Sri Lankan MP’s arrest could open up a Pandora’s box in Kerala

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A. Harikumar

The South Indian state of Kerala doesn’t share borders with Sri Lanka nor is the Malayali diaspora present there in large numbers  But, the island nation arresting a member of its parliament Abdul Rishad Bathiudeen, under prevention of terrorism act in connection with the Easter Sunday Attacks in 2019, could open up a Pandora’x box in Kerala politics. This is because Bathiudeen, the founder of All Ceylon Makkal Congress, has strong roots in Kerala and the Islamist terror network, of which he is allegedly the linchpin, is deeply entrenched in Kerala too with connections to political leaders.

Rishad Bathiudeen, whose father hails from Padanna in the northernmost district of Kerala, Kasaragod, is reported to have frequented parts of the state in the past including Kasaragod, Ernakulam and Thrissur districts. An investigation into the visits, relations and alleged dubious deals of Bathiudeen and his minions and their ties with certain political parties and religious groups in Kerala and Karnataka could open a can of worms.

Charges against Bathiudeen

In Sri Lanka Bathiudeen is accused of having close ties with the bombers who carried out Easter Sunday Attacks in which around 280 people, mostly Christians, were killed. Subsequent to the attack, Sri Lankan Army commander Mahesh Senanayake had said that Bathiudeen had called him three times on behalf of some of the arrested and tried to influence him to get their release.

Kerala connection

Normally, the charges against Bathiudeen in Sri Lanka would not have made any major impact in Kerala. But the media reports that those who carried out the Easter Sunday Attacks got training in Kerala altered the perception.

After the Easter attacks Malayalam dailies had reported connections of a few natives of Kasaragod with Sri Lankan terror network. Media reports said a group of 21 people from Padanna and Thrikkaripur in Kasaragod district who left their villages as two batches in 2015 and 16 to join ISIS went to Sri Lanka initially, from where they boarded flights to the Middle East and Afghanistan to wage Jihad. In Sri Lanka, they established links with National Towheeth Jamaath, the Sri Lankan terrorist group which is accused of masterminding and carrying out the Easter attacks, the reports added.

Before their journey to Sri Lanka the group had  told their relatives and friends that they were going to Lanka for religious studies. But the villagers had the shock of their life when media reported later that their neighbours who had left villages have actually joined terrorist organisations and are waging Jihad in Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan instead of pursuing religious studies. Along with it, news about their Sri Lankan terror connection also appeared.

More surprise was in the offing; after Sri Lankan attacks, central investigation agencies of India and state police arrived in Padanna and neighbourhoods in 2019 to investigate links of those who left the villages with the attacks. In the following days, leading dailies reported raids of National Investigation Agency in several parts of North Kerala including Kasaragod, Kannur, Wayanad and Palakkad. The media reported that Zaharan Hashim, kingpin of the Towaheeth Jamaath had visited South Indian states including Kerala and had interactions with a few people here before Sri Lankan attacks.

Latest developments

The latest developments in Easter Sunday attack case including the arrest of Bathiudeen could kick up new controversies in Kerala. Political opponents of Bathiudeen’s friends could raise demand for fresh investigations into his Kerala network, ISIS presence in Padanna and Thrikkaripur, and Zaharan Hashim’s Kerala visits. If it is proved that Bathiudeen had links with preachers who recruited terrorists for ISIS from Padanna, it could spell trouble. Kerala politics will become turbulent. When Bathiudeen, as the minister of rehabilitation in Sri Lanka, arrived at his ancestral home in Padanna for the first time in around 2008, it was celebrated by the villagers and the media as the homecoming of an illustrious son who made it big in a foreign country. But that is no more the case. Any mention of Bathiudeen will stir up a hornet’s nest in Kerala politics. If investigations in Sri Lanka disclose evidence of Kerala links to Easter Sunday attacks it will be an inflection point in Kerala politics.

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