History sometimes presents uncanny parallels raising similar questions. In February 1933, on the eve of national elections in Germany, the German Parliament was set on fire. The flames over central Berlin were later described as the torch which triggered off bigger crimes. The Nazis blamed the communists for the fire and issued orders to shoot at sight and arrest without charges all anti nationals in the interest of “Security of the State and its people”. Adolph Hitler had been chancellor for just 4 weeks and his position was not quite secure. The orders which followed the fire in the Reichstag gave his followers a free hand to shoot, arrest, torture and break into houses. In the elections that followed the next month, his party secured an absolute majority.
Officially, a man from the Netherlands named Mainus van der Lubbe (24 year old, thin and half blind was how he was described) was charged with the crime of setting the Reichstag on fire. He was described by the police as an anarchist-communist. The Nazis could neither prove nor link the crime to the communists. Van Lubbe was convicted and hanged in 1934. But accusations and counter accusations between the Communists and Nazis continued about whether the man who was hanged was the real culprit, and whether he alone could have set the Reichstag on fire. The question which still hangs heavy in the air is: who benefitted from the crime?
After the end of World War II, investigations revealed that a former police officer in the security establishment named Hans Martin Lennings had given an affidavit in which he claimed that he had received orders from his superiors to arrest and take van Lubbe to the Reichstag on that fateful evening of 27th February. Lennings had said that he carried out the orders along with two other colleagues. They were told to bring van Lubbe inside the Reichstag and to “disappear from the scene as fast as possible”. He said that the smell of smoke and fire was strong in the Reichstag even when they arrived, so the question of van Lubbe having lighted the fire was untenable. Leninngs’ affidavit was rejected on the grounds that he was a psychopath and therefore his statement was not credible. The doctor who had certified that Lennings was a psychopath was a senior psychiatrist in Nazi Germany. Leninnigs was arrested (and then released) several times for reasons which could not hold. His story of 1936-37, became public through the mainstream German media in 1955, a good ten years after the end of the war and created a big commotion. But nothing changed. Leninngs died in 1962 leaving behind a silent answer for those who put the dots together, to the question: who benefitted from the Reichstag fire?
In 2019 on the eve of General elections in India, an explosion on a highway in Pulwama in Kashmir caused the death of 40 soldiers who were part of a large convoy of troops. The government pointed a finger at Pakistan for the terror strike on the convoy and followed it by a counter air attack on a terrorist training camp in Pakistan. The pitch of Nationalism was raised high and the counter attack on Pakistan was looked upon with pride as a decisive act by the government. In the elections that followed Pulwama, the ruling BJP won a bigger mandate than before.
Though much was made of the sacrifice made by the soldiers who lost their lives in the Pulwama explosion and who were declared martyrs; the reasons for the failure of intelligence agencies and the security lapses which led to allowing a private vehicle full of explosives to stand on the highway through which a large convoy of troops was scheduled to pass has still not been examined. One whole year has since passed and no one has been held responsible for the serious intelligence and security lapses in standard operation procedures which led to the loss of so many lives.
The affair Pulwama has got further complicated because a senior police officer who was posted in Pulwama when the terrorist attack took place, was recently arrested in a sensational case by the Jammu and Kashmir police when he was caught travelling to Delhi in a car with two wanted terrorists. This arrest of Davendar Singh was all the more sensational since it was on the eve of the assembly elections in Delhi. The J&K police which, had the credit of catching the police officer traveling in a car to Delhi along with two wanted Hizbul terrorists ( one of them was accused for murder of several non kashmiri labourers) was asked to hand over the case to the NIA (National Intelligence Agency) which is under the central government.
To complicate the issue still further, Davendar Singh, the decorated police officer who is now under arrest, is under a cloud for having been involved with torture and more in handling of terrorists connected with the attack on the parliament in Delhi in 1999. In a letter, Afzal Guru who was hanged for his hand in the attack on parliament had named the officer Davendar Singh who he said asked him to make arrangements for renting accommodation and acquiring a car in Delhi for one of the attackers who died during the attack. Looking back:in Germany, Leninngs had said that he was directed by his senior officer to take van Lubbe to the Reichstag on the evening it was set on fire.
Our mainstream media is showing little if any interest in Pulwama today. Just a year ago it was an issue of ‘Nationalism’ and fighting terrorists was a ‘National priority’. But now, all one finds is an occasional report in an obscure place in the newspapers about the NIA having caught an individual who might be connected to the suicide bomber of Pulwama. Could it be that there is a search on for a scapegoat; a search for a van Lubbe for Pulwama?
At the same time, complete silence prevails on the question of who were responsible for the security and intelligence lapses which allowed a car with explosives to freely move on the highway at a time when tight military security was a necessary requirement. This silence and the role of a senior police officer and his connection terrorists, begs the basic underlying question: who benefitted from the explosion in Pulwama?
The uncanny parallel between the fire in the Reichstag in Berlin in 1933 and the explosive attack on troops in Pulwama in 2019 have similarities and end up with the same question: Who stood to benefit? Or in Italian: “ Cui bono”? Lawyers in ancient Rome used to ask this question when they could not locate a murderer in a murder case.
Madhu Bhaduri is a former Ambassador