Bihar arrests: Is Nitish Kumar trying to befool Muslims?

Muslims in Bihar are feeling agitated over the continued arrests of Muslim youth in different parts of the state. For months now several arrests have been made –”many on frivolous charges –” without any substantial proof. It seems ironical in a state where a ‘champion’ of Muslim causes lords over the state.

He has been sounding agitated over the last few arrests of Muslims and has gone to the extent that he will talk to his counterpart in a southern state whose STF arrested a boy from Darbhanga. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been caught in a bind or is he just indulging in a gimmickery as none but one of his own ministers had said. About a week after the arrest of Kafeel Akhtar, he wondered how the Karnataka Police took transit remand from Ranchi court in Jharkhand, when the suspect terrorist was arrested from Barh Samaila village under Keoti police station of Darbhanga district of his state on May 6 last.

In a letter written to his Karnataka counterpart, Sadanand Gowda, on Saturday the Bihar chief minister had lodged a formal protest against the arrest. Nitish has called for a legal and administrative action against Karnataka Police officers involved in this action for their “failure to conform to rule of law”.

“You will acknowledge that there should be no apprehension in mind of any visiting police officer of any state about the professional integrity of such senior police officers available at Darbhanga. Hence, the visiting team of officers (from Karnataka) since 5 May 2012 had ample time and opportunity to organise their operation by taking these officers (from Darbhanga) into confidence”, his letter said.

Nitish kumar went on to say, “You will appreciate that inappropriate behaviour of these police officers could have led to serious issues of breach of law and order on the one hand and endangered safety and security of these visiting officers themselves on the other.” However, on May 10, Gowda had written to Nitish saying the Karnataka Police had paucity of time to carry operation and hence could not take transit remand.

The Bihar chief minister, on his part, clarified that he had nothing to say on contents of FIR lodged in Chinnaswamy Stadium blast and reiterated their common resolve to fight terror “within framework of law and established procedures”. Nitish said as per CrPC provisions every person arrested should be forwarded to officer-in-charge of nearest police station. This did not happen.

But the problem with Nitish is that unlike in the past two cases when Delhi and Mumbai Police were involved in the arrest this time the police of BJP ruled Karnataka came all the way to arrest the suspect. What remained a mystery is how the police took transit remand in Jharkhand, when it was out of the jurisdiction of the court. Not only that the Karnataka Police took flight from Ranchi to take Kafeel and not Patna, which is the nearest airport from Darbhanga. After all Jharkhand too has a BJP chief minister, Arjun Munda.

Not just Muslim organizations, leading human right groups and political opponents are questioning as to how can this actually happen. “If a policeman from a non-Hindi speaking state so far away from Bihar can come and arrest a person from interior village of Darbhanga what was the state intelligence doing. What is strange, the Darbhanga SP, Garima Malik, said she got the news of the arrest two days later from the media. In that case any criminal or terrorist can commit any crime anywhere in the state and police would get the news two days later from the media,” asked human rights activist, Naiyer Fatmi.

Others have criticized Nitish and his police machinery in the state. A social activist said it is a tribute to Karnataka Police that, rightly or wrongly, it could arrest a man over 2,500 km away so easily. The track record of Bihar Police is known to all. “On May 7 a cousin of Director General rank IPS officer was killed in Patna’s Kumhrar Park while he was taking morning walk. Thirty-six hours later the body of one of the accused, Prem Kumar Singh, a liquor baron, was recovered from near the railway track not far away from Kumhrar. The Bihar Police could not arrest him in the heart of Patna and nobody is aware of the mysterious death of Prem,” the activist asked.

In civil liberties activists view, the general perception is that be it the arrests made by Delhi Police or Mumbai Police in the last few months or Karnataka Police recently the Bihar chief minister is just indulging in face-saving exercise as all those nabbed are Muslims. He wants to send a message that he stands behind the community. However, there are many political opponents–”–”and even BJP leaders in the state–”–”who refuse to accept that the local police was not at all aware of the arrest of Kafeel or other suspects in the past. A senior ministerial colleague of Nitish, who wished not to be quoted, told a prominent daily that Nitish’s letter was “nothing but a gimmick to woo the minorities.”

After Azamgarh, Bihar seems to be the new target of STFs of different states. It is notwithstanding the fact that the boys who are arrested are either acquitted by courts after a few years or they prove their innocence in courts of law. Old Delhi’s Amir spent 14 long years behind prison walls and was let off by court. He lost his father who couldn’t bear his son being cast in such draconian light. Around a dozen boys in Hyderabad were also released and compensated for spending years in jail despite being innocent.