue was not harmed. The bomb was placed at the foot of the statue but it did not go off," he told AFP.
Former local legislator Sarbajeet Kumar said he was on his daily morning walk to the temple when the bombs exploded.
"Suddenly I saw smoke and heard the sound of the blasts. I realised that something bad had happened and ran for shelter," he told local reporters.
The Bodh Gaya complex, 110 kilometres (68 miles) south of the state capital Patna, is one of the earliest Buddhist temples still standing in India. The first temple was built in the 3rd century BC by the Buddhist Emperor Asoka and the present temples date from the 5th or 6th centuries, according to UNESCO.
The complex houses the holy bodhi tree as well as the giant Mahabodhi statue of Buddha, and multiple shrines marking the places where he is believed to have spent time after his enlightenment.
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama makes frequent trips to the complex, which attracts visitors during the peak tourist season from October to March.
After his meditations beneath the tree, Buddha is said to have devoted the rest of his life to teaching and he founded an order of monks before dying aged 80.
The core of Mohamed Morsi's failure is that he succumbed to authoritarianism in today's Egypt whose revolution was diverse and demanded inclusiveness.
HEBA Morayef voted for Mohamed Morsi last year. The Muslim Brotherhood candidate was an unlikely choice for a liberal Egyptian woman, the director of the Human Rights Watch office in Cairo, but she loathed Hosni Mubarak's old guard, wanted change and believed Morsi could be inclusive.
"I have been extremely conflicted this past week," Morayef told me. "I don't support the military or coups. But for me as a voter, Morsi betrayed the trust that pro-reform Egyptians placed in him. That is what brought 14 million people into the streets on June 30. It was not so much the incompetence as the familiar authoritarian agenda, the Brotherhood trying to solidify their control by all means."
Morsi misread the Arab Spring. The uprising that ended decades of dictatorship and led to Egypt's first free and fair presidential election last year was about the right to that vote. But at a deeper level it was about personal empowerment, a demand to join the modern world, and live in an open society under the rule of law rather than the rule of despotic whim.
In a Muslim nation, where close to 25% of Arabs live, it also demanded that the Muslim Brotherhood reject religious authoritarianism, respect differences and uphold citizenship based on equal rights for all.
Instead, Morsi placed himself above judicial review last November, rail-roaded through a flawed Constitution, allowed Brotherhood thugs to beat up liberal opponents, installed cronies at the Information Ministry, increased blasphemy prosecutions, surrendered to a siege mentality, lost control of a crumbling economy and presided over growing sectarian violence.
For the Brotherhood, the pre-eminent Islamist movement in the region, the sudden shift from hounded outlaw to power in the pivotal nation of the Arab world proved a bridge too far.
As Mohamed El-Baradei, the Nobel-Prize winning diplomat, put it in a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine: "The uprising was not about changing people, but changing our mindset. What we see right now, however, is just a change of faces, with the same mode of thinking as in Mubarak's era – only now with a religious icing on the cake."
This was Morsi's core failure. He succumbed to authoritarianism in a nation whose revolution was diverse and demanded inclusiveness. The lesson for the region is critical.
Egypt is its most important experiment in combining Islam with democratic modernity, the only long-term way to overcome the sectarian violence raging in Syria and elsewhere.
El-Baradei is a liberal moderniser. Yet he appeared beside Gen Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi as a takeover was announced that deposed a president chosen in a free election, suspended the Constitution and installed an interim government.
For all the generals' efforts to insist they have no interest in politics and avoid the word "coup", this was a coup. It placed the military front and centre again – a bad precedent and blow to civilian democracy. El-Baradei's presence in the choreography of this act – like Morayef's conflicted state – demonstrates just how desperate Egypt's situation had become.
"The rejection went far beyond the liberal community," Morayef said. "The vast majority of the women at the demonstrations were veiled. Practising Muslims, non-Westernised Egyptians, were saying no to political Islam and religious authoritarianism. We have never seen anything like this in the Arab world."
Avoidance of a coup would have been far better. If Morsi had called new elections when 14 million Egyptians appeared in the streets that might have been possible. He did not do so, proving tone deaf yet again. So, conflicted, I say he had to go.
Now all will depend on whether the army can uphold the spirit of the revolution. This demands that nobody hijack Egypt's modernising aspirations – not the Brotherhood, not the military, not the illiberal liberals who only like democracy to the point it backs their candidates, not the old guard's thugs.
It is critical that polarising violence be avoided and that the Brotherhood continue to play an important role in the nation's politics (forcing them underground would be the death of democracy).
New elections must be held soon and the army must uphold its commitment to "remain away from politics". A new Constitution must be drafted. Egypt's liberals, who have proved a squabbling bunch, must overcome pettiness and cohere into a credible political grouping.
Without effective management of the economy that restores order, all attempts to establish consensus and reset Egypt's course will fail.
All this is an immense task. But Egypt, the world's oldest nation state and not some Arab country sketched on a map by dyspeptic British bureaucrats, has immense reserves of talent and wisdom. It is not an impossible task: Egypt's inspiring youth have shown their determination.
All the anger in Egypt over the past couple of years was once deflected outward at imagined enemies or conspiracies. This was a colossal waste. It is now focused where it belongs – on the Arab failure to deliver the new "mindset" of which El-Baradei wrote.
The army cannot deliver that but – just conceivably – can still be its incubator. Islamist authoritarianism, just like secular dictatorship before it, could not. — ©2013 The International Herald Tribune
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