The government could delay the release of Peter Bleach, the key accused in the Purulia arms drop case, till after the general election, a senior government official indicated on Tuesday, adding that the Congress party had already objected to the decision.
A senior home ministry official told rediff.com that Bleach, currently lodged in Kolkata's Alipore jail, could be further detained following Congress spokesman S Jaipal Reddy's criticism of the Vajpayee government's decision to release Bleach.
'Peter Bleach is a notorious international terrorist. We are disturbed and shocked to note that he is being given a Presidential pardon. Earlier, the Presidential pardon was denied (to Bleach) twice,' Reddy pointed out last week.
'The government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which behaves as if patriotism is its exclusive preserve, owes an explanation to the nation why it took the decision to release Bleach,' Reddy said.
On January 30, Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani told reporters that the government was considering Bleach's release.
The home ministry official said British leaders have consistently lobbied with the Indian government for Bleach's release ever since his arrest eight years ago.
He said Britain upped the ante over Bleach's release when British Home Secretary David Blunkett announced an institutional framework for counter-terrorism and intelligence sharing on a visit to New Delhi last week.
Britain and India also signed an agreement to allow Indian nationals illegally staying in the United Kingdom to return home.
The home ministry official pointed out that following the signing of this agreement Advani said the matter had been discussed with the law ministry and Bleach's release could be possible. Blunkett's predecessor Jack Straw had lobbied Advani unsuccessfully on a trip to India in September 2000.
Despite the British pressure for Bleach's release, the official indicated that the government could not afford embarrassment on the sensitive issue.
Some BJP leaders are wary that the Congress raising the matter of Bleach's release could dent the BJP's nationalist image at election time.
BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi ignored questions on Sunday about Bleach and instead charged the Congress of taking 'petro-bribes' from the Saddam Hussain regime in Iraq.
Five other co-accused in the Purulia case -- Latvians Alexander Klichine, Igor Timmerman, Igor Moskvitine, Olag Gaidash and Evguenu Antimenko -- were released in 2000 after Russian President Vladmir Putin interceded with the Indian government. All five men received a Presidential pardon, but not Bleach. Earlier, all the accused were sentenced to life imprisonment by a Kolkata court for their role in the arms drop.
A huge quantity of arms and ammunition including 350 AK-47 rifles, anti-tank grenades, pistol and rocket launchers were dropped in the Purulia district of West Bengal on December 17, 1995.
Kim Davy, the Danish national who is alleged to have masterminded the arms drop, has never been arrested for the crime.