Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hostage crisis is Nitish's biggest litmus test

 In a cruel twist of fate it was the body of Lokus Tete, an assistant sub-inspector with the Bihar Military Police, that was found in a pool of blood on Friday. For three other families, the harrowing wait continues.

Naxals shot Tete after holding him in captivity for five days. Contrary to the reports that appeared on Wednesday, it was not inspector Abhay Yadav who was killed.

But the letter found on Tete's body laid all doubts to rest. His killers repeated their warning: "Pay heed to us or the other kidnapped cops will also meet the same fate."

So what will Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar do now? Time is of essence to the CM, who ironically is hailed as a god in the tribal-dominated areas of Jamui. As a first step, he has called for an all-party meeting. But questions are already being raised about his approach so far.

Why did it take five days and the murder of a cop for the state government to show urgency in dealing with the situation? What were the circumstances which led to the killing of seven cops and kidnapping of four on Sunday? Has any communication been established at all between the kidnappers and the government?

The trouble for Nitish is that he still doesn't know the identity of those he is dealing with. Rather strangely, the jails of Bihar have top Naxal leaders. The kidnappers are asking for the release of ordinary Maoistcadre. It's a dilemma which Nitish must resolve soon.

Lalu Prasad said: "Nitish shouldn't have spoken the way he did."

Human rights activists are now asking the Maoists not to harm any of the cops. With each killing of a policeman in captivity, sympathy for the Naxals' cause is bound to deteriorate.

Swami Agnivesh, a social activist, said: "With folded hands I request them not to harm anyone and release these people."

There is still a big question mark on the safety of the other three cops. For a chief minister who made a mark for himself by becoming the face of development, the present crisis is his biggest litmus test.