Punjab Nabha jailbreak: Higher vigilance needed ahead of assembly polls

The jailbreak in the high-security Nabha jail in Punjab in which dreaded Khalistan terrorist Harminder Singh Mintoo and five others escaped, and the subsequent arrest from Delhi of Mintoo point to serious jail lapses on the one hand and the fine subsequent coordination between the Punjab and Delhi police. While the escape needs to be investigated thoroughly and responsibility fixed on those who were guilty of dereliction of duty or wilful connivance, those involved in the arrest need to be duly rewarded.

That the arrests were effected within 24 hours of the escape are an index that if the police is determined, it can crack the most difficult of cases. That the alleged mastermind of the jailbreak, Palwinder Singh Pinda, was arrested in Uttar Pradesh earlier shows that for a change the police forces across Punjab, UP, Haryana and Delhi were alert this time around. The re-arrest of Mintoo punctures the credibility of the Congress claim in Punjab that the Parkash Singh Badal government was hand-in-glove with the terrorist and of the other criminals.

The circumstances in which the jail escape occurred hinted at the collusion of some jail staff posted inside the jail as it invariably happens. Not a single person was injured or killed in the jailbreak in which as many as 10 men in four vehicles engineered the operation over a 10-minute period. The men who came in the vehicles were dressed in police uniforms and pretended to be bringing back two terrorists with handcuffs from a court hearing.

Reports say the six escapees were waiting at the inner gate and were whisked away in the vehicles. Only an impartial inquiry can unravel the lapses in the security and the apparent ease with which Mintoo was able to escape to Delhi. The police force in the four alerted states has a job on its hands in nabbing the other five escapees including terrorist Kashmir Singh.

While Punjab government leaders have been blaming Pakistan for hatching the escape of Mintoo, there is no evidence to suggest that. Also, had that been so, there would have been an elaborate bid to ensure the escape of Mintoo to Pakistan across the border. The Congress has been claiming a nexus between the Akalis in the Punjab government and terrorist Mintoo but even that is not borne out by the quick re-arrest of Mintoo.

While there is cause for satisfaction that the spectre of revival of the Khalistan movement is not borne out, there is nevertheless cause to maintain the highest level of vigil, especially as the police will inevitably be diverted substantially to the protection of VIPs in the run-up to the Assembly polls.

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