New Delhi, Nov. 23: For Maniappan Raman Kutty’s family of five, his death means the loss of a son, husband, father and the sole breadwinner.
For the government in Delhi, though the Prime Minister described him as a “brave Indian, who was working in the cause of peace”, the 36-year-old’s murder could be fraught with political implications.
After news reached of Maniappan’s decapitated body having been found dumped by the roadside by villagers in Afghanistan’s southwestern Nimroze province, Delhi warned the Taliban and “its backers” that they should be prepared to face the consequences of this “barbaric” act.
“He has been slaughtered. His throat has been cut,” a local Afghan official had said earlier.
Maniappan was kidnapped last Saturday, 10 days after the driver went to work in the Border Roads Organisation (BRO)’s project to build a 219-km road.
The road will help India bypass Pakistan in reaching its goods to various parts of Afghanistan after shipping them to a port in Iran.
“The Border Roads Organisation is engaged in building a road in Afghanistan that is vital for its development and the welfare of its people. It is inconceivable that anybody should be opposed to it and threaten those working on it,” the external affairs ministry said.
For strategic reasons, India is seeking a toehold in Afghanistan, which Pakistan does not want. The road project is among several Delhi is funding and building, for which Pakistan has not even given it transit rights to ferry material, let alone personnel.
The use of the words “the Taliban and its backers” has, therefore, triggered speculation if Delhi is pointing a finger across the border ' not possibly at Pervez Musharraf but at other elements in Pakistan who have had close ties with the Taliban.
“We strongly condemn this inhuman and barbaric act against an innocent person. The Taliban and its backers bear the responsibility for the consequences of this outrageous act,” said the statement by the ministry.
A note pinned to Maniappan’s body written in English has also raised suspicions in Delhi since most people in Afghanistan and, particularly, the Taliban do not know the language.
“We have the paper. It’s in English so we cannot read it now,” a provincial Afghan official was quoted as saying.
Purported Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammed Yousef had claimed yesterday that the rebels had shot Maniappan because the BRO had not agreed to the kidnappers’ demand to pull out of Afghanistan. The Indian embassy said the Taliban never got in touch with it.
Maniappan’s body is expected to be flown to Delhi tomorrow and later to his home at Chingoli in Kerala, where he leaves behind his elderly parents, wife and two young children. Maniappan was his parents’ only son.
Some 300 other Maniappans are working in the road project, which India is not going to abandon. Security arrangements will be reassessed and work at isolated points on the highway will be halted until that is over.
“Our prayers are with the family (of Maniappan),” said Manmohan Singh, who received a call from Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Karzai expressed his condolences and assured Singh of steps to strengthen security for Indians working there.
The government announced Rs 10 lakh as compensation to Maniappan’s family and free education up to the secondary level for his children.