The CPI(M)-led Left Front government in Kerala is caught in a cleft. It has delayed arresting firebrand cleric Abdul Nassar Madani (45), accused in the 2008 Bangalore serial blasts, in spite of having distanced itself from him a year ago.
The reasons are political, and, ironically for the avowedly atheistic Marxists, communal.
The Kerala government is wary of handing over the Muslim cleric to the BJP-ruled Karnataka. It is worried that arresting him will drive minority voters into the arms of the Congress-led United Democratic Front in the coming local body polls and the assembly elections due next year. The UDF had trounced it in the Lok Sabha elections in the state last year.
The Left Front is only too aware of what happened in 1998. Two months after the Coimbatore blasts, which killed 46 persons on February 14, 1998, the then LDF government led by E K Nayanar arrested Madani and handed him over to the Tamil Nadu police.
In the assembly poll held after two years, the UDF, which made this a big poll issue, swept the elections. Many senior Left leaders are citing this example while pushing their go-easy-on-Madani line.
Madani was named an accused in the 2008 Bangalore blasts case after arrested LeT suspect T Nazeer reportedly told the Bangalore Police that he (Madani) knew about the plan to bomb the IT capital.
The Karnataka High Court has turned down his plea for bail. A police team from Karnataka has been camping in Kollam (a town 65 km north of Thiruvananthapuram) for the last six days to arrest Madani, an old ally of the Left.
The CPI(M) had aligned with Madani's People's Democratic Party for the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and supported his candidate in the northern Ponnani constituency. That alliance is now off, but the parties maintain friendly ties.
"The entire nation is watching the drama. It clearly shows that the CPI(M) can stoop to any level for a few votes," Congress legislator Aryadan Mohamed MLA said, criticising the weeklong drama staged outside Madani's orphanage.
"It is a plot enacted by (Kerala) Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan that has brought much shame to the state," Janata Dal (Secular) leader M P Veerendra Kumar added.
CPM leaders reiterated that the state police have made all arrangements to facilitate the arrest.
But Madani still remains a free man.