The chief of the state police Nirbhaya was surprised to find two of his deputies drinking tea in the sitting room of his residence. They had been waiting for him during such early hours of the morning. He had gone for a morning jog to the police grounds. It was his routine activity from the days when he underwent the police training at the police academy to go for the morning run. This habit of the chief of the state police Nirbhaya was well known amongst all people working in police circles all over the state. They knew that the chief could be contacted at the police grounds in the morning. It would so happen that many of the young police officers would deliberately come in their tracksuits and joggers to run with him in the morning. The chief was always amused knowing that the person is there to ask for a favor of him. He also however knew that within a few days of running his request will be granted. The gentleman thereafter will obviously get busy either with his new routine; or the interest in jogging will wane away within a month or so. Yet the chief welcomed such attempts from his juniors; as it gave him a chance to know them intimately in an informal atmosphere. It encouraged free and frank communication too.
It was obvious these two gentlemen officers were not there to ask for some kind of favor nor had he asked them to come to his residence such an early morning. He could feel there has been a major fiasco somewhere. Both the deputies stood up simultaneously and saluted him in the true regimental style. He saw that Dammi his wife had already served them tea and snacks. He told the servant to get him a glass of fresh lime and water. He mopped his face and hands with the towel handed over to him by servant and looked skeptically at the two officers of his police force.
Meena spoke first “We have had a massacre of bus passengers early in the morning. The bus passengers were shot at point blank range near Baikunthpur. The details are still coming in but I spoke to the Superintendent of Police and the Station In charge, who have reached the spot already. The first bus that had originated from Baikunthpur in the early hours of the morning was hijacked to the dense forest. Some of the passengers were obviously let off by the marauders. They were able to reach the near by forest check post and that is where there they were able to give first information on telephone about the killings of bus passengers to the nearest police station”.
The Chief of the state police though was disturbed for a while, had composed him self, “is it possible that this could be a revenge of a personal feud? It is common in that part of the state to avenge and settle the personal scores. Have you sounded the border posts of the district? He shot so many questions all at once, “ has someone been able to point out the killers’ identity?” realizing his own anxiety in the matter he cut his questioning short and issued fresh directions, “ I want to speak to the district Superintendent of police immediately and if possible ; the police Station In Charge too should be present with him. I want you to issue my orders to seal all roads going out of state. You should instruct security forces to remain absolutely on the alert on the border roads leading to the neighboring country. The killers will try moving out.
How far is this place where murders have been committed? We shall personally visit this place. I shall see the Chief Minister for a while, on my way. He must be informed of this before the members of the press report it. You must censor all outward press notes from the department. No comments will be made by any of our officers till we actually find out motive behind such ghastly killings. Is that clear?” He wanted confirmation from his deputies in affirmation.
Meena looked imploringly at his colleague Tanwar as if expecting him to speak up. The chief of the state police Nirbhaya had hand picked these officers from the best of the lot. Their commitment to duty and loyalty to the force was unflinching and unquestionable. DIG Tanwar was obviously disturbed by whatever he wanted to present to his chief. He also wanted a go ahead from his boss. “Come Tanwar can we have your report now”? “Boss I am distressed by this report from the shrine areas. The great priest Rajamantran has called a meeting of the village populace from the nearby vicinity. We have information that he is on the rebelliousness. We have been keeping an eye on him and his boys, so far we have not been able to nab him. But this meeting that he has called for with his followers can prove to be the crucial one. Our detectives are deployed at the shrine. Some of our sleuths have also been able to infiltrate his ranks. His proximity however to the erstwhile chief minister has prevented us from picking him up or any of his boys. Now that the protection accorded to him by his mentor is no more available to him, since the erstwhile chief minister is gone out of our state, we want to hold him up for questioning”.
“I am sure Tanwar you will have to have a solid reason to do so. You are well aware of his immense following. There can be bloodshed in the villages. Let us not do anything in a hurry. Keep your ears to the ground. Get a report on every single word uttered by him in meeting. I am sure soon he will give you the opportunity”. The Chief of the state police got up “Gentlemen if you do not mind, I need half an hour and then we will move to the place of the incident. In the interim please ring up residence of the chief minister and ensure that no news reaches him until I have met him. Tanwar I believe that your rapport with the personal staff of the chief minister should come handy. You can of course inform them that I shall see him on the way out”.
