Marad shocks

Published : Oct 20, 2006 00:00 IST

The report on the communal killings rocks the Congress-led front, which was in power at that time.

R. KRISHNAKUMAR in Thiruvananthapuram

THE whole truth behind the revenge killings at the coastal village of Marad in Kozhikode district, the worst communal incident in the recent history in Kerala, is unlikely to be revealed soon, if at all.

More than three years after fundamentalist assailants hacked to death eight Hindu fishermen (and a Muslim fellow attacker by mistake) there on May 3, 2003, the report of a judicial commission of inquiry has concluded, among other things, that the incident was a sequel to the largely politically motivated murder of five persons in the village in January 2002 and a fallout of the then Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government's "unjustified delay" in the prosecution of those accused of the crime.

According to the Justice Thomas P. Joseph Commission report, of the 393 persons against whom charge-sheets were filed in 115 cases relating to the January 2002 incident, 213 were activists of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)/Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), 86 were of the Muslim League and 78 of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The rest were members of the Indian National League and the National Democratic Front (NDF), the post-1993 Muslim fundamentalist organisation which claims to have its members in all major political parties.

The UDF, especially the Muslim League, had forged an alliance with the RSS-BJP at that time to try and checkmate the dominant influence of the CPI(M) in the coastal regions of Kozhikode district.

Much to the discomfiture of major political parties in the State, the commission, which was set up to inquire into the circumstances that led to the second Marad killings, has in a way, turned the spotlight on the facts and circumstances of the 2002 killings.

The report emphasises what political Kerala already knew well but has tried to ignore: that the January 2002 incident was the result of "political interests and other vested interests" that developed following a minor altercation between two men belonging to the different communities, which flared up into a major communal incident resulting in the death of five people, injury to several others and damage to several houses.

It says that the delay in filing charge-sheets in that case was subsequently utilised by "Muslim fundamentalists, terrorists and other forces" to capitalise on the grievance of relatives of three Muslims killed and to use it as a cause for vengeance against Hindus of Marad as a whole. It also says that the inquiry by the State Crime Branch CID (CBCID) into the May 2003 incident had failed to unravel the "larger conspiracy" and the sources of the large cache of arms and ammunition unearthed subsequently in the area and of the sizable funds used in the planning and execution of the murders.

The commission's main recommendation, therefore, is a further inquiry, involving the Intelligence Bureau (I.B), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, into the "larger conspiracy" involving fundamentalist and other forces, and into the source of the explosives and funds that the CBCID "failed or refused" to investigate - an act that the commission described as "quite suspicious and disturbing".

The report is also critical of the role of the civil administration, the State police and the Crime Branch. It says that despite clear evidence that there was a "long-drawn conspiracy" and that the objective of the assailants was not merely to kill certain persons but "to create bigger havoc and ignite large-scale riot", the CBCID team stuck to its simple theory of revenge killings. The question as to whether other forces were involved in the massacre "was not even an issue for the Crime Branch team", the report says.

The civil administration continued to be lethargic, failing to take timely, preventive and remedial action after the 2002 incident even though intelligence reports had indicated that there was the possibility of violence again at Marad and that stockpiling of weapons by both sides was taking place, mostly in Muslim-dominated areas. The commission found evidence of detailed intelligence reports suggesting that efforts of government-initiated peace committees were not yielding the desired results, that fundamentalist elements were active in the area and that the people feared an imminent bout of communal revenge attacks.

It was also known that the original plan for an attack one month before May 3, 2003 was dropped as the news had leaked and that the stockpiling of weapons had started three months after the first incident. There were also clear intelligence warnings about a "wordy altercation" between two groups in the Muslim community inside the compound of the local mosque regarding "retaliation for the killing of Muslims in 2002".

And despite early intelligence warnings of the possibility of police wireless information being leaked out by residents, curiously, the only police picket post with a wireless set operating at Marad was located in one of the residences, until well after the massacre.

Although such information was available, the commission says, there was only a token presence of the police on Marad beach on the day of the massacre and several days before that. There were only 13 policemen on duty at Marad, in a total of nine pickets on the beach, and there was not a single gun at the Marad police control room or picket posts. There were a few teargas shells and lathis and "even that the policemen could not effectively use as they did not have the mental make-up to do that in a charged situation".

