Acche din for terrorists, murderers and rapists

New Delhi: Modi government has judiciously utilised the previous 23 months since it came to power to repeat in encounter and Hindutva terror cases what it had earlier accomplished in the 2002 Gujarat riot cases. The trend had become clear a year ago when Rohini Salian, the Special Public Prosecutor in some of these cases, had openly said that witnesses after witness were turning hostile in these cases.

Salian had said (Indian Express, 29 June, 2015) that NIA has failed to add a single piece of new evidence in the Malegaon blasts and other ‘Hindu’ terror acts. She said, since the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which was specially formed after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack in 2008 to investigate terror attacks in the country, took over the blasts case in which Hindu radical groups are accused from the Maharashtra ATS in 2011, it has not moved forward at all. All the breakthroughs were primarily the result of the hard work of the team of the former ATS chief Hemant Karkare who was killed in action in the Mumbai terror attack in 2008, she said. “They have not been able to bring anything new about the case, since the NIA took over the trial. Not a single piece of paper has been submitted to the court. In fact, they could not even file the chargesheet on time, which led to three of the accused being let off on bail,” Salian said. Salian further said, despite prime accused Aseemanand’s confession about the involvement of Hindu radical groups in the Samjhauta, Mecca Masjid and Malegaon blasts in 2006, to name a few, the NIA has not been able to gather any new piece of evidence. Salian wanted nine (Muslim) accused in Malegaon 2006 case freed on bail but NIA kept silent. As a result those innocents are still behind bars.

The main reason why the BJP is afraid of saffron terror probes is that they point to the RSS. Salian further said that, soon after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government came to power last year, she was instructed by the NIA to “go soft” on Hindu extremists accused in the case (Indian Express, July 10, 2015). In June, 2015, just as the case was to come up for a regular hearing before the Supreme Court, she was reportedly told another advocate would appear for the proceedings. (, 26 June, 2015)

In a raft of terror cases that emerged in the 2000s and implicated Hindu extremists, state responses followed a familiar pattern: of denial, cover-up and delay. As they swung into action after each blast, state agencies seemed to operate on the assumption that terror, by definition, has a Muslim face, is propelled by jihadist agendas and must be “anti-national”. Malegaon, 2006, Samjhauta Express, 2007, Mecca Masjid, 2007, Ajmer Sharif, 2007, and again Malegaon, 2008, all tell the same story ? Muslims rounded up and arrested in a reflex reaction, fingers automatically pointing at terror outfits like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, and then the appearance of an amended list of suspects, mostly Hindu.

Politically, there was a curious reticence about it, starting with a refusal to recognise the phenomenon at all. It was not until 2008, when the Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad chief, the late Hemant Karkare, launched investigations in the Malegaon blast 2008 case, that “Hindutva terror” became part of an accepted lexicon. The Congress wielded the accusations of Hindutva terror against its political rivals. But in 2010, when the then Home Minister P Chidambaram warned about “saffron terror”, he was quickly hushed up by party colleagues. “Saffron or bhagwa or kesariya is not the issue here,” Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi had said. “The issue is terrorism.” The United Progressive Alliance’s second stint was characterised by this policy of thrust and parry on saffron terror, reportedly gathering evidence against Hindu extremists and making blunt accusations, then retracting its statements and failing to push for convictions under its watch. Today, the Congress is paying the price for this dilly-dallying.

Terror trails repeatedly led to the RSS, with several of the accused having been linked to the organisation at some point. Swami Aseemanand, on trial in three cases, including the Samjhauta Express blast, had been an enthusiastic leader of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, the RSS’s tribal affairs wing. Aseemanand’s confessions after his arrest in 2010 had prompted intelligence agencies to name RSS functionary Indresh Kumar in chargesheets, for supporting the terror plots. In a very detailed 2014 interview to The Caravan magazine, Aseemanand went even further. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had known about the attacks and sanctioned them, he said.

