Thiruvananthapuram: Admittedly, the stigma of Pak or ISI connection on Kerala Muslims has a long history. To begin with, the label was on Muslim League ever since it became a powerful political force in Malabar region of Kerala in 1950s.The fact that in undivided British India it was Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League which championed the cause of Pakistan did facilitate the need to fix the Pak tag on Muslim League in independent India’s deep southern state of Kerala. The stigmatized Pak tag grew further when, for the first time, the Muslim League was elected to share State power as well as won a Lok Sabha seat in 1960s in Kerala.
The new Muslim-majority Malappuram district formed in 1968 was instantly dubbed as “Mini-Pakistan”. This was promptly followed by reports in rapid succession on Pak ships dropping ISI arms on Malappuram coastal villages.
Charges of Pak agency never spared the Jamat-e-Islami, which was banned twice during 1975-77 emergency and post-Babri Masjid demolition in 1992.
The formations of Islamic Sevak Sangh in 1989-90, and later People’s Democratic Party in 1992-93, by an Islamic scholar, Abdul Nazar Madani, were predictably greeted with the same ISI stigma.
Madani, who became handicapped due to RSS bomb attack in 1992, is in Tamil Nadu jail for the past 7 years merely as under-trial accused in the 1998 Coimbatore bomb blasts, which continues to evoke loud protests from democratic milieu. Yet, the sticky ISI tag is still on him. Curiously, there were three common factors in this long history of Pak ISI stigma:
First, it was the Sangh Parivar leaders who systematically raised this Pak bogey on different Muslim bodies and their leaders in Kerala. Second, no tangible proof or convincing evidence was ever produced to substantiate this oft-repeated charge during the past half century. Third, while a large number of Muslims throughout India were held under the obnoxious TADA and POTA black laws for their alleged connection with Pak terrorists or ISI, Kerala happens to be the lone state where these draconian laws were never ever used.
Yet, a senior IPS officer, Ms. Neera Rawat, has no qualms to repeat the same stigmatic charge of ISI before the Marad Judicial Enquiry Commission. This time her ISI charge was on National Development Front (NDF), which was formed in 1993 with protection of human rights as one of its main agenda. However, since this is the first such testimony by an IPS officer under oath before the judiciary it had its own importance and significance.
Rawat, Senior Superintendent of Police at Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh at present, was the Kozhicode City Police Commissioner from March 22, 1997, to May 16, 1999. Through videoconference hearing procedure on May 13, she told the Marad Commission headed by Thomas P. Joseph that under her instruction a special team of the Kozhicode Special Branch headed by then Traffic Circle Inspector, C. M. Pradeep Kumar, had gathered information and prepared a report about NDF’s links with the Pak ISI apart from receiving funds from Iran. Using its sources and methods, the Special Branch had collected information. Its reports were confidential and authentic”, she testified under oath.
Quoting the Special Branch report, Ms. Rawat also said that the NDF had plans to send one person for ISI training in Pakistan which was abandoned later. She also spoke about NDF’s arms training and transportation of arms in ambulances. But, interestingly, Ms. Rawat admitted that no further investigation or action was undertaken on this police report.
Notably, Ms. Rawat’s evidence was necessitated when the Hindu Aikya Vedi general secretary Kummanam Rajasekharan deposed before the Marad Commission on April 4 by submitting the same police report against NDF. Ms. Rawat had no convincing answer as to how the Hindu militant leader got the report in advance, which she herself termed as “confidential”.
Denying the allegation, NDF Chairperson E. M. Abdul Rehman said his body never solicited assistance from outside agencies for its activities in Kerala. “The police officers statement is biased towards the Sangh Parivar”.
Disclosing its plan to move the High Court demanding “a comprehensive inquiry into leakage of police confidential report to Sangh Parivar”, NDF General Secretary Nazarudheen Elamaram said: “Since it was Hindu Aikya Vedi General Secretary Kummanam Rajasekharan who first submitted this police report to the Marad Commission, we want to know how he received it which is supposed to be confidential report.”
Ascertaining that a section within the police force is hand-in-glove with Sangh Parivar, Nazarudheen said: “Such a probe is necessary to find out how many other confidential police reports had been leaked out to the Sangh Parivar when Ms. Rawat was the Kozhicode Police Commissioner.” Stoutly dismissing Ms. Rawat’s allegations against NDF before the Marad Commission, he asked: “What did she do if at all she found out NDF’s ISI connection? How many cases she registered if at all she located NDF’s arms training camps?”
The NDF leader also recalled that the RSS Malayalam daily, Janmabhoomi carried an item on NDF’s connection with Iran when Ms. Rawat was the Police Commissioner. When challenged in the court, the RSS organ was forced to publish an open apology apart from paying NDF the court expenses.
