TN’s trysts with terror

The week started with the tragic news of the death of a Chennai Major, Mukund Varadarajan, up in distant Kashmir fighting Hizbul Mujahideen militants. The weekend is abuzz with the twin bomb blasts deep down in Chennai at Central station that took the life of 24-year-old Swati, an unsuspecting passenger en route to meet her parents in AP. In between, on Tuesday there was the providential arrest in the city of, Sakir Hussein, an ISI agent from Sri Lanka, by Central agencies, and interrogations appear to have opened up/confirmed many threats about Jihadi activity. If reports are to be believed, and they should be, TN and Chennai, are very much inside the jihadi terror arc.

Major Mukund might have died while defending the nation against Hizb terrorists in Kashmir. But it is the same war, a proxy war unleashed by an unrelenting enemy that has also taken an innocent life in Chennai’s Central. The perpetrators are the same, the motives and methodologies are now quite familiar and their tentacles extend all over India. To think that Pakistan is a threat to India only in the snowy heights of Kashmir is a fatal folly. Kanyakumari is as accessible a target to this highly determined foe who means business. To Pak, Kashmir is not the sore point; India itself is. And all know why.

Pak’s designs are all quite official. Targetting India from the South was a well thought out and planned strategy. A retired army officer, an ISI favourite, was formally placed in its Sri Lankan High Commission in Colombo and his brief was simply to find ways to foray into India through TN. The arrested Sakir Hussein appears to be one of the Lankan birds that flew in, only to be caged. Though Sakir and the many like him are drafted to recruit from smugglers, pliable fishermen and whatever fanatical freelancers that are for hire, they are also expected to network with local Jihadi outfits and many inflammable organisations that would not mind setting off a bomb or two occasionally. The larger idea of course is ‘to strike terror in the hearts of …’ no, let me not quote from the rantings of a medieval madcap. In short, the Chennai blasts have made it loud and clear that any complacency in recognising and reacting to the threat of Jihadi terror runs the risk of making a Kashmir out of TN. After all, ‘Pak’ is now close by.

In this context, there are two aspects that could enhance the aforesaid ‘complacency’. Every instance of Jihadi terror brings into discussion the familiar themes of secularism and ‘targetting one particular community’. We have had enough of them. Terror should be treated as such and while no community should be painted black just like that, ‘secularism’ should also not stand in the way of free and fair investigations. If sleuths have to be wary of or fear political and religious backlash in their work, truth and worse, national security will be casualties. The long arms of law cannot afford to be shackled even if they were to err on the side of caution.

The other manifestation of complacency is for TN to rest on its laurels as a ‘peace park’. I wonder wherefrom this notion took roots. If frequency were a yardstick, maybe, we can make some concession. But all instances of terror in the last thirty five years have been so intense that this ‘peace park’ has often gone to pieces, even if only on ‘isolated occasions’. TN lived under the shadow of Sri Lankan Tamil militancy through the ‘80s. Tamil groups routinely shot at one another in public places. Police raids and arms seizures were the order of the day. The Chennai airport blast was a high casualty affair. The ‘87 bomb blast on Rockfort Express killed 25. And in 1990 came the mass murder of EPRLF’s Padmanabha and 13 others in full daylight in the heart of Chennai with the killers even scooting TN coast by nightfall. Rajiv’s assassination in May 1991 along with a score of others has led to a very peaceful memorial close to Chennai that stands testimony to the most brutal, novel and audacious suicide terror strike in history. Pardon me if I have missed some other peace busters.

Rajiv’s killing put paid to LTTE mischief in TN, but the peace park was fated for fatal encounters, all the same. Jihadis topped the charts post nineties. Babri Masjid demolition, Bombay blasts and the general secular/communal political and ideological divide of the period ensured that TN’s peace had a bumby ride. The 1993 blast at RSS office was a violent opener. 10 died and several were injured when bombs went off in three trains on the ominous Dec 6 of ‘97. The Kovai blasts of Feb ‘98 on the eve of LS polls, targetting Advani, yielded a huge casualty and remains a landmark in the communal landscape of TN. All through random murders of important functionaries, right till date have been rife. And we are not talking of a couple of major jailbreaks.

Swati, who assumed a safe passage to her parents knowing not what was ticking under her train seat, has just given us a grave warning that this is no fail-safe peace park! Not with Sakirs on the prowl!

e-mail the writer at [email protected]

Jawahar T R