The Telephone call made by Tanwar to the residence of the chief minister came a little too late, a journalist from the town of Baikunthpur had already been in touch with the chief minister. “We are trying to locate the Police Chief. The meeting with the Home Minster and the Home secretary is already in progress’’; he was informed from the residence, “They want him in the meeting immediately”.
The chief of the state police Nirbhaya found the rush of the morning office goers’ was delaying the movement of his entourage. The traffic was getting onto his nerves. He did not want to declare his urgency to General public, but was helpless today.” You can play the hooter’ he told his driver. The wailing sound of the siren cleared the way in no time. He made it to the chief Minister’s house in less than three minutes.
He found the meeting in progress at the ground floor convention room. The state minister for home affairs looked up at him, “You are behaving in the typical police style. You are turning up at spot after all criminals have fled. The Intelligence wing of your outfit should have known what was coming in advance”. He thought it prudent to ignore the remarks of the politician and saluted the Chief Minister. Pratap looked pail and pained. Possibly he could sense what was in the offing in future times for the people of the state he was heading. “I believe you must have been to your regular morning jog. The news had already come in direct from Baikunthpur. We want to visit the place and possibly meet some of the people who were lucky to be let off”.
“I do not think the time is right for you to visit the place. I am going there along with my deputy inspectors’ generals of police. The Station In charge and the district Superintendent of Police of Baikunthpur have already been there on the spot. The extra force has also been dispatched. The anger of the public can build up any moment and we do not want to jeopardize your personal security. It appears to be the handiwork of sheer madness. Some group sooner or later will speak out if it is intended otherwise. You will get the report by the afternoon positively. In the meanwhile I will request you to holdback all statements to the press, till we find out the reason or the motive behind the killings. It can be due to personal vendetta too”. The chief of the state police wanted to tell him, “probably the guns brought in by others were being used for the purpose”, and however he could not have said anything in presence of other functionaries sitting in the meeting.
It took him three hours to reach the place of killings. The farmers carrying their produce of sugarcane to the mill in tractors, and bullock driven carts had been blocking the rood to one side and even the blaring siren of the police vehicle failed to get the necessary speed on the road.
The corpse of the bus driver was found a few miles ahead of the other dead bodies. The policeman guarding the dead body saluted the pageant of the chief. A sub inspector of his department came forward to escort him from the car.
He noticed that gun bullets had hit the rear side of the driver’s head and came out from the front of the face. It was quite a macabre sight to see a dead man lying like this. The dog squad and the finger print experts were doing their job. Tanwar checked up with the sub inspector “has any one passing by had seen what happened at the site or inside the bus”. “Nothing has been traced so far but we are searching through the forest and not an inch will be spared. I am sure the killers will still be hiding in the woods”.
“That does not seem plausible to me, looking at the traffic plying on the road”, DIG Tanwar pointed out towards the main road on which long queues of trucks and tractors were still plying on a snail’s pace. “By now they must have crossed even the state boundary”.
The traffic movement was getting hampered when the drivers of the vehicles were slowing down to look at what was happening. The chief of the state police Nirbhaya directed the police inspector to speed up. He advised them to remove the corpse of the dead driver of the bus from road to ease out traffic. He saw two constables searching vehicles on both sides of road and he pointed to Tanwar, ‘Stop that nonsense, the killers will not be sitting in there waiting for our guys to come and grab them. Let the traffic flow normally and we must move”. DIG TANWAR addressed the cops on duty, “Find out from the road side eateries, tea stalls and other nick knack shops if they noticed any suspicious movement or strange people. You will submit your report to the station in charge”.
The scene at the place of the mass killings was too grave. There were Women wailing. Children had also been crying. When the people found the senior police officers coming towards them, a few of the women from amongst them started running towards the car of the police chief, “We have lost everything. Look how they killed our men, husbands and sons. Why did they not take us with them? You can finish the rest of us. Please kill all of us now”. One of the old women had caught both his hands. DIG Tanwar and Superintendent of Police Sunny detached her from there and told the constables to console her and take her away.
