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Published in the 16-30 June 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Delhi cinema blasts — who dunnit?

Inconsistent, mutually contradictory police claims stretch credibility as media goes on publishing and telecasting uncritical reports says M Zeyaul Haque

The Milli Gazette Online 

Like all other crime stories this one, too, is a little convoluted. Police "investigations" and consequent claims of having "solved" the case only make things murkier. The media as usual go on parroting the police claims uncritically without thinking for a moment what they are printing or telecasting today nullifies what they wrote or said yesterday.

The story is something like this. On May 21, there were powerful blasts in two cinema halls of Delhi in which one person was killed and several others were seriously injured. The two halls––Liberty and Satyam Cineplex––were running the controversial film Jo Bole So Nihal. The apex Sikh organisation Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee had earlier objected to this film on religious grounds, forcing cinema halls to refrain from showing it.

When the blasts came the first reaction was that it must be the handiwork of some “Punjab” extremists who were unhappy to see the SGPC’s requests being ignored. SGPC’s mature and responsible leadership took no time to condemn the incident and dissociate itself from the foolish and criminal act. That SPGC was against the cheap gimmickry of the film-maker did not mean that Sikhs would endorse the criminal act.

Within the next two days the police claimed to have "solved" the case. Police commissioner K K Paul announced that there was "no connection between the film and the blasts". The police said it was the handiwork of Kashmir-based militants of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). The media faithfully reported it.
The police even managed to “nab” someone called Mohammad Ishaq Ittoo, and claimed to have recovered 5.5 kg of powerful explosives (RDX) and a couple of detonators. They also recovered Rs 2.5 lakh from him. DCP Ashok Chand of the Special Cell said they had caught the man "near Safdarjung Hospital bus stand".

Ashok Chand explained that LeT was no longer "looking at a big bang like the Parliament or the Red Fort attacks, but planning smaller blasts meant at creating panic". Now people had a fairly good idea about who the culprits were: LeT militants out to create panic.

However, Joint Commissioner of Police (Special Cell) Karnal Singh made an entirely different statement a day later. Singh, who is investigating the case, said Mohammad Ittoo had nothing whatsoever to do with the blasts. Again the media carried this version blandly without anyone asking any probing questions. If that was the case then what was the point of the police commissioner’s and his deputy’s claims about LeT made only a day earlier?

From this point onwards the references to LeT began to taper off, and completely vanished from police accounts by early June. Gone were claims and "explanations" about LeT. Now Babbar Khalsa came into focus as the real culprit.

On May 31, the Delhi Police claimed to have "solved" the case once again with the arrest of two alleged Babbar Khalsa militants, Jagannath and Balwinder Singh. Jagannath was arrested in Delhi while Balwinder was caught in Pubjab. Balwinder’s mastermind was said to be staying in Germany. At this point the police not only distanced itself from the earlier claim about LeT, but also admitted the film "Jo Bole So Nihal could have been one of the factors".

Police Commissioner Paul said Jagannath and Balwinder, along with Jaspal Singh and Vikas, had planted the bombs in the two cinema halls. The last two were reported "absconding". On June 5, a joint team of Delhi and Punjab Police arrested two alleged Babbar Khalsa militants, Bahadur Singh and Gurdip Singh, in this connection. Three more were arrested on June 8.

Newspapers also mentioned the usual suspects––ISI and Dawood Ibrahim––as being in some way connected to the blasts. At the end of the day it was police credibility that was dented. The media, too, did not fare any better as none of them even hinted at the contrarian nature of the police claims. 

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