Human Rights

Malegaon blasts and the structural flaws in intelligence gathering

By Mustafa Khan

A disturbing picture of 2006 blast in Malegaon was the ire of the crowd which manhandled and roughed up a police officer and pushed and pulled him till he decamped. The crowd also burnt a police car. Equally disturbing was the police shooting at the crowd that went berserk on September 29, 2008.

As the poet Iqbal has said that the condition in life of a people depends on the imagination of that people. Taking cue from this, we need to look afresh at the two bomb blasts which visited Malegaon. Somewhere there is a clue that we have missed so far. For more than ten years before the first terrorist attack on September 8, 2006 the city was fermented by the conflicting ideologies of the Sunnis and Deobandis. And at one time it got too tense for the local people. Huge crowds would gather to hear speeches or sermons of the schismatic and scheming clerics. One group was of those who wanted to clear religion of the accretions of time and so a degree of pristine beauty of faith would be there. Directly opposed to this was the feeling that the flotsam and jetsam of time and place add to the beauty of faith. Therefore, the first bomb blast case was viewed in this context. The Times of India published a report that the blast was the work of SIMI activists who were Wahabis of the Ahl-e Hadees who targeted the practice of those visiting the graves on Shab-e Barat and praying to the Almighty through the medium of intercessors. Many scoffed at the ignorance of the then Congress MLA Shaikh Rasheed who claimed that the blast was a result of the internal conflict of the beleivers. He even hinted that Muslims have always been at it!

In the show down between the two sides in those early heady days, two dominant clerics who galvanized the populace were Mufti Ismail and Intekhab Hussein. The situation became so volatile that the police banned religious meetings in the Muslim dominant areas. Despite this, it would be immature to conclude that the first terror attack was the result of this schism. It rather came as a handy tool to interpret the blast and blame the Muslims themselves -- they conspired, they bombed and they died and they were wounded. There was a reform underway all through the years whereby visiting the graveyard on the night of Shab-e Barat as a custom was declining although praying at mosques was gathering momentum. Waning of the tradition of visiting graves was the byproduct of the reform taking place. Even so people of both the sects had been going to the graveyard on Shab-e Barat night. Therefore, to say that the terrorists targeted “Sunnis” was illogical.

Someone who scripted the tragic drama of the first attack had choreographed it with a wider horizon. In the October 2001 communal riots in Malegaon, the immediate cause was tearing up of a pamphlet calling for the boycott of goods of US companies mostly owned by the Jews. What proof is there that the cop who tore the pamphlet was not acting at the behest of the authorities including the police? The local police, ATS, and CBI blamed the attack on the schism in the Muslim ranks.

But then came the second attack in 2008 and the disclosure of the conspiracy of seeking help by Lt Col Shrikant Purohit from Israel. The Israelis had asked him to give two instances of his group Abhinav Bharat’s attempt to establish a Hindu rashtra. Of this the attack in 2006 was definitely one, if the affidavit of Abrar Ahmed (one of the accused and an approver) is anything to go by.

It was also in the fitness of the process of ratiocination that the local people who equally respect the sanctity of the Shab-e Barat could not have done such an unpardonable evil deed. Therefore, the need to look beyond for the people responsible for the first terrorist attack found groundswell in the opinions of the people. The ominous arms seizure in May 2006 and the Nanded bomb explosion of April 2006 not only give credence to the need to probe Hindutva groups but also to investigate the role the police really played in Malegaon.

It is an open secret that the police (not all) have been actively involved in communal riots down the history of Malegaon. Could then the attack of 2006 be a communal event? The police played a dramatic role if not a direct role. The men in uniform did not plant the bombs. The Nasik police control room received alert of attack on September 1, 2006. The SP of Malegaon Kumbhare informed rural SP Rajwardhan of it.

Kumbhare called a meeting of the trustees of the mosque in the graveyard. Rajwardhan reportedly called a meeting at the house of Abrar Ahmed in which there was a discussion of a huge project for about 5-6 crore rupees. The police had assured that they would be present in the graveyard and watch the situation but when the bomb exploded no cop was at the site! The police blamed Zahid for planting one of the bombs when he was in fact leading Friday prayer in Phoolsangvi in faraway Yavatmal district.