The commission holds three key officials responsible for this situation - the then District Collector K.O. Sooraj, the then Commissioner of Police Sanjeev Kumar Patjoshi and the then Assistant Commissioner M. Abdul Rahim. The last has been criticised severely for the way he tried to shield one of the prime accused in the case. The report says that Sooraj did not discharge his functions responsibly and effectively, in the way expected of a District Collector and District Magistrate and was responsible for the failure of the civil administration to take timely remedial action to prevent the recurrence of violence at the Marad beach. It asks the government to inquire into the widespread allegation of communal bias made against Sooraj "that cannot be ignored as baseless" and "could have had a bearing on the failure of the civil administration", including his action of allowing Muslim League leader (at present Minister of State for External Affairs) E. Ahmed to enter the controversial mosque on Marad beach defying prohibitory orders when the communal tension was high immediately after the massacre. It says that the lack of rapport between Sooraj and Sanjeev Kumar Patjoshi contributed to the lack of coordination between civil and police administrations, which ultimately affected "the effectiveness of the actions that had to be taken by both the departments in the riot-prone area".

The police too, under Patjoshi, failed to take effective steps to prevent the 2003 massacre and treated the specific intelligence warnings casually. There was lack of coherence, trust and coordinated action between the various branches of the police, the report says.

The commission has accepted several allegations that were raised against Abdul Rahim, including the one that despite intelligence reports about the activities of Bijli (son of Abbobecker, an NDF activist killed in the first Marad incident), Rahim deliberately failed to question him properly or keep him under surveillance. The reports about Bijli ultimately proved true. He became the prime accused in the 2003 Marad massacre case and it was found by the CBCID that he, along with his paternal uncle Mohammed Ali, played a leading role in the conspiracy and the planning and execution of the murders.The commission says that Bijli was never kept under watch and was simply "let loose" and both Rahim and Patjoshi were responsible for it.

The commission also found that following the 2003 incidents, Rahim had tried to shield Bijli after his arrest by trying to convince fellow officers that "one of the accused was not really involved in the incident". Rahim had also tried to remain in Kozhikode even after he was transferred on the request of the then Director-General of Police K.J. Joseph to the government, in the "public interest". Rahim's appointment in Kozhikode south subdivision itself was "shrouded in suspicious circumstances" and the allegation about his connection with the forces behind the conspiracy for the massacre cannot be ignored as baseless, the report says.

The DGP also had deposed before the commission that Rahim was posted at Kozhikode (South) without his knowledge and after the massacre he found the posting was done "to oblige a Muslim leader", whose identity he did not know. But, significantly, the then Chief Minister A.K. Antony had filed an affidavit before the commission that the posting was a "routine one" and "there was nothing unusual in it".

The commission says that the facts behind the mysterious appointment of Rahim at the Kozhikode (South) subdivision, which includes the communally sensitive Marad, could have "dissuaded the [then] government from ordering the CBI investigation". It says there was the need for a "deeper probe" into "who was interested in his posting" and "what the interest behind it was".

The commission found that several activists of the Muslim League and the NDF "were actively involved in the planning and execution of the [second] massacre" and that it was unlikely that their activists were involved thus "without the blessings of their respective leaderships, at least at the local level". It says it did not come across any direct evidence on whether the "NDF as an organisation was behind the massacre" but points out that it is difficult to get such direct evidence for the involvement of the (secretive) organisation, even though it did find that some of the local leaders of the NDF were indeed involved.

The report also talks about the local leader of the Muslim League P.P. Moideen Koya and other members of the local Mahal committee "who were involved in the conspiracy for the massacre on May 2003 or had prior information about it and the impending violence at Marad". M.C. Mayin Haji, the Chairman of the Calicut Development Authority and a prominent leader of the Muslim League, too had prior intimation of the conspiracy, the report says.

Mayin Haji admitted before the commission that during April-May 2002 Moideen Koya had met him along with Muhammed Ali. The commission says that though Mohammed Ali had informed a leader of the stature of Mayin Haji about his desire to avenge the killing of his brother, he failed to intimate the authorities about it, in spite of being well aware of the tense, sensitive situation in Marad after the January 2002 murder of three Muslim and two Hindu fishermen.

It is quite unlikely that such a large number of Muslim League workers, including a few local leaders, were involved in the conspiracy without the blessings of their leadership at least at the local level. That is the reason for Muslim League general secretary and the then Industries Minister P.K. Kunhalikkutty opposing a CBI investigation and expressing his own apprehension that if such an investigation was allowed when the BJP was in power at the Centre, there was no guarantee that all Muslim League leaders, including himself, or his party leader Panakkad Shihab Thangal would not be put behind bars. The report, however, says that there is no evidence to substantiate allegations that Kunhalikkutty was in any way connected with the May 2003 massacre. (Mayin Haji was given the UDF ticket - and lost - in the May 2006 Assembly elections, significantly, when the commission report was already with the UDF government.)

But Kunhalikkutty told the commission that neither he nor his party had stated that a CBI investigation was not required, but that "it was the Cabinet" that decided that a CBI investigation was not necessary in view of the legal opinion given by the then Advocate-General.

