Arrests of Muslims by NIA Seen as Part of Assembly Poll Build-up in Bengal


Fact-finding team of APCR visits Murshidabad to know the truth as BJP accuses Mamata government of harbouring ‘terrorists’

Shaheen Nazar | Clarion India

NEW DELHI – A six-member fact-finding team of a human rights organisation was visiting Murshidabad district of West Bengal on Wednesday.

The purpose of the visit was to know the truth behind arrest of nine Muslim villagers by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on September 19 on claims that they are Pakistan-linked Al-Qaeda operatives and they were planning terror attacks throughout the country.

Democratic forces in the state believe that this arrest is politically motivated and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is going to exploit it in the state Assembly elections due in the next seven to eight months.

This belief gets credence from the kind of statements that are coming from state-level BJP leaders as well as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). They are all attacking Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee for ‘patronising terrorists’ for the sake of ‘minority appeasement’ and ‘vote bank politics’, the usual plank of the BJP to polarise Hindu votes.

Abdus Samad, leader of the fact-finding team of the Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR) told Clarion India over the phone from Murshidabad that all the nine accused are labourers and most of them belong to ‘below poverty line.

“We have visited their families in neighbouring villages of the district. The men arrested by the NIA are non-political people. They are more concerned about their livelihood than politics at national or international level,” said Samad.

He said this was a preliminary visit. “It will be followed by another visit on September 27 by a team of 12 human rights organisations that include people’s Union for Civil Liberties and Association for Protection of Human Rights (APHR). We want the truth to come out. The NIA is making wild claims which vested interests in Kolkata and elsewhere are repeating and disturbing communal harmony,” Samad added.

Six of the nine suspects–Najmus Sakib, Abu Sufiyan, Mainul Mondal, Leu Yean Ahmed, Al Mamun Kamal and Atitur Rehman – were arrested from Murshidabad. The rest – Murshid Hassan, Yakoob Bishwas and Morshraf Hussien – were arrested from Kerala’s Ernakulam district where they had gone to work as labourers.

Their arrest on September 19 became breaking news throughout the country. The premier anti-terror agency claimed that it has busted an inter-state module of Al-Qaeda operatives who were radicalised by Pakistan-based terrorists on social media and they were ready to undertake terrorist attacks at vital installations. By arresting them, the NIA said, it had pre-empted possible terrorist attacks in various parts of the country.

The NIA also claimed to have recovered large quantities of ‘incriminating materials, including digital devices and documents’ from their possession. But the NIA has made all the claims through the media. “It has not informed the families of the arrested persons on what charges they have been arrested. However, the same NIA is telling the media all sorts of stories,” said Abdur Rafiq, head of the West Bengal unit of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind.

Talking to Clarion India over the phone from Kolkata, he cited one ‘fictitious’ story doing the rounds in the state. Bengali newspapers published news that a ‘tunnel’ has been discovered in the house of one of the arrested persons. But on investigation by the public, it was found to be a septic tank attached to toilets of the house.

Rafiq said NIA had lost all credibility. “It is being used by the ruling BJP to advance its political agenda,” he said. Rafiq strongly believes that the arrests were part of BJP’s strategy to polarise the electorate ahead of Assembly elections.

Ranjit Sur, vice-president of APHR, the state’s largest human rights organisation, echoed Rafiq’s allegation. He said he suspected the NIA could be acting in the political interests of the BJP.

“We do not yet know much about the persons arrested from Murshidabad and Ernakulam. However, the role of NIA into the investigation of Maharashtra’s Elgar Parishad case and the recent reopening of a case against Chhatradhar Mahato prompts us to strongly suspect political interest behind NIA’s moves. Those arrested from Murshidabad were associated with the movement against CAA. There are reasons to suspect that the arrests could be an attempt to weaken the anti-CAA movement,” Sur was quoted in a report published in Firstpost

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) had prompted nation-wide protest when it was enacted in December 2019. Muslims were especially in the fore-front of the movement to oppose the controversial Act. In Delhi, most of the anti-CAA movement leaders have been sent to jail and many of them have been implicated in trumped up cases of Delhi riots.

Reflections of what Rafiq and Sur are saying can be found in the statements that the top BJP leadership in West Bengal have made soon after the arrests. Within hours of NIA breaking the news, BJP leaders started a scathing attack on the Trinamool Congress-led government of Mamata Banerjee accusing her of allegedly allowing Bengal to turn into ‘a hub of jihadi activities’ for the sake of her ‘politics of vote-bank’.

“The arrests are a massive and sensitive issue with respect to national security,” BJP state unit president Dilip Ghosh said in a video message uploaded on his Facebook page on the very same day. “From Bangladeshi terrorists to operatives of SIMI (Students’ Islamic Movement of India), Al-Qaeda, and the IS (Islamic State), these people find shelters in several districts of West Bengal. I have a hunch that the state government knowingly provides them shelter to reap political benefits.”

The following day, BJP state unit general secretary Sayantan Basu fired another salvo at the government saying it wanted to turn West Bengal into ‘West Bangladesh’.

“We warned that the government’s patronage of unregulated madrasahs was creating (Osama bin) Laden-factories. The latest arrests were of persons born and brought up here. We no longer have only terrorists who infiltrated from Bangladesh and got their (nationality) documents here but now we also have our home-grown ones, thanks to the chief minister’s policy of going to any extent to appease a community of 30 percent,” Basu said.

Bengal BJP leaders use ‘thirty percent’ usually to refer to Muslims, who made 27 percent of the state’s population, according to the Census of 2011.

RSS’s regional head Ajay Kumar Nandi, too, attacked the Chief Minister saying the state government must take the responsibility for the mushrooming of terror networks.

Meanwhile, Sur says he is expecting arrests of more persons from West Bengal with alleged terror links in the coming days. Given the build-up ahead of the Assembly elections, it won’t be surprising.


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