The jailbreak in Punjab on Sunday was as sensational as anything that can be imagined. It almost appears to have been like a piece of theatre with a Punjabi flavour. The getaway too seemed a piece of cake. The whole thing was so surprisingly easy — and bizarre. This needs a proper explanation. Fortunately, Harminder Singh Mintoo, a leader of the Khalistan Liberation Force, the dreaded Punjab terrorist group in the days of militancy in that state in the 1980s, who was sprung from the Nabha high-security jail along with some others, was apprehended at Nizamuddin railway station in New Delhi on Monday. This is a piece of luck. He could just as easily have got away as someone like him is likely to have very good contacts and that goes a long way in this country.
In light of this, those in authority cannot take the tack that they can now breathe easy as the terrorist who escaped has been got back. There needs to be a proper, credible and independent inquiry. If such a cool adventure can be effected at Nabha high-security prison, then where should people like the KLF leader be sent back to? Since the Assembly election in Punjab is due in less than three months, suspicion does arise that giving the Khalistanis an easy ride may be part of the calculation to appease a section of the Sikh voter in the state. The Akali Dal-BJP government in Punjab led by Parkash Singh Badal had been vociferous not long ago about scrapping the death sentence of Rajona, a dreaded terrorist from the era of militancy in the state. The Akali Dal is a religious party and has not been above playing that kind of politics, although there have been times when it has been at the receiving end from the Sikh far-right.
Mr Badal’s son Sukhbir, who is the state’s deputy chief minister and holds the home portfolio, naturally has much explaining to do. The younger Badal, without a shred of even ostensible proof, has said Pakistan’s ISI was behind the escape from Nabha prison. That may well be the case. But for now this seems to be a stretch. The Pakistan angle appears a convenient deflection at this stage. What is the reason that states in which the BJP is in power seem so casual in matters relating to security? There was a major jailbreak near Bhopal recently that involved some Islamic militants, who were subsequently killed. That escape saga was also bewilderingly easy. And now Nabha. With two cases of this kind in quick succession, the Union home minister could perhaps urge state governments for reports on the conditions at central jails and high-security prisons across the country.