Rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa travels to Bhatkal on Karnataka's west coast to investigate how a quaint town turned into a hotspot. Bhatkal has been in the news since the Indian security agencies zeroed in on terror links to this town.
Even as Muslims continue to cry foul in Bhatkal, police and intelligence agencies maintain that the Inter Services Intelligence has a very large presence in the town.
While Bhatkal's Muslims allege that it is part of a larger conspiracy to tarnish the town's image, the Intelligence Bureau says the ISI had handpicked this place a two decades ago as it found that it could very easily rake up communal feelings there.
IB sources believe the ISI first made its appearance in Bhatkal in the early 1990s. IB reports and the deposition of high ranking officials before the various commissions that have looked into the violence in Bhatkal suggest that it was gangster-turned-terrorist Dawood Ibrahim who helped the ISI set up a presence there.
Local police officials in Bhatkal say the situation had gone completely out of hand with regard to the ISI's presence in the place. They had been carrying out activities in Bhatkal to flare up communal tension which in turn helped them recruit cadres for terror groups. A majority of the police force say that law and order can get out of hand at times, while some feel it should be declared as a trouble-prone, communally hypersensitive area as recommended by the Justice Shetty commission.
The police say several persons have gone missing in the past couple of years and they believe that they may have crossed into Pakistan. However, the police say the 10-15 persons going missing is not their biggest concern. What worries them is the change in mindsets.
However, such talk angers the Muslims. "This is a deliberate attempt to tarnish the image of our community," says Yahya Damoodi, executive member of the Majlise-Islah Wa Tanzeem, Bhatkal, a charitable organisation that represents the community. "Young educated Muslim boys are being targeted by the police and intelligence officials, who accuse them of being terrorists and ISI agents in India."
"They are being denied passports and those settled abroad are harassed by the immigration and customs officials when they visit India. The name Bhatkal on the passport is a ticket to extortion by officials," he adds.
Members of several Hindu groups, who have a strong presence in the town counter: "We were not shooting in the dark when we spoke of ISI presence. The IB too has confirmed this and there has been a very big ISI programme which changed the mindset of some persons from Bhatkal."