From Malegaon to Samjhauta Express: Acche Din for Sanghi Terror-Accused?

Courtesy: Liberation

saffron-terrorEver since the Modi Government came to power, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is working systematically to protect terror-accused who are ideologically affiliated to the Sangh Parivar. Last year, Rohini Salian, Public Prosecutor in the Malegaon 2006 and 2008 blasts cases, went on record to say that she was being pressured to go ‘soft’ on the accused. Now, the NIA has now moved to drop charges against a key accused in the Malegaon 2008 blasts case, Pragya Singh Thakur (Sadhvi Pragya). Pragya Singh, a former ABVP leader, is known to be a close associate of the RSS and BJP. While continuing to prosecute Lieutenant General Purohit, the NIA has withdrawn MCOCA charges and is invoking only UAPA.

The withdrawal of MCOCA charges makes custodial confessions inadmissible in Court, and therefore many confessional statements obtained in the Malegaon 2008 blasts case have now become useless. By allowing custodial confessions, the draconian MCOCA actually legitimises and encourages custodial torture. In fact, it would be welcome if the NIA were to review every terror case, withdraw MCOCA entirely, and only pursue those terror cases which do not rely on custodial confessions.

In the 2006 Malegaon blasts case, eight Muslim men, held on the basis of custodial confessions obtained under torture, were recently acquitted by a sessions court. These men had remained in jail even after investigations by both ATS and NIA had decisively pointed in the direction of a Hindutva hand behind the blasts. The NIA had admitted that no evidence linked these men to the blasts and recommended their discharge – but the same NIA did a U-turn at the very last minute and recommended against their discharge. This underlines the partisan character of the NIA that is unwilling to release Muslim men whom it knows to be innocent even as it going out of its way to free terror-accused from the Hindutva political camp.

There is convincing evidence beyond custodial confessions against Sadhvi Pragya and other accused persons from the Hindutva camp. It was the then ATS chief Hemant Karkare (killed during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks) who, in 2008 had identified the Hindutva terror network and begun connecting the dots between the Modasa blasts, the Malegaon 2006 and 2008 blasts and several other blasts. Karkare saw through the efforts of the Hindutva terrorists to divert blame onto groups like SIMI, and began uncovering the Sanghi terror network. His work was cut short by his death during the 26/11 attacks – a death about which there are still many unanswered questions.

In 2010, Swami Aseemanand of the RSS, arrested in the Samjhauta blasts case, made voluntary judicial confession before magistrates, exposing the role of Hindutva and Sanghi terrorists in the Mecca Masjid, Malegaon 2006 and 2008, Ajmer Sharif and Samjhauta Express blasts. These confessions were not extracted in police custody, and therefore would have been very powerful evidence in Court. Aseemanand subsequently retracted his confessions – but in interviews to the media, has repeatedly asserted the role of Hindutva terror outfits in those blasts. He has even declared that RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat gave his blessings to these terror plans, but asked Aseemanand and others not to “link it to the Sangh.” Mohan Bhagwat himself admitted while addressing a meeting of the RSS at Surat (Gujarat) on January 10, 2011 that “of the majority of the people whom the government has accused (in various blast cases), a few had left voluntarily and a few were told by the Sangh that this extremism will not work so you go away.” Why did the ATS and NIA fail to investigate the role of Bhagwat and the RSS in the blasts? Pragya Singh’s bike had been used to bomb Malegaon in 2008. The NIA is now arguing that Pragya Singh had not been using the bike, and it was Ramesh Kalsangra who had used the bike to bomb Malegaon. But the ATS chargesheet in the Malegaon 2008 case had shown transcripts of an intercepted phone call in which Sadhvi Pragya asked Ramesh Kalsangra “Why did so few people die? Why didn’t you park [the bike] in a crowded area?” Surely such a phone conversation is credible evidence? Why, then, is the NIA exonerating Pragya Singh? The case of Pragya Singh can be contrasted with that of Rubina Memon in the 1993 bomb blasts case. The car used to transport bombs was registered in Rubina’s name, and she is now serving out a life sentence based on this tenuous connection with the blasts, even though she argue that she was unaware of the use to which her car was put. But in the case of Pragya Singh, the investigative agency itself is withdrawing charges even though her own words in an intercepted call indicate her full knowledge and involvement in the blasts.

The NIA is also now claiming that the RDX used in the bombs were not sourced by Lieutenant Colonel Purohit. But the NIA still admits that the RDX is military grade explosive. Why is the NIA not asking how it was procured if Purohit did not procure it? The chargesheet in this case also claims that Purohit held a terror training camp under the guise of an ‘Art of Living’ event. Why has the NIA failed to investigate how the Art of Living organisation could be used as a cover for terrorist training?

In the past year, Rohini Salian was removed by the NIA as Prosecutor in the 2006 Malegaon blasts; a number of witnesses turned hostile in the Ajmer blasts case, one of whom was made a Minister in the Jharkhand Government; the NIA closed the Modasa bomb case (which was similar in many respects to the Malegaon bomb case); the NIA overturned its decision to discharge the innocent Muslims in the Malegaon 2006 case; and now the NIA has withdrawn charges against Pragya Singh and weakened the case against Lt. Col Purohit in the Malegaon 2008 case. All these are ominous signs of political interference to protect terror-accused who are close to the Modi Government and the Sangh Parivar.

Terror cases cannot be credibly investigated and prosecuted unless the concerned agencies are freed from the reliance on custodial confessions obtained under torture. In the Malegaon terror cases, there is in fact considerable evidence beyond custodial confessions. The NIA cannot be allowed to get away with selective exoneration of terror-accused who enjoy political patronage. The country deserves a thorough, impartial investigation and prosecution to unearth and destroy the entire Sanghi terror network.