Antony too had said that the advice of the Advocate-General was that since the CBCID, Kozhikode unit had already investigated the matter and filed charge-sheets in the case, it was not permissible under law to entrust the investigation to another agency. Antony as Chief Minister had also said in reply to specific questions that the government did not order a CBI investigation at the initial stage since, following the Muthanga incident (and police action against tribal people there in which one tribal person and a policeman were killed) into which the government had ordered a CBI investigation, there was a clamour for a judicial inquiry. Hence, "to avoid such a demand", a judicial commission was appointed "to inquire into all aspects of the massacre investing the commission with wide powers".

The commission has come to the conclusion that this was only a "lame excuse" and drawn attention to the report of one of the officers of the State Special Branch that "a person nicknamed `FM' (finance minister) who came to Kozhikode from the Gulf countries on May 2, 2003 was the source of the money behind the massacre", that two Cabinet Ministers of the State had "unimaginable connection" with the "FM" and that the government might be in trouble if the CBI investigated the case at a time when the BJP was in power at the Centre.

(The commission has now accepted a plea by a well-connected Gulf-based businessman V.B Mohammedkutty alias "Hilal" Mohammed, that it should order the CBCID to inquire further into media reports that he was the "FM" mentioned in the report. CPI(M) State secretary Pinarayi Vijayan subsequently alleged that Hilal Mohammed, portrayed as "FM" in media reports, was the man behind A.K. Antony's election campaign at Tirurangadi in the early 1990s when the latter, then facing a power struggle within the Congress, sought to be elected with the support of the Muslim League from the north Kerala constituency. One of the candidates whom Antony defeated at Tirurangadi was the People's Democratic Party (PDP) leader Abdul Nasser Mahdani, now in a Coimbatore jail for his alleged role in the Coimbatore blast case.) When the Special Branch report was shown to Antony when he was in the witness box, he "pleaded ignorance about it", the commission says. It further said: "It was quite unlikely that Antony, who was also holding charge of the Home Ministry, was unaware of such a serious report concerning two of his colleagues in the Cabinet." Or, it may be that the senior police officer in the Intelligence Headquarters (by inference, Inspector-General Mahesh Kumar Singla) had not shown that report to Antony (in spite of regular intelligence briefings). The commission says that it appeared that the State government wanted to avoid an investigation by the CBI into the involvement of other forces behind the massacre, "without sufficient justification" and ostensibly under cover of an opinion from the Advocate-General that "further investigation" (on which the CBCID had already filed the charge-sheet) was "not factually or legally permissible" as it opened up the possibility that "the accused mentioned in the charge-sheet of the CBCID are not the real accused".

It further says that the legal hurdle (section 173(8) of the Cr.PC) was only concerning "further investigation" into the same issue and not as in the present case, on a matter outside the matters investigated by the CBCID "on the issue of larger conspiracy, involvement of other forces, the funding and collection of weapons".

It also says that the role played by Mahesh Kumar Singla on the issue of investigation (by the CBCID) into the involvement of "other forces" behind the massacre is quite suspicious and that his claim that he had not seen the intelligence reports is "simply false".

The commission says it was necessary for the State government or other appropriate authorities to investigate the alleged connection of Mahesh Kumar Singla with K.M. Aboobackar, a Thrissur-based businessman with alleged links with the NDF (although the commission found no evidence for this), and with whom Singla's father Bhagvan Das had a business partnership.

The commission says an inquiry is also required why the CBCID under the supervision of Singla failed or even refused to investigate into the involvement of other forces behind the massacre and the larger conspiracy. The commission says Singla, who refused to give any direction to the CBCID team to investigate the matter, had proclaimed that the investigation did not reveal the involvement of other forces in the incident.

The Justice Thomas P. Joseph Commission of Inquiry, appointed on August 23, 2003 (soon after the CBCID completed its inquiry and filed charge-sheets against 115 people involved in Marad II) submitted its report on February 20, 2006 to the UDF government. But, perhaps because of the remarks against it, and importantly against the Muslim League, a prominent constituent of the government, the UDF administration did not table the report in the Assembly, especially as Assembly elections were only a few months away.

The new Left Democratic Front (LDF) government submitted the report on September 27 in the Assembly along with a note on the action taken on it and announced that, among other things, it had requested the Centre to conduct a CBI inquiry as suggested by the commission.

The terms of reference of the CBI inquiry were yet to be formulated at the time of writing this report but the trial of those charge-sheeted by the CBCID in the case is nearing completion in a special court, with the judgment expected by January 2007.

Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said that the government will ask the CBI to conduct the inquiry "in a manner that does not affect the ongoing trial". But, given the commission's findings, the new inquiry is unlikely to find the UDF in a favourable light. The counter demand for inclusion of the facts and circumstances of the 2002 incident in the terms of reference of the CBI inquiry is meant to rattle the ruling CPI(M).

The political chess-game over Marad has indeed reached a crucial juncture.

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