The chief of the state police Nirbhaya folded his hands towards the grieving women, “We shall soon catch the criminals who have committed this heinous crime. I assure you justice will be met. We will not spare any one of the criminals. They can not get away from the law”. He moved towards the dead bodies. The bullets had pierced all the bodies like the sieves. He could make out the automatic weapons used for killings. The Deputy Commissioner of the area came forward to meet him, “Sir! The Chief Minister has announced the ex gratis payment of rupees one hundred thousand each to the family of the victims, if you deem fit we can announce that here and now”.
“The atmosphere is too charged right now. I do not think now is the right time to do it. People may react violently to any half hearted attempt to cover up the let up on the part of government agencies. However please you and your colleagues must take care of the women and children. Some how take them away from this place so that the investigation team can work without interruption. You must cordon off the area”.
The Deputy Commissioner made the announcement on the mike requesting the crowd to move away so that the police could do their job.
A team of press correspondents had reached the spot. They were questioning the chief of the state police Nirbhaya “Sir Do you believe this is job of communal forces. Is our state falling pray to their ghastly plans?” He looked at the lady journalist who had raised the question.
“I mean people from a specific community have been victimized”.
Another press representative, “Who will you attribute this to? There has been no looting”. He controlled his irritation” We are in no position to answer any of the queries. As you are aware we have just reached the scene. We are investigating. Hopefully we will not spare any one behind this dastardly act. Whosoever is behind these killings is definitely an enemy of mankind. It is the most brutal offence against humanity”.
A lady scribe asked “there have been reports of armed bandits’ crossing over from across the border. Could this be the handiwork of our neighboring country; to disturb the peace?”
‘Any thing is possible,” the Chief of the state police Nirbhaya replied “now if you will allow us to do our job”.
He moved forward leaving the group of the journalists, behind, to speak to the bus conductor who was totally incoherent and shivering with fear. The chief told the police doctor “You need to examine this man first. I do not find him capable of answering any of my queries in this condition. How many people were there in the bus?’ He asked the man to test the almost swooning bus conductor. Instead of answering his queries, the bus conductor had fallen on his feet, “I have not done any thing sir! They had guns. They were four of them. They shot. They could have shot all of us. Look I do not have any weapon”, he brought forward his bag for inspection by the police officer.
“I suggest you take this man and the swooning ladies to the hospital. You can arrange a bus for transporting dead bodies. You can get their post mortem also conducted. The earlier you manage to remove the bodies from here, the better it will be for public peace”. He looked away from the dead bodies. It was quite a grisly and poignant scene to look at all those dead ones staring back at you through their blank eyes. All of them were shot at from such a close range that their faces had been completely disfigured. The forensic experts will be required to establish their identity. He had expected such a heinous act but not so soon. He had forewarned the chief minister about the possibility of such a desperate action from the harbingers of death on some of the administrative representatives. It was beyond his imagination that they would be firing their guns on the common travelers. Even chief minister Pratap could not anticipate guns being brought in will be aimed against innocent citizens of state. The chief of the state police Nirbhaya knew that whosoever was behind it, he fully well understands it is well neigh impossible for any level of state intelligence to prevent attacks on softer targets.
That reminded him how desperately chief minister Pratap will be waiting for a call and a detailed report from this end.
The wireless connection was established in no time, through the network of forest department. Pratap sounded quite firm and in complete control of himself, “Has there been any agitation from the common people”.
“No sir, not so far because the killings took place very far away from the main town. There is no any habitation around. We do however expect strong adverse reaction at the time of cremation of the dead bodies. We will have to tackle any such retort with firmness. Yet we will have to respond to the public outcry very sympathetically. Though the passengers who have been killed belong to only one community we do not foresee any kind of communal backlash. It is simply not expected in this part of the state. Some one is trying to wedge the divide. The killers will be nabbed soon is all I can tell you at this moment”.
“You better do that”, the chief minister Pratap advised him. “You will have to come back immediately I have called the meeting of the crisis management group to discuss the security plans for the entire state. Your presence will be necessary at this meeting”.
The chief of the state police Nirbhaya nodded on the wireless speaker set and confirmed he will be starting back soon. He asked Tanwar to stay back for the handing over the dead bodies to the next of the kin and arrange for the funeral as early as possible.
