The night train from Delhi chugged into Dhanbad station on a grey winter morning. It was December 20, 1995 and I was on my way to Purulia. The road from Dhanbad to Purulia wasn’t exactly a tired traveller’s delight, but the soothing sight of rural east India was partial compensation for the bone-rattling ride in a battered Ambassador car.
On the night of December 17, an aircraft had flown low over Purulia and dropped hundreds of Kalashnikov (AK-47) rifles and millions of rounds of ammunition on fields spread across at least four villages, each a short distance from the local headquarters of Ananda Marga. Villagers who spotted the arms the next morning rushed to inform the police; not all of it could be recovered. Newspapers reported the bizarre arms drop on December 19. And here I was trekking along narrow pathways to try and figure out what exactly had happened.
Understandably not many people were willing to speak. At a chai shop where some young men were huddled over that morning’s paper, I casually inquired who could have been the intended beneficiaries of the weapons that had rained from the sky. They looked at each other and then one of them asked me to go ask that question to the Ananda Margis. End of conversation. The chaiwallah was kind enough to provide me with directions to their headquarters.
I had expected a humble pucca house amid the thatched huts. It turned out to be a sprawling campus with several large buildings surrounded by a high boundary wall topped by concertina coil fencing to keep intruders out. I was guided to a monk, the designated ‘spokesman’, who answered my questions patiently. Yes, he had heard about the arms drop and later read about it in newspapers. No, the Ananda Margis had no clue where the arms had come from or for whom. Of course they were as surprised as anybody else. It was a plot to defame the Margis, a conspiracy hatched by the Marxists who had brutally killed 16 monks and a nun of the sect in 1982. Would I like to stay for lunch? I declined the invitation and set out for Purulia town.
The District Magistrate, who obviously never anticipated something like this ever happening on his watch, was dishevelled, disoriented and distraught. I left his office asking myself whether blabbering incoherently was part of the training course for freshly recruited civil servants. It has its advantages — nothing that is said, inadvertently or otherwise, can be held against a bureaucrat caught in a stressful situation and clearly incapable of dealing with it. I returned to Delhi four days later, none the wiser about who had sent the arms, who were they meant for and for what purpose.
Meanwhile, a Latvian Antonov AN-26 aircraft landed at Mumbai airport under mysterious circumstances a few days later. Some reports said it had stealthily entered Indian airspace and was intercepted by IAF planes which escorted it to Mumbai airport; others said it misread ATC chatter and landed without intending to do so. A search of the plane and interrogation of the crew, comprising five Latvians and a British citizen, revealed that it had been used for the Purulia arms drop.
The British citizen, Peter Bleach, a Special Air Service operative-turned-arms dealer, was to later claim that it was a “joint MI5-R&AW operation” aimed at destabilising and dislodging the Marxist government in West Bengal. Nobody bought that story. In her book Spies, Lies and Whistleblowers, Annie Machon, a former MI5 operative, says Bleach was a MI6 agent. That remains uncomfirmed till date. But the British government was desperate to get Bleach out of India and succeeded in securing a presidential pardon for him in 2004.
All this becomes incidental to the story that finally emerged. A Dane called Niels Hock alias Niels Christian Nielsen alias Kim Peter Davy who had been involved with charities in India between 1982 and 1995 and is believed to have become a member of Ananda Marga had organised the arms drop — apparently the weapons were meant for the Ananda Margis to fight back the Marxists. India framed terror charges against him and moved for his deportation from Denmark; Davy secured the protection of a lower court; the High Court later ruled in his favour and the Danish government refused to pursue it any further, citing laughable reasons like Indian jails are over-crowded and India does not guarantee the human rights of terror suspects.
On Thursday the government decided, and rightly so, to downgrade India’s diplomatic relations with Denmark. That should serve to send out two messages to the sanctimonious West: First, it can’t pontificate on the need to combat organised crime and yet provide sanctuary to wanted criminals; second, it can’t get away with being cussed. The decision also serves as a not-so-subtle message for Portugal which wants Abu Salem back in its protective embrace.
It’s good to see the UPA Government grow a spine. Now that it has bared its fangs, how about doing unto Pakistan what we have just done unto Denmark? Surely the terrorists wanted for horrendous crimes in India and protected by Pakistan are no less dangerous than a loony Dane? Or is the government telling us far less than what we should know about ‘Kim Davy’ and his mission?
The writer is a journalist, political analyst & activist