The most astounding event was the seizure of the arms. Under the very nose of the Azadnager police station the cops said there were arms stored there in a shop. They rang up Mufti Ismail and told him. But instead of going there he went to another police station several kilometers away and gave witness to what he had not personally seen at the site. He did not even visit the shop from where the arms were seized. A Kul-jamatut-tanzim, a group representing all the sects, was formed to fight the case of the Muslim youths who were arrested. They were and are still believed by the people to be innocent. Mufti Ismail forfeited the membership of this important and crucial body because the other members accused him of betraying them to the police. He was alleged to have tipped off the police with the minutes of their meetings. This charge came in a list of many such misadventures of the maverick mufti. Former MLA Nihal Ahmed dubbed him as the principal police informer.

The case of Nihal Ahmed is in a class by itself. He claimed that he had information that the bomb attack would take place and so had informed the home minister of Maharashtra. But then the explosions took place and what is more his son-in-law had a mishap. The police framed charges against him because RDX mixed in the soil was found from his farm. Many in the city believe that this was a clever move by the police to stymie what Nihal Ahmed could do. That perhaps silenced him significantly, except making loud noise during the ensuing elections.

The fuzzy investigation into the 2006 blasts created more doubts and raised more questions than the police have been prepared to answer. There is eerie silence on their part. The ruckus at the cash transaction at the Mamco bank in the centre of the city minutes after the blasts, the involvement of a well-known gray yarn merchant, the disappearance of the body of the fake bearded man, the identity of the two sketches issued by the police, the police interrogating twenty Hindus and then suddenly changing the track, and not the least the close proximity of the Mufti and Rajwardhan.

Every country needs intelligence to maintain itself. But as Vice President Ansari Hamid said in the RN Kao lecture, the intelligence agencies should also see that their work is effective in carrying out the government policy. There should be a balance between secrecy and openness and efficacy on continuous basis.

Looking at Malegaon cases, this was not practiced in intelligence gathering. Abrar Ahmed, one of the accused, was already a police informer even before the terrorist incident took place and then he turned approver in the 2006 case. There was no efficacy on the continuous basis. He flaunted his relation with the police and Rajwardhan and then turned against them and submitted an affidavit to the trial court judge YD Shinde in which he denounced Rajwardhan. How could then the police build a whole case on the basis of a structure of lies? The local police have said that the 2006 blast was a revengeful attack against the disproportionate number of Muslims killed by the police firing in October 2001 riots. Immediately the question arises why should the Muslims kill more Muslims to avenge the brutality of the police? In serial bomb blasts of 1993 in Mumbai and of Coimbatore of 1998, some Muslims resorted to violence in order to avenge the cruelty they suffered at the hands of the police and Hindu rioters. The retaliation was quick. But in Malegaon nearly five years passed before the first incident of blasts happened. By such a long time whose anger would be so sustained to retaliate?

Police do need informers and Malegaon is teeming with them. What is the basis of recruiting them? Money and weakness are two sources. Some need money and perhaps that was true of Abrar. But then there are those who have murky past like being caught in robbery, homosexuality, or possessing illegal weapons and this weakness makes the informers play in the hands of those who need them, including the police.

In the British parliament and cabinet there were homosexuals whom the communists blackmailed to get secret state information. In the cabinet of Tony Blair there were pedophiles, and in the State Department of Truman, Joseph Mccarthy found gays and communists who posed threat to the country. In all these cases what emerges as a tactic is: if you get to know the secrets of the bedroom life of a man you can exploit it for any ulterior reason by blackmailing him. What if similar things also have begun to happen in the case of terrorism that the police have found the secret sex life of people and have built up cases against those who are otherwise unconcerned with terror? As in Europe and America, so in India. So to make someone snoop for you or plant him as a mole, get to know the secret sex life of him and he is helpless and would do what you want him to do.

Unfortunately, according to the Vice-President, there is no operational detail which the much-needed oversight body of say Parliament can check. Had there been such a body many more discrepancies in the investigation would have come to light. Vice President Ansari made it clear that the legislature sanctions funds and the police are accountable like anyone else. If a huge project of crores of rupees was there who is there to account for it? How many hands exchanged the cash? The case of Malegaon’s first bomb blast is riddled with informers and it would be necessary if the informers come clean out of the muddle.

An independent analyst, Mustafa Khan
is based in Malegaon

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 May 2010 on page no. 11

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