“You may call for the extra force if needed,” he had told him. “Thank God the electronic media is still controlled by the government. The news will be released as and the way they want it to”.
His journey while returning to the capital town was absolutely back breaking. He saw people already out on the streets in Baikunthpur town. They were raising slogans against the government headed by Pratap. Some one was preparing a massive showdown. He thought of imposing section 144 immediately, but decided otherwise. “Sometimes it is better the emotions of the masses are allowed to flow freely, containing them can prove explosive like the bottle of aerated water. It can cause more damage”.
He spoke to his wife Dammi, “I am on my way to the secretariat. I will not be back till late night. You can finish your supper and go to sleep”.
“On the contrary I suggest that you come home, freshen up for a while and then you can go to the meeting” his wife had pleaded, “Do not forget your juniors and subordinates too need rest for a while. You have been through the tremendous strain since morning. A wash otherwise will also be essential. You must have been amongst the dead bodies all through the day”.
“These women will never change “; he told DIG Meena who was travelling with him in his car.
“In our profession handling of a corpse is like a doctor touching and dissecting one for investigation. It does not leave any ghost with us. Yet she feels we need a wash. I feel it is a ridiculous idea. I suggest you can also take rest for a while before getting back to work. I want you to find out if any major land dispute had resulted into mass killings earlier. Even though I am sure the community killings are no way connected to the land disputes. You can ask your boys to verify the records of the police stations in the nearby villages too. Tanwar’s men must be back from the shrine. If you two can piece together today’s happenings at the shrine please have a report sent to me,” The chief of the state police tipped the driver of his car on the shoulder and directed him to stop the car.
He told Meena “you can move back to your vehicle. It is not necessary that you come with me till my residence to see me off. The escort will take care”.
“Right boss”, Meena saluted him and moved over to the jeep coming behind the car of the police chief. His car took the right turn towards the residence. He saw Meena’s jeep whizzing down the road going straight.
The crisis management team was gathered at the office of the chief minister. It consisted of the state minister of home affairs, the home secretary, the chief secretary, and the secretary administration along with the secretary law department. A strong sense of resentment could be read on the faces of all the bureaucrats gathered there as they have been called for the meeting at a short notice. Some of them had to change their plans for the rendezvous elsewhere for the evening.
The chief secretary addressing state Minister of home affairs had remarked, “It appears to be a pure and simple case of some kind of personal vendetta. There has been no looting of the passengers. Why will someone kill so many innocents unless he is insane or blind with a personal revenge’?
The half agreeing with his statement added “it appears to me a failure on the part of our police administration. We will have to tighten the vigilance for any such madness as a repercussion of these killings. I believe the other party can definitely retaliate”.
Chief Minister Pratap who watched the reaction of his cabinet colleague had to intervene. He said, “We do not know which other party you are referring to. It is certainly not the case of personal vendetta. The hidden agenda behind these killings should be visible by now to all of you. All of those who boarded the bus had their full trust and confidence in law and administrative machinery of the state. All of them who got killed did not belong to one family or one village but to one particular community. The killers whosoever they are want to ‘A’ Create the sense of fear amongst the common people. ‘B’ they want to sow the seeds of communal discord between two communities by hitting at one and letting go the members of the other community. you have all the liberty to correct me if I am wrong,” he looked up at the chief of the state police enquiringly, “ In fact I have been wanting to discuss with all of you all the recent events that have taken place in the border zones of the state. There has been sudden spurt in the Trans border crossings. The inflow of the illegal arms into our state has suddenly been stepped up and so have been the distribution of drugs around the villages at the line of the control. We have had such evils prevailing earlier also but not to the extent that we see now. In spite of the best efforts and round the clock vigilance by the security forces at the frontiers our neighbors have been able to push in the insurgents. The training camps of the terrorists can be seen just across the line of control. We have information that our young men in large numbers have moved across to get trained in the subversive activities in these camps. These boys are not from the eastern part of the country where unrest has been going on for long. But these boys are from our very own state. The profession of mercenaries has never been part of our society so it is wrong to assume that these are mercenary camps. We do not see any other war around in this neighborhood. We are apprehensive that these guns are being trained for use against us. The enemies of peace are not happy with the progress our state has witnessed. They want to erect the barriers of destruction in the path of our growth. The common general public must be scared out of their wits to be deprived of the enjoyment of fruits the new dawn brought about by our winning the elections. Our enemies want to take them back to the darkness of the medieval times and the dirty politics of the earlier party. That is the sole purpose behind the murders of ordinary people. Though some of the people present here may not agree to what I am saying (His oblique reference hinted at the bureaucrats) who still owed their allegiance to their earlier masters. They should not forget that we all remain in our jobs only if peace survives. If need be I am willing to step down from the chair of the chief minister. But the mandate given by the people is stronger than my thinking or the wishes of our enemies. My government has firmly decided to deal with this menace with a strong hand .we will not permit any communal backlash. I am going to attend the funerals of the departed. We have also decided that the arrangement for all funerals will be paid for and managed by my government. I will address the public at the sight of funeral once the ceremonies are over”.