Predictably, Ms. Rawat’s disclosure instantly echoed with demands to ban NDF from different Sangh Parivar bodies. BJP State President P. S. Sreedharan Pillai wanted a CBI probe into NDF link with ISI and questioned why the CPM, which was in power when Ms. Rawat made the investigation, never took follow-up action on it.
Following Ms. Rawat’s disclosure, National Security Advisor M. K. Narayanan, while responding to press persons on a visit to Guruvayur Temple, merely said that NDF’s ISI connection is yet to be probed. In simple terms, it meant that even the national security wing never knew the eight-year old investigation report of Ms. Rawat on NDF’s ISI link. Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy also told the querying reporters that Ms. Rawat’s disclosure needs to be probed further, meaning thereby that it never drew the State attention even after eight years.
Interestingly, Ms. Rawat’s version was contradicted on several counts by Pradeep Kumar whom she appointed to probe into NDF activities. Presently posted as DySP (Vigilance), he deposed before Marad Commission on May 20 that it was Abdul Nazar Madani, and not NDF, who unsuccessfully tried to send one person to Pakistan for training via Bangkok.
Answering as to whether there was any reliable evidence to prove NDF’s link with ISI and Iran, the DySP categorically stated that he never gave such a report as claimed by Ms. Rawat. According to him, Muslim organizations including NDF got funds from Muslim gold smugglers, unlike what Ms. Rawat said about ISI and Iran funds. Pradeep Kumar also said that he came to know about this when “more than 100 Muslim smugglers” held a meeting at a hotel in Kozhicode. Yet, no action was forthcoming against the smugglers either.
When cross-examined by NDF counsel Adv. K. P. Mohammed Sherief, the police officer admitted, “all these were pieces of information”. Although it needs to be investigated further, no such probe was carried out so far to his knowledge, he said.
Pradeep Kumar also said that he saw notable writer Arundhati Roy with NDF leader Prof. P. Koya in a hotel room at Kozhicode. “The NDF”, he testified, “got strengthened among the masses by taking up issues of human rights and environment”, without explaining whether that constituted a crime.
According to Ms. Sufia Madani, wife of the imprisoned Abdul Nazar Madani, legal actions would be initiated against Pradeep Kumar for making the false allegation about her husband sending somebody for training to Pakistan. “Pradeep Kumar was part of the conspiracy to implicate Madani in Coimbatore blast case in 1998. He, along with then Police Commissioner Neera Rawat and Asst. Commissioner Chandran, had ill-treated Madni under custody,” Ms. Sufia said. Elaborating further, Ms. Sufia said that after arresting one Ashraf, the Kerala police tortured him for days together in illegal custody to make him agree that he knew Madani. Then his signatures on blank papers were elicited on coercion. “Later, the police wrote on it their own frivolous version about his so-called trip to Pakistan via Bangkok. As against this, Ashraf told the Tamil Nadu Sepcial Investigation Team probing the Coimbatore blast case that he don’t know Madani, that he was sent to Bangkok by somebody else, and that it was not meant to go to Pakistan.”
The politicalisation of police force is nothing new in Kerala. By virtue of their ruling period over the years, both Congress and CPM had created their own supporters at all levels within the police force. Even top IPS officers’ personal attachments and allegiance to various politicians are no more a secret. There were occasions when such police-politician nexus even drew sharp criticism from the judiciary. In two sensational murder cases of K. T. Jayakrishnan and Panniyannur Chandran, both Sangh Parivar leaders of Kannur district, in which capital punishments were awarded to CPM activists, the respective verdicts of Thalassery Sessions Judges K.K. Chandradas and Thomas P. Joseph, delivered respectively on August 26, 2003, and May 10, 2004, named various police officers for their nexus with the culprits and suggested the government to take stern action against them.
There were plenty of instances to suggest that a similar nexus between Sangh Parivar and police officers in Kerala had developed rapidly ever since the NDA Government occupied Central power in 1998, and especially after L. K. Advani becoming the Union Home Minister. It cannot be ruled out that Ms. Rawat’s Islamophobia, as was revealed from her unsubstantiated charge on NDF’s ISI connection, must also have stemmed out of such a nexus.
In particular, during the erstwhile NDA regime, visiting Central Ministers to Kerala were too eager to level wild allegations on Kerala Muslims’ ISI connection. For example, while inaugurating the delegate session of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) at Kozhikode in April 2002, the then Union Minister of State for Home, Vidyasagar Rao, said that Madrasas in Kerala were serving as bases for ISI agents to operate from. “ISI agents are luring students in many of these religious institutions to carry out militant mandates. We really need to be alert against the mushrooming of such Madrasas all across the State”.
Yet, like Ms. Rawat’s “finding” on NDF’s ISI link way back in 1998, no action was taken by Advani’s “pro-active” Home Ministry on his junior minister’s 2002 “finding” about ISI link with Muslim Madrasas in Kerala.