Thiruvanathapuram, Dec 29 : Kerala's Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan is angry. Why is the National Investigating Agency (NIA), which has not taken over cases registered in connection with the bombings in Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Surat, showing special interest in Kerala cases, he asked after the NIA announced plans to take over further investigation of the Kalamassery bus burning case and the Kashmir terror recruitment case.
Two cases registered in connection with bomb blasts in Kozhikode had been taken over by the agency earlier.
Balakrishnan's discomfiture is understandable. The NIA decision is a virtual indictment of the state police's handling of terror cases under Left Democratic Front (LDF) rule. Balakrishnan is the only Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) politburo member in the state cabinet. As such, in the party hierarchy, he now ranks higher than even Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, who was dropped from that high-ranking body as a disciplinary measure.
When the LDF came to power in 2006, state party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan had picked Balakrishnan for the home minister's post. As a result, Achuthanandan became the first chief minister in a long time who did not hold the home portfolio. He tried to keep with him the Department of Vigilance and Anti-Corruption, which usually goes with the home ministry, defying the state party leadership's wishes.
According to reports published at the time, Industries Minister Elamaram Kareem had told the state committee they would all go to jail if Achuthanandan retained the vigilance department. The central leadership asked Achuthanandan to hand vigilance to Balakrishnan as well.
Balakrishnan was nominated to the party politburo at the height of the sectarian war between Achuthanandan and Vijayan. Observers saw it as a move by the national leadership to keep him in line as a likely successor in case it became necessary to replace either the chief minister or the state secretary.
Under Balakrishnan's stewardship, Kerala police has had a dubious record in the investigation of major crimes. Four Keralites were among those killed in encounters in the Kupwara area of Kashmir Valley in 2008. Initially the state police sought to dismiss it as a case of false identity. After the Kashmir police established the Kerala origin of the youths, the state police took up investigation but the trail vanished somewhere along the way. This is one of the two cases the NIA has now decided to take over.
The other case relates to the burning of a Tamil Nadu-registered bus at Kalamassery, near Kochi, on Sep 9, 2005 to press the demand for release of People's Democratic Party chairman Abdul Naser Mahdani, who was then in a Coimbatore jail as an accused in the Coimbatore blast case. The police made some arrests immediately but the investigation went on for years, first under the Congress-led United Democratic Front government and then under the present LDF government.
Mahdani, who emerged from jail in 2007 after being acquitted in the bomb blast case, campaigned vigorously for the CPI-M in the Lok Sabha elections. The party central committee, after reviewing the poll debacle, concluded that the association with Mahdani was a mistake.
At election time the local media carried a plethora of reports, based on leaked testimony of men held in connection with the bus burning case, alleging Mahdani's wife, Soofiya, was involved in the conspiracy. Balakrishnan dismissed the reports, saying they contained nothing new. After the elections, the police questioned Soofiya. There was, however, no further action.
Mahdani and his wife suddenly came within the ambit of terror investigations with the arrest of two Keralites -- Thadiyantavide Naseer, said to be the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba's commander in south India, and his associate Shafas, on the Bangladesh border early in November. Both are said to have been associated with Mahdani's outfit.
The Karnataka police, which had been looking for Naseer in connection with the serial blasts in Bangalore, obtained his custody from a Meghalaya court. Kerala rushed an officer to Bangalore to join in the investigation and seek Naseer's custody in connection with the cases against him in the state. The opposition alleged that the officer had been sent to protect the party's interests.
Police officials from Karnataka took Naseer to several places in Kerala as part of the investigation into the Bangalore case. There is no indication when it will be through with Naseer and Kerala can get him for its own investigations.
As the Karnataka police investigations were proceeding, the Kerala police found it necessary to make wholesale changes in the list of accused in the Kalamassery bus burning case. It dropped the first three of the nine accused, saying they were not involved in the crime. Thadiyantavide Naseer became the new first accused. Soofiya Mahdani was named the tenth accused and arrested.
The opposition has demanded that Balakrishnan give up the home portfolio. Fifty years ago, E.M.S. Namboodiripad had faced a similar demand while heading the state's first Communist government. Responding to the demand, he handed over home to V.R. Krishna Iyer, one of the three non-party members of his cabinet. Today no one expects a similar response.