Fighting phantoms: The story of Madhya Pradesh Anti-Terrorist Squad

Unheard & Unspoken: Terror stories from Madhya Pradesh: Part 10

By Kashif-ul-Huda,

For a state that has not seen any terror incident, Madhya Pradesh has a very active Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS). According to a State Government release, ATS was to have strength of 188 personnel, consisting of 3 Superintendents of Police (SPs), 9 DSPs, 13 Inspectors, 36 Sub-Inspectors, 54 Head Constables, 11 Stenos (journalists?), and 62 Constables for an annual budget of 3.5 crores.

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South Asian Terrorism Portal which tracks terrorism-related incidents all over South Asia has only one incident out of 47 listed for MP that can be qualified as terrorism.

2009 November 28: A motorcycle-borne youth suspected to be a SIMI cadre shot dead three persons, including one ATS personnel, in the Teen Pulia area of Khandwa District of Madhya Pradesh. The assailant first shot at ATS constable Sitaram Batham in the Teen Pulia area, city SP S. K. Nashine said.

In 2009, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan proudly declared that there has been no major terrorist incident in his state. But why then his state spends crores of rupees fighting phantoms?

ATS in the state was formed in August 2008, within a month of Bangalore and Ahmadabad bomb blasts of that year. The press release informed us that ATS exists in Punjab, Delhi, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh – all states with a history of terrorist attacks.
In the 2009 Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security, Shivraj Singh Chouhan boldly announced that his ATS has arrested members of a faction of SIMI that used to do terrorist activities in different parts of India. And as he put it they “broke the back of this extremist organization.” It is a different matter that his ATS continue to show arrested Muslim youth as members of SIMI and occasionally as Indian Mujahideen “militants.”

Madhya Pradesh Hindi media is all too willing to lend a helping hand to the ATS.

As we have seen in this series, youths who were already charged for some smaller incidents years before becomes an easy target for the ATS. It is difficult to imagine that people who are already under police surveillance and in some cases attending courts for their ongoing cases will be able to do any terror activities. And if they have been indeed involved in terrorism where are the officers whose mission was to keep an eye on them? The reality is that these youths are easy targets since some of them have a SIMI history (they were members when SIMI was a legal entity), with more than eager media, and less than slow movement of cases in judiciary, this is a win-win situation for everyone except of course those arrested youth and their families.

ATS posting comes with a 60% increase in the salary known as the “Risk Allowance.” Since its formation three years ago, MP ATS has lost two constables. In 2009, Sitaram Bantham was assassinated by a motorcycle-borne youth who fired from a revolver. On June 3, 2011 Constable Shivpratap Singh was killed by Zakir Hussain who fired shots from a country-made pistol killing Singh and injuring two others. The weapons of choice and modus operandi do not suggest work of a terrorist organization. But these little details will not distract media and the state government for the larger task at hand.

State Intelligence branch was to be strengthened with 331 new positions to be created in the next 5 years, announced Chouhan in 2009. The state has also established an Emergency Response Mechanism to deal with terrorist incidents. Fifty NSG-trained police officers are stationed at Bhopal as part of Couter-Terrorist Group(CTG) and there were plans to have similar CTGs in 5five other cities of the state.

Of course, you can’t pull it off all this without taking the public along with you. Media is always eager to lend an extra hand in scaring the population and selling more advertising. Government has also launched a special program to target students and make them aware of the danger of non-existent terrorism in the state. “Janmabhoomi Rakshya Abhiyan” was launched in 2009 for “a campaign against terror which seeks to inculcate students with nationalistic feelings, and arm them with practical knowledge to do their bit during a terror attack.”

In the year 2010 state legislature passed “The Madhya Pradesh Terrorism and Disruptive Activities and Control of Organised Crimes Bill, 2010” which has “strict provisions for those harbouring terrorists and providing financial assistance. The legislation insists that government officials, departments, banks and firms are bound to comply if the investigation officer seeks information from them in a prescribed manner,” reported The Indian Express.

During the debate of the bill Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said, “Terrorists are neither Hindus nor Muslims. They are not even human beings.” There you have it, state brands some people as terrorists denying them their rights as human beings and media, civil society, and judiciary are either mute spectators or complicit in this act of oppression.

The constant harassment and witch-hunt has resulted in anger and alienation of Muslims and if some of them do end up choosing violence as their response then MP ATS will finally succeed in justifying their existence.