National Security Advisor Ajit Doval was in West Bengal on Monday to discuss the Burdwan blasts with the Mamata Banerjee government. Mr Doval visited the blast site, where two suspected operatives of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) were killed while making bombs on October 2. The NSA also met chief minister Mamata Banerjee to seek her government’s cooperation to tackle the terror network that the JMB has established in areas bordering Bangladesh. Mr Doval’s timely and welcome visit achieves some key purposes. First, it would help calm tempers between the central and state security machineries that had differed on interpreting the blasts as an act of terror. The state government had initially refused to transfer the case to the National Investigation Agency but yielded subsequently. The NSA’s visit helps in getting past the adversarial dynamic between New Delhi and Kolkata that marred the aftermath of the blasts. Mr Doval will have also explained the nature of the terror threat that West Bengal faces and the implications for India-Bangladesh relations if the Centre and the state government do not get their act together.
The activities and reach of the JMB make for grim reading. The bomb factory at Burdwan was operating since July and about 50 improvised explosive devices were dispatched to Dhaka and Assam prior to the blast. JMB extremists easily cross over into West Bengal and Assam for recruiting and fund-raising and have reportedly mobilised around 150 young men to carry out attacks in Bangladesh. This is one of New Delhi’s big worries. Not only can jihadi groups like the JMB severely destabilise Bengal they are also poised to wreak havoc in Bangladesh, using West Bengal as a staging post, thereby complicating New Delhi’s ties with Dhaka. The Sheikh Hasina government, which has diligently cracked down on anti-India militants over the years, is reportedly miffed at India’s inability to track down JMB operatives. As Hindustan Times reported earlier this month, Dhaka has been passing to India lists of Bangladeshi terrorists plotting against the Hasina government from Bengal, only to see New Delhi do little beyond expressing frustration over the obduracy of Ms Banerjee’s government.
Ms Banerjee must realise that there is a lot at stake. She has to differentiate her pro-minority position as a politician from her obligations on security issues as chief minister. Failure to do so will undermine her authority and polarise Bengal further. She must also realise that she is in a position to make or break India’s relations with Dhaka. That is a legacy-defining responsibility that she should be mindful of. Ms Banerjee must also pause and think about the kind of government she wants next door in the future.