By Annesha Ghosh:
In less than a month, six people have been arrested from different parts of Kolkata by the Special Task force (STF) of the Kolkata police in connection with an Inter Services Intelligence (ISI)-module operating out of West Bengal.
Given the impenetrability of the anti-national schemes the six accused are known to have partaken in while living at the very heart of Bengal’s capital city, the slew of arrests have sent alarm bells ringing across the corridors of power in Bengal and has yet again lent irrefutable currency to the state’s long-established infamy as a safe haven for militant elements.
For anybody even remotely conversant with Bengal’s enduring tryst with terror, these developments may not come as a surprise after all. Be it Amir Reza Khan, the alleged mastermind behind the 2002 American Centre attacks attacks, or Lashkar-e-Taiba’s eastern operation head Abdul Karim Tunda or Indian Mujahideen’s Yaseen Bhatkal, the uncomfortable reality of militants deriving succour from the state have resurfaced time and again.
As often the blame games may have panned out, the collective imprudence of central and state intelligence agencies in having invested greater time and resources in containing the Maoist threats to the near neglect of the need to monitoring terror of a different kind, has resulted in the steady proliferation of sleeper cells across the state over the years.
In fact, Bengal’s intelligence gathering mechanism has often proved flawed, to say the least. The ammonium nitrate for the IEDs that killed 20 people in the 2006 Varanasi twin explosions was purchased from Burrabazar market in Kolkata. Yaseen Bhatkal was let off in 2009 by Kolkata Police after he was arrested for carrying fake currency. Reports also suggest that the raw material for explosives that rocked Pune’s German Bakery in 2010 was handed over to Bhatkal in Kolkata by an IM operative native to the border district of Nadia.
If observations made by the STF of the Kolkata Police are to be believed, that parts of Kolkata and border districts of Bengal have for long been in use as hideouts by terrorists, is no more mere conjecture. Districts like Malda, North and South Dinajpur and Murshidabad serve as routes to smuggle arms and explosives along with counterfeit currency.
Early in 2014, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) had laid bare the ugly truth of Kolkata being leveraged as an important hub for activities of the IM. According to the NIA, Yaseen Bhatkal’s trusted aide, Asadullah Akhtar,had revealed that Aftab Ansari had started the IM in 1999-2000 with the help of Asif Reza Khan, a resident of Kolkata.
One of the many reasons that have steadily abetted Bengal’s emergence as a terror hotspot is the porous and almost unguarded 2,200km border with Bangladesh that makes it a convenient passage into India for militants associated with several organizations. Spread across 232,752 km², this state on the eastern bottleneck of India has been the preferred transit point for militants to facilitate a logistic supply of subversive activities from Bangladesh.
The prevailing socio-economic inequities in certain minority-dominated belts in the state help terror elements successfully spread their networks, capitalizing on factors such as illiteracy and large-scale unemployment among the youth.
Moreover, the presence of two key railway stations – Howrah and Sealdah – is known to provide easy connectivity to immigrant militants with the rest of the country.
This has been further compounded by the relaxed stance of the incumbent Mamata Banerjee government towards illegal immigration into the state from its eastern neighbour. The lackadaisical attitude of Bengal’s ruling party on this issue has often been perceived by the political fraternity as an indefatigable means to consolidate the chief minister’s minority support base in the state.
Since the onset of the new millennium, most terror activities in the West Bengal have been known to be linked with the unaccounted crores of currency routed through hawala networks transcending international boundaries.
On September 26 this year, a hawala crackdown in Kolkata and Siliguri had led to the confiscation of nearly 80 crore in cash. The preferred hawala route to move money out of West Bengal to Pakistan and UAE has always been Bangladesh. An inter-state illegal lottery racket is also known to be in operation between in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, whereby the money generated is eventually route into West Bengal, facilitated by large pool of Bangladeshi and Pakistan-based operatives.
In August, following a meeting with DGPs of 12 states where West Bengal police chief GMP Reddy was also present, the Ministry of Home Affairs had asked the West Bengal government to form a team of cyber experts to monitor social networking sites for any suspicious activities. However, even after 4 months, the state government has failed to form a team.
Recent reports released by central agencies portend troublesome days ahead for Bengal. According to a survey by the cyber cell of the Intelligence Bureau, Howrah is the fourth city after Srinagar, Guwahati and Chinchwad (a suburb of Pune) where youths aged between 16 to 30 years have shown online interest in joining the IS.
What’s been even more worrying is the recovery of 147 IS posters over the past two months, from 17 villages in the bordering districts of Nadia and Murshidabad. The content of the posters promise a Mughalstan (or Mughalistan) – an independent homeland proposed for the Muslims of India.
In October 2014, the accidental blasts at a safe house in Burdawan’s Khagragarh, which allegedly housed a Trinamool Congress (TMC) office, had blown the lid off a noxious terror network traversing several districts of West Bengal. Although party general secretary Mukul Roy had denied the allegation, complaints of central agencies about the ‘non-cooperation’ received from TMC officials and the state police, had led the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) charge Trinamool with having direct links with the blast.
The investigation into the Khagragarh case had thrown up cues on how the Jamaat-ut-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), a banned Bangladeshi terror outfit, has been facilitating movement of Islamic State sympathizers–including women–from Hyderabad and Maharashtra to Bangladesh through the Bengal-Bangladesh border.
After the JMB was beaten down significantly by the Bangladeshi government in 2006, the group has reinstated substantially itself in the country and has also managed to establish a pervasive presence in at least 4 districts of West Bengal.
Furthermore, in a series of intriguing developments, the NIA had exposed how several “illegal madrasas” in Bengal and Assam were being used by Islamist terrorist outfits to train new recruits including women. In fact, the NIA probe revealed that one of the terror masterminds in the state, Mohammad Yusuf, who had gone to a madrasa at Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh as a teenager to study, had returned after 14 years in 2014 to set up a large unrecognized madrasa at Shimulia in Bardhaman district.
In this regard, the state government’s inability to uproot the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), running several illegal madrasas in remote corners of the western fringes of Bengal is to be squarely blamed.
Be it the arrest of the ISI agents, the rising incidence of JMB-sponsored activities or the IS eyeing the state as a potential reservoir for recruits—all of these unnerving realities point to a very palpable danger: West Bengal is a ticking time bomb.
Seemingly oblivious to the threats posed by such flaccid disposition towards curbing terror activities in her backyard, a resistance to change in tack on the part of the Mamata Banerjee government will only aggrandize the chances of the Bengal chief minster’s becoming more captive to recalcitrant forces that are inimical to national interests.