Within a year of Modi’s taking over the Delhi durbar, 14 of the 15 witnesses had turned hostile in Ajmer blast case of 2007, while ten key witnesses in the Samjhauta Express case had turned hostile. All these witness had deep links with the RSS. In a third case, the 2008 Modasa explosion, a closure report was filed. Modasa occurred the same day Malegaon blasts took place and in the same style. As of  now, about 40 witnesses have turned hostile in the trials in the Ajmer Dargah blast of October 2007 and the Samjhauta Express blast of February 2007 alone. Many more plan to follow suit as part of a trend which began after the regime change at the Centre in 2014 (Times of India, 21 April, 2016). TOI quoted NIA sources as saying that witnesses whose testimonies undergirded the agency’s case in Malegaon blasts of 2006 and 2008, as well as the one in Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid, wanted to reverse their earlier statements.

NIA under Modi is trying to prove that LeT funded the Samjhauta blasts. NIA chief Sharad Kumar last month went to the US to get details on Arif Qasmani, a Karachi-based Lashkar-e-Taiba financier, who allegedly funded the Samjhauta blast.

Soon after Modi came to powr at the Centre, it was clear that the government is determined to reverse the Ishrat Jahan case and set free and even reinstate the murderers and rapists, now “errors” in the Malegaon blast probe and Congress conspiracy in “implicating” the Hindutva terrorists are figuring prominently in the discourse led by the barking Arnab of Times Now and his ilk.

After top National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials hinted on 20 April that there was no evidence against Lt. Col. Prasad Purohit in the Samjhauta blast case but the probe was on against him in the Malegaon blast case of 2008, Minister of state for Home Kiren Rijiju said the very next day that if there were “anomalies” in the previous investigation “corrective steps” will be taken. Rijiju said even the Pakistani link as reported by ATS Maharashtra in their chargesheet would be looked into again.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on 20 April said the ministry will provide documents to Lt. Col. Prasad Shrikant Purohit, that he needs to defend himself in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case.

The remarks came after a former Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) chief of Maharashtra, K.P. Raghuvanshi, who investigated the 2008 Malegaon blasts before and after Hemant Karkare, told a TV channel in Mumbai on 21 April that he stood by the ATS inquiry into the blasts in which some Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) activists were chargesheeted by his team. Raghuvanshi even claimed that a few of the chargesheeted individuals had gone to Pakistan.
Under the new version, even the Samjhauta Express blasts were a handiwork of LeT and Pakistani ISI. Efforts are on to set free dreaded terrorists like Pragya, Aseemnand and Col. Purohit against whom there are tons of evidence including confessional statements of Aseeemanand and recordings of the laptops of Dayanand Pandey which are part of the chargesheet filed by Hemant Karkare in the Malegaon 2008 case.

It may be recalled here that the ATS team headed by Raghuvanshi had implicated Muslim youth in the Malegaon 2008 blast and there were huge protests against his partisan scheme. As a result of strong protests, Hemant Karkare took over the probe as ATS chief and was able to uncover the whole plethora of Hindutva involvement in the Malegaon blast and many other terror exploits of the saffron outfits. After his suspicious murder during the Bombay terror attack in 2008, Raghuvanshi came back within hours as the new head of the ATS and he lost no time to change the whole course of the investigations.

Accused Police officers in Ishrat Jahan and Sohrabuddin encounters are not only out from jail but are being reinstated in their respective services. P.P. Pandey, currently out on bail, has now been appointed as Director General of Gujarat Police. He was the senior most IPS officer chargesheeted in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case. He was arrested in July 2013 in the Ishrat encounter case. Pandey remained in jail for nearly 19 months till he was released in February, 2015. His passport is still in the custody of special CBI court which he has recently sought back, citing plans to travel abroad. The dramatic breakthrough in Ishrat fake encounter case was possible only due to the intervention of the Supreme Court. As a result, at one time over a dozen IPS officers were cooling their heels in jails. They included G L Singhal, N K Amin and D G Vanzara.

(As we go to press, Mumbai's NIA court has acquitted on 25 April all the nine Muslim youth accused in the Malegaon 2006 blast.)