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Chennai blasts: Is Tamil Nadu's politics of procrastination to blame?

By N Sathiya Moorthy
May 08, 2014 08:19 IST
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How far did the existing air of permissiveness may have contributed to those like the Indian Mujahideen targeting Tamil Nadu for setting up base, is a question that the state’s law and order machinery would have to ask itself, and stall them on the track and for good, says N Sathiya Moorthy

Even as Tamil Nadu’s famed Crime Branch CID (CB-CID) investigates the twin-blasts on an on-ward stationary train at Chennai’s Central Station on ‘May Day’ morning, questions have arisen about the state’s equally notorious politics of permissiveness and procrastination that may facilitate similar attacks of the kind, if such behaviour is left unchecked. 

This even as politicians sought to seek extra mileage in the midst of elections 2014 with suggestions that the bombs may have been meant to explode inside neighbouring Andhra Pradesh where Bharatiya Janata Party’s presidential nominee Narendra Modi, was to address a poll rally later in the day, if only the Bengaluru-Guwahati train had not been delayed for arrival at Chennai.

The investigators are leaving no stones unturned, and promptly released the picture of a person, caught on the CCTV camera at the Central, seeking to identify him. The first-time such a large-scale photo-identification was undertaken in the country, the CBI-SIT solved the ‘Rajiv Gandhi assassination case’.

The state police cracked a ‘bank robbery gang’ through CCTV-TV identification in Chennai suburb a couple of years back. However, in the ‘May Day blasts’ the investigators had to settle for confirmation that it was a genuine passenger.

What, however, has not gone unnoticed is the speed with which the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government of Chief Minister Jayalalithaa transferred the investigation of the case in double quick-time to the CB-CID.

Any other state government would have promptly handed over the case to the National Investigating Agency, created by an Act of Parliament to look into possible terrorism-related cases of the kind -- a job earlier handed over to the over-worked Central Bureau of Investigation.

Passing on the political burden

In terms of politics and principles, the Jayalalithaa government was opposed to the creation of the NIA, citing constitutional provision that law and order was a state subject. 

As with the CBI, for the NIA too, the state concerned would have to invite the central agency to undertake the probe. Yet, on issues of the kind, both to avoid post-probe political criticism, and more because central agencies have better data-bases and linkages, state governments readily handed over the cases to the former.

All that changed with the ‘Coimbatore serial blasts’ of 1998, when the then DMK state Government under Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, ordered the CB-CID to take charge of the investigations.

With BJP’s prime ministerial hopeful L K Advani escaping the bomb-blasts, the Karunanidhi leadership did not want the kind of a Jain Commission-like indictment of the air of permissiveness that had facilitated the Rajiv Gandhi assassination only years earlier.

The AIADMK, for once, has stayed the DMK’s course.

In the ‘May Day blasts’ case in Chennai, early reports indicated that the State Government did not want to hand over the investigations to the NIA, and that the CB-CID would be happy to get inputs from the NSG, instead.

When the news spread, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, camping in her Kodanad estate on the Western Ghats as is her wont, this time after a strenuous election campaign, clarified that the CB-CID was involving the NIA, too.

That the state government in Tamil Nadu or others have a genuine case that their own police and investigating agencies should have the due exposure and experience in cracking such cases, and smelling them way ahead, cannot be discounted.

When and how they should be encouraged to cooperate with a central agency, or agencies, or when the investigations should be handed over to a central agency will remain a matter of debate.

Logical construct, but…

The CB-CID seems to be coming round to the conclusion that the time-bombs may have been planted at Bengaluru, and was meant for exploding when the train was inside Andhra Pradesh, but got detonated at Chennai Central owing to the delayed running of the train. 

It is thus logical to conclude that neither were the bombs planted inside Tamil Nadu, nor was the state the target. It was the kind of reassurance that the state’s people can do with, and the political leadership and the police can pride themselves for.

However, any terror group or operative should be naive to set the clock ticking, counting on the famed time-keeping capabilities of the Indian Railways, though it has recorded vast improvement over the past decades.

Nor could he have counted on legit passengers not disturbing the ‘luggage’ left behind by him, or looking out for its owner, if they had some to park under the berth, particularly at the starting-point in Bengaluru.

Would the intruder have provided for sleepy passengers protested if he had tried to maneuver their luggage to place his at a wayside station is again a moot question with no logical answer.

Not to be wished away

Despite the high levels of education, enlightenment and employment, Tamil Nadu is possibly the only state in the country where all forms of militancy have taken deep roots, for historic and contemporary reasons.

Ethnic, religious, ideology (naxalism), caste and labour, you name the form of militancy, and it is there in the state, popping its ugly head from time to time, as if to remind the self and the state that it cannot be wished away -- and only consistent and continuing efforts alone could make the difference.

In recent times, the ‘anti-Kudankulam agitation’ on the one hand, and the anti-Sri Lanka protests on the other may have created an air of permissiveness in the state, which various militant organisations purportedly may have exploited to revive their presence and/or spread their wings, though not activity.

On the political side, the fact that anti-Kudankulam protest leader S P Udayakumar and two of his associates were allowed to contest and campaign in the Lok Sabha polls without being arrested on long-pending ‘sedition’ charges should reflect the moods and methods not only of the state government, but also of the Election Commission, which has come under heavy attack in the state otherwise.

Either the police should have been given the political okay to arrest them in Iddinthakarai coastal village, which they had used as a human-shield, or the cases/charges should have been dropped.

Instead, using the right and freedom to contest elections to come out of his ‘cover’ and contest the Lok Sabha polls, they have already re-activated their campaign, starting by calling on neighbouring Kerala’s former CPM Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday.

Not to spread panic…

In recent times otherwise, Tamil Nadu has been the venue to a few bomb-blasts, both before and after the May Day blasts.

During the run-up to the current Lok Sabha polls, the southern temple-town of Madurai was witness to less than a handful of them.

Only weeks before the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the police did not rule of militant links to a ‘train-hijack’ that killed four after it had an unauthorized ride for 6 km and rammed into a stationary train at Chennai Central.

In another incident of a train-fire not far away from Chennai a couple of years later, too, remains to be solved.

Not only have the police hit a road-block in many of these incidents, but there has also been a purposeful media silence on the subject, which in a way may have served a wrong purpose -- of not keeping the police and the public on the alert.

If the idea was not to scare the public, it may have served an opposite purpose, for prospective perpetrators to conclude that the TN police was procrastinating after all.

It is not unlikely that no established or defunct outfit from any of the existing classes of militant groups known to the state was involved in the May Day blasts, but how far did the existing air of permissiveness may have contributed to those like the IM, thriving elsewhere in the country, targeting Tamil Nadu for setting up base, is a question that the state’s law and order machinery would have to ask itself, and stall them on the track and for good. 

In sum, by solving some of the more sensitive cases, like the pipe-bomb attempt on BJP’s L K Advani, near Madurai, in 2011, and also the series of targeted attacks on BJP leaders in the State and also nabbing the culprit(s) months later in some cases, the Tamil Nadu police have displayed characteristic persuasion and determination.

It will get strengthened if the investigating agencies, both of the state and at the Centre, revive traditional humanint (human intelligence) capabilities more, even while strengthening new-generation techint (technical intelligence) availability, with the full realisation that one is not a substitute for the other but has to supplement and complement the other.

The author is veteran journalist and political analyst

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