“Do you want us to impose prohibitory orders so that the agitation can be kept under control” this was the Home Secretary.
“I do not think that will be necessary,” the chief minister Pratap mentioned “We will deploy big force to prevent any untoward situation. Any kind of control at this stage will prove counter productive. People must be allowed to participate in the mourning. After this I shall be visiting the highest seat of our faith, where the Timeless will of the God prevails continuously, to pay my respects to the ALMIGHTY .He may forgive us for the sins committed by the evildoers. We shall also be praying for the souls of those killed so that their souls may rest in peace. That I believe is the least we owe to the common man. We must as governments of the state give him a sense of protection he looks forward from my office”.
The private secretary to the chief minister walked in into the room where the crisis meeting was on, “I would beg to be excused sir. I would not have disturbed your meeting. But I believe there must be an emergency”.
They both looked apprehensively at the man coming in with such an urgent message. The private secretary however addressed the Chief of the state police Nirbhaya, “It is DIG Tanwar on the other line. He must speak to you urgently”.
“You can take the call in my rest room”, the Chief Minister had told the cop.
The rest room was adjoining to the office of the chief minister. It had been converted into an absolute soundproof section by the earlier occupant. Once he went into the room no one not even the personal secretary was permitted inside the room. The scene however with the current occupant of the office was different. The new incumbent believed in a policy that was more open and trustworthy. It was apparent he did not need any private chambers to cater to his carnal or intriguing desires.
“Yes Tanwar tell me what is it? It must be urgent”? The chief of the state police Nirbhaya came straight to the point.
“It is boss! Otherwise I would not have called you from the meeting. Did you see the afternoon news papers today? It is mentioned all over the papers. The press is screaming hoarse about our man from the shrine. He has declared a war on the state. It is nothing short of sedition. He has given a call for independence and separation from the union. A videocassette of the address delivered by him to a religious congregation at the shrine has been sent through my men; who already have reached the chief minister’s office. I request you that the cassette must be viewed by you immediately. If you permit we will like to move immediately. We would like to nab him before he goes underground like the professor. I am at the collector’s office and awaiting your clearance”.
The chief cop looked at the private secretary enquiringly “There are two guys waiting in my room to meet you urgently”, he said.
‘Listen Tanwar the crisis management group meeting is on. I assure you we will view the contents forthwith. You will stall any action till we get the directives from the chief minister. I repeat all action stalled till we get the permission from the chief minister”. He heard Tanwar swearing “I told you so “on the other side. There was no time to counsel his junior. He rushed to the secretary’s room personally. The members of the Crisis Management Group looked at him bewildered, watching him rush out of the room in such a hurry. Two policemen saluted him and handed over the videocassette and the afternoon tabloids. He read the main news in a glance while moving back to the meeting. His one glance was enough to read the explosive skills exhibited by the great Priest. This time he has really crossed limits thought the police chief “I wonder if he had discussed this kind of public speech with his political mentors in the central government. If so then the centre itself must begin to disintegrate”. He was reminded of a poem of S.T. Coleridge he had read in his college “things are falling apart, the centre can not hold”. He spoke a few words into the ears of chief minister Pratap. He handed over the tape and the newspapers reports to him.