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10 September, 2012

Terror Hunt in Kafkaland: The premature celebration of justice


On 29 August, the Supreme Court of India upheld Ajmal Kasab’s death sentence in the Mumbai terror case. The same day, a Gujarat court held former Minister Maya Kodnani, Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi and 30 others guilty of murder in the Naroda Patiya case relating to the massacre of 97 persons, including 35 women and 36 children, in the worst attack on Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. All the accused got life terms.

Also on that day, the police swooped on residences in Bangalore and Hubli in Karnataka and nabbed 11 young men, including a journalist, a doctor and a defence researcher, on charges of plotting to kill pro-Hindutva politicians and journalists. More youths were taken into custody in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh later.

Kasab had his day in court as he had landed in front of ordinary cops and not elite commandos. Justices Aftab Alam and CK Prasad said if he had not been caught alive, he and his Pakistani associates might have passed off as Indian Muslims. They went on to say, “No Indian Muslim would even think of venting his grievance like an animal, killing, maiming and wounding innocent people, his own countrymen.”

The emphasis on the external origin of the 26/11 attacks was welcome, but did the judges not step into uncertain territory when they asserted an Indian Muslim could never be involved in a terror attack? In fact, as they were disposing of Kasab’s appeal, in another courtroom two other judges were hearing appeals filed by Indian Muslims convicted in cases related to the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai. Some of them had pleaded for leniency, saying they were driven by emotions generated by the 6 December 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Both Hindus and Muslims have been active on the terror track. The Malegaon, Mecca Masjid and Samjhauta Express blast cases, in which the police initially implicated Muslims, turned out to be the work of Hindus. The investigative machinery appears to slow down whenever a Hindu hand is exposed. After Mumbai Police officer Hemant Karkare, who first exposed the activities of Hindu terrorists, died—ironically, at the hands of Kasab—there has been little progress in cases involving them.

In 2008, the Jammu & Kashmir Police claimed four Keralites were killed in an encounter while trying to cross into Pakistan, and identified one of them, on the basis of an ID card, as Shakeel Mohammed of Kovalam. Inquiries at Kovalam, however, showed that Shakeel Mohammed was alive and living peacefully. Two of those killed were later identified as natives of Malappuram. A full account of their terror trip is still awaited.

Information fed to the media by sources in Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai about the arrest of Deccan Herald reporter Muthi-ur-Rahman Siddiqui, DRDO scientist Ejaz Mohammed Mirza, Dr Jaffar Iqbal Sholapur and others, after being tailed for four months, raises some questions about the coordinated police action in several states. First reports had said the Uttar Pradesh Police made the arrests, but the state police chief ousted them from the picture. Delhi reports said defence and nuclear establishments were on the terror radar and the Karnataka Police had recovered photographs and sketches of defence installations from them. However, the Bangalore Police said investigations so far showed their only targets were some Hindutva personalities.

Official agencies said the youths had Saudi Arabian links. Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister R Ashoka’s statement that they had used Skype to cover their tracks suggests the police have no proof to show yet. He said Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi had congratulated the state on busting the terror module. Was it a mere coincidence that the chain of arrests began on the day of the Naroda Patiya judgment?

Here are a couple of gems from the police story. The persons arrested in Maharashtra had maintained contacts with the Bangalore youths through social networking sites. The person arrested in Hyderabad is a nephew of a controversial cleric he used to visit.

The terror hunt and trials in the states are reminiscent of the nightmarish experience of Josef K in Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial. Abdul Nazzer Maudani, a 47-year-old Kerala politician, who was acquitted in the Coimbatore serial blasts case after spending more than nine years in a Tamil Nadu jail without
bail or parole, is now in a Karnataka jail in connection with blasts in Bangalore. He has already spent two years there without bail or parole. With most of the other accused in jails elsewhere in connection with other terror cases, the trial is sure to drag on for years. The police in Kerala and Tamil Nadu have lined up three more cases against him, which can keep him in prison for the rest of his life even if there is no conviction. From serial blasts to serial trials.

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