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The ISI became active in the South after the BJP started winning elections there

The ISI became active in the South after the BJP started winning elections there

Author: George Iype
Publication: Rediff on Net
Date: July 21, 2000

Early in May, the central government asked the home departments of all states to submit details of Inter-Services Intelligence operations.  The first responses were from Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Except for the serial bomb blasts that left 60 people dead and hundreds injured in Tamil Nadu's Coimbatore in 1998, there has not been any major disturbance in these two states.  But intelligence sleuths say the ISI has devious designs for the communally sensitive areas there.

And so, special squads of the Karnataka police routinely check the Muslim population in Bangalore, Gulbarga and Hubli.  Police officials say the recent blasts in churches in Gulbarga and Hubli were the ISI's handiwork.  Two years ago, the Union home ministry identified Gulbarga as an important ISI hideout.  It was there that six agents took shelter in 1994 after the explosions aboard the AP Express and Madina Education Centre.

Since 1995, the Karnataka police have arrested a dozen Bangalore-based Muslim youths, who were trained in Islamabad for disruptive activities.

"We are always on the lookout for ISI agents.  They appear and disappear regularly," says a senior police officer in Bangalore.

Officials believe the recurrence of communal clashes in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are indicators of the ISI's growing influence in southern states.  What particularly worries the Tamil Nadu government is that the ISI operations are taking place mainly in coastal areas, where militant Tamil groups like the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam are also active.

THE police say the ISI is very active in Madras, Coimbatore, Keelakarai in Ramanathapuram district, and Nagapattinam.  They have arrested more than 70 people for terrorism, and recovered a huge quantity of explosives in the last few years.

The police are now looking at whether certain public sector undertakings in the state, dealing in explosives for the quarrying industry, have been unknowingly supplying the material to terrorists.

K P Padmanabhan, who worked for the Research and Analysis Wing before his retirement, says the ISI and the Tamil Tigers are a deadly combination.  He recalls that before the serial blasts rocked Coimbatore, intelligence agencies had warned the government of the ISI menace in the state.

"But the state government refused to take prompt action," he says.

Security experts like Padmanabhan point out that competitive communalism has led to fundamentalist terrorism in the South.  "The police forces in a state like Tamil Nadu are increasingly getting communalised, leading to an increase in ISI activities," he holds.

The special investigation report, the army intelligence report and the Justice Gokulakrishan Inquiry Commission conclusively say the Coimbatore blasts were planned by the ISI, and that Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists acted as catalysts to the tragedy.

ONE charge politicians make is that ISI activities considerably increased in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka after the Bharatiya Janata Party began winning elections from the states.  "The ISI became active after the BJP started to become a politically potent force in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka," claims political analyst K V K Ramesh.

For over a decade now, Ramesh adds, militant Hindu outfits like the Hindu Munnani have unleashed a systematic campaign to promote communalism as a political mobilisation strategy.  In response, hardcore Muslim fundamentalist forces with funds and assistance from Pakistan entered the fray.

The most dreaded among these are the Al-Umma, founded by S A Basha to co-ordinate the different Muslim terrorist groups in Tamil Nadu.  The police say the Al-Umma grew in Tamil Nadu under the ISI's patronage, to resist the BJP's growth in the state.

The Justice Gokulakrishnan Commission points out that the propaganda of Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists was one of the primary reasons for the vicious communal atmosphere in Coimbatore that ultimately led to the explosions.  No wonder, then, that within hours of the blasts, scores of militant Hindus set fire to shops and establishments owned by Muslims in Coimbatore.

In fact, as in the case of the 1993 Bombay serial blasts, those in Coimbatore were also the result of a major communal crisis.  In November-December 1997, 18 Muslim youths died in police firing in Coimbatore.  During the riots that followed, the police are said to have aided the Hindu fundamentalists after a Tamil Nadu constable, R Selvaraj, was stabbed to death allegedly by three Muslim youths.

"The ISI has exploited this fight between fundamentalist Hindu and Muslim groups in Tamil Nadu.  The sad thing is that the government failed to notice this," said Krishnan Mahadevan, a member of the non-governmental organisation People's Union for Civil Liberties.

A fact-finding report from PUCL after the Coimbatore blasts said a section of the police, ganging up with Hindu militants, went on a destructive rampage that left 18 dead, several injured and a large number traumatised and alienated.

"Successive governments have failed to differentiate between innocent Muslims and fundamentalists," says Mahadevan.  He adds the ISI has grown in the state, thanks to government inaction and communal politics.

Activists like Mahadevan assert that politicians, instead of containing communal politics, have encouraged it in Tamil Nadu.  All these years, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary J Jayalalitha has been accusing the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government of anti-national activities: aiding and abetting fundamentalists, particularly ISI terrorists.

"The ISI activities have increased in the state because Chief Minister M Karunanidhi has wilfully ignored the Pakistani agency in Tamil Nadu," alleges AIADMK member K V Selvaraj.  Top DMK leaders are "hobnobbing" with extremists, fundamentalists and ISI militants, he adds.

Thus, with the ISI acting as a spark to communal passions, the South is no longer peaceful.

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