Saffron Terror: A Concocted Notion
With an eye on the minority votes a conscious strategy to link Hindutva to terrorism is being followed in the country. Interestingly, after the creation of NIA, all such cases were clubbed together by the UPA government, which helped in coining a malicious terminology of Hindu terror
Ever since India began to be subjected to unabated terrorism from Pakistan, mostly in direct collusion with the authorities in that country, there have been unmistakable signs on part of certain vested interests in India to hang on to some straw of ‘Hindu Terror’. The arrest of Sadhvi Pragya, Lt Col Purohit and Swami Aseemanand elicited much joy and satisfaction amongst a section of the polity, professional activists and many in the media. Even the Supreme Court of India, in a bizarre display of double standard, has established different norms for granting bail to minorities and other privileged members of society vis-à-vis Hindus arrested under draconian laws. The apex court upheld the bail as constitutional right for Syed Kazmi, an accused in the case of attack on Israeli diplomats as opposed to denial of bail to Sadhvi Pragya and others, accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, where the prosecution is hell bent on making a false case against them. Under Section 167 of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), the prosecution has to file a charge-sheet within 15 to 90 days, depending on the case. If the same is not filed within this time frame, the accused is entitled to getting the bail. But in the case of Sadhvi Pragya and other accused of the Samjhauta Express blast and Malegaon blasts, they were denied bail in 2011 and again in 2012. The counsel, who appeared for the Sadhvi, argued in the court that Sadhvi was entitled for bail as the Maharashtra’s Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) had failed to file a charge-sheet against her in a period of 90 days, which is mandatory under Section 167(2) of the CrPc. But investigations into the much-hyped Hindu terror cases are likely to hit a dead end, causing a major embarrassment for the centre. The cases, including blasts at Malegaon I and II, Ajmer, and Samjhauta Express, in which Sadhvi Pragya and others have been made the main conspirators, lack corroborative evidence. The latest charge-sheet, filed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) opposing Sadhvi Pragya’s bail plea, leaves many questions unanswered. Sadhvi Pragya was implicated in the case only because of a scooter of her, sold to the late Sunil Joshi and still registered in her name, was used in the blasts. Other evidences like call details of Sadhvi Pragya and other accused also leave many loopholes in the prosecution case.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) filed its charge-sheet in the Malegaon 2006 bomb blast case against four accused—Lokesh Sharma, Dhan Singh, Manohar Singh and Rajendra Choudhary. Interestingly, the names of Swami Aseemanand, Sadhvi Pragya and former Lt Col Srikant Purohit were omitted from the charge-sheet as the allegations made against them were not found substantial enough.
The charge-sheet, running into five volumes, was filed in a Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) court of special judge Prithviraj Chavan. Ramji Kalsangra has been shown as absconding accused in the charge-sheet. The bombings were part of a series of explosions that had taken place on September 8, 2006, in Malegaon, a communally-sensitive town in Nashik district of Maharashtra, located about 300 km from Mumbai. The explosions, which caused the death of 37 people and injured over 125, had taken place in a Muslim cemetery, adjacent to a mosque, at around 1.15 pm after the Friday prayers on “Shab-e-Baraat”, a holy day. Most of the blast victims were Muslim pilgrims. According to police, two bombs attached to bicycles had exploded, triggering a stampede. After the blasts, the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) had arrested nine suspects. Interestingly, on September 12, 2006, Indian Prime Minister referred to as inappropriate to “rule out or rule in” the involvement of Hindu groups, saying: “It will be inappropriate for us to rule out anything or rule in anything.” The Maharashtra police had initially suspected Bajrang Dal’s and Lashkar-e-Toiba’s involvement in the attacks, but no evidence was released against these groups. Police investigations have shown that the mixture of explosives used in the Malegaon blasts was a cocktail of RDX, ammonium nitrate and petrol, the same mixture that was used in the July 11, 2006 Mumbai train bombings, for which many Islamist terrorist organisations are under the scanner.
However, the MCOCA court had given bail to all nine Muslim suspects of the blasts in November 2012, and their bail was unopposed by the government agencies under a mysterious move. The probe into the blasts was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (IB), which endorsed the ATS findings. The case then went to the NIA, which came into existence in the wake of November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Malegaon had seen another terror act in 2008 allegedly by right-wing Hindu groups and Sadhvi Pragya Singh and former Lt Col Srikant Purohit were arrested in connection with it. Dhan Singh said during the interrogation that he had visited Malegaon along with Kalsangra, Choudhary and Amit alias Prince on September 01, 2006, and left for Indore the same evening after a recce of target locations. Kalsangra and Amit, also known as Ashwani Chauhan, are absconding, NIA said in its charge-sheet.
Manohar’s role came out before the NIA during the interrogation of Chaudhary, an alleged bomber of Samjhauta train blast, who had claimed to be also a part of alleged conspiracy involved in bombing at Malegaon. The nine arrested Muslim youths came out of jail after nearly five years when their bail plea was not opposed. Investigations into terror cases like Malegaon took a different turn after right-wing group Abhinav Bharat member Swami Aseemanand stated in his confessional statement before a magistrate that Malegaon blasts were executed by a Hindu group. Aseemanand, alias Jatin Chatterjee, had stated in his statement that slain RSS worker Sunil Joshi and others were responsible for the Malegaon blasts. However, he later retracted his confessional statement as it was taken under pressure. Four bombs planted in Malegaon had exploded on September 8. The fateful day happened to be “Shab-e-Baraat”, considered auspicious among Muslims, when they assemble to pay respects to their departed kins.
While other Muslim accused were freed on bail, the Hindu saints and activists are detained in the jail without substantial grounds. Fake charges against activists related to different Hindu organisation are being levelled to establish an unreal Hindu terrorism or saffron terrorism as equalled with the real Islamic terrorism under a conspiracy of a seemingly anti-Hindu government . In the same vein, a monthly journal has accused RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat of indirectly giving permission for carrying out blasts in the country. The monthly claims that it has taken interview of Swami Aseemanand, and it was he who had made these claims. It is interesting to note that the correspondent of the monthly magazine was allowed to talk to the Swami for the last two years, which can’t be possible without the government collusion. The Congress government at the centre was quick in accepting this baseless accusation, already denied by Aseemanand. This government is ready to accept any accusation against the Hindu leaders, but won’t take any action on complaints of Hindu organisations or people. Earlier, when a tape was released in which some people were hatching up a conspiracy to kill RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and senior leader Indresh Kumar, the government didn’t even order a probe. Likewise, the 2007 Ajmer blast accused Bhavesh Patel had sent a letter to National Investigation Agency (NIA) special court saying Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde forced him to implicate Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat and senior leader Indresh Kumar in the terror strike. He also named Digvijay Singh, RPN Singh and Sri Prakash Jaiswal, but the government didn’t pay any heed to this allegation. The last one-decade rule of the Congress has seen many activists of RSS and other Hindu organisations, being implicated in Samjhauta Express blasts, Ajmer blasts and Malegaon blasts. The government is using its agencies to frame charges against the RSS and its activities. It seems that the Congress is hell bent on creating propaganda of saffron terrorism in the country. In the quest of getting mass votes of Muslims in the country, and to proclaim itself the whole-sole guardian of the Muslim interests, the Congress party is putting forward this connotation of Hindu terrorism. The government knows that it can’t prove anything in the court of law, so it is following the tactics of creating propaganda against the nationalist elements in the mind of the people. From the time Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi raised the issue of Hindu terror with American diplomats, as reported by Wikileaks in 2010, there has been conscious effort by the Congress party to implicate the RSS and the BJP into these blast cases by hook or by crook.
JUSTICE HAS NOT BEEN SEEN TO BE DONE
As per the law of the land, “bail is the rule and jail is an exception” that has been reaffirmed by various pronouncements of courts of law, both of the High Courts and the Supreme Court. Another aspect of granting bail, to an accused, is that if the investigation is complete, which again is required to be done in a time-bound manner, there is no impediment for enlargement on bail. Yet another established position is that if the accused is a woman or suffering from terminal illness that requires urgent medical care, etc, the courts should take a considerate view in granting bail. However, the paramount principle is that granting of bail is the discretion of the court and can be declined with or without any reasoning. Nonetheless, the courts are expected to be guided by the three positions enumerated above.
Against this backdrop, if one were to analyse as to what happened in the Malegaon blast case, where Pragya Thakur and Col Purohit are accused of having played a role, the conclusion one comes to is: something is amiss. Here is a case where investigations started in 2008; arrests were made soon thereafter; accused are in detention till date, bail petitions were filed and dismissed umpteen times including by the Supreme Court, even though, one would think, a case was made out as per law. Given that Ms Thakur has been diagnosed with suffering from cancer and needed medical attention, the bail plea was rejected by the High Court, whereas another woman accused, arrested on charges of Maoist activities, was released on bail by the same Judge as she was pregnant. Also a person accused of heinous crimes like attack on embassy officials of a friendly nation, in the heart of the national capital, was granted bail by the court as also someone who was jailed for being involved in anti-national activities in Chhattisgarh, presumably applying the aforementioned yardstick for granting bail. It is a different story that many NGOs, human rights organisations, Noble laureates formed a pressure group to plead for his case that culminated in his release. This brings another aspect to fore, i.e. whether the yardstick for granting bail is, somewhere, getting influenced by public opinion where a sustained campaign by a section of the media, so-called NGOs, human right organisation is playing a pivotal role. Another significant aspect of such a campaign is its selectiveness in voicing opinion where, again, the yardstick of “human right” is applied based on the ideological or perceived orientation of the accused. This has become a common phenomenon where such groups while arguing say that basic human rights like right to bail ought to be applied and made available to the Vinayak Sens of the world; when it comes to someone like say Pragya Thakur or Col Purohit these votaries are conspicuous by their silence. What is baffling is the complicity of the so-called “enlightened” masses who cry hoarse from TV studios and seek to propagate virtues of human rights for separatists and anti-nationals, sing a different note if the accused is someone else. Adding to the bafflement is the approach of the judiciary in this regard when different standards are applied to different accused, even though the law says that a precedent in a particular case ought to be followed for the sake of judicial propriety.
In the case of Ms Thakur and Col Purohit, another factor that has not drawn the ire of the courts of law is the delay in filing of charge-sheet, which in many cases, in the past, have been used to seek enlargement on bail or ground for bail. The setting-up of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) was with the avowed objective to bring in a system where the investigating agency would be free from political interference, unlike the CBI that is perceived to change its colour with change in power structure. But the handling of this case by the NIA has shown that it is no different from the CBI and the investigation methods are found wanting in many respect. The fact that the NIA has not been able to solve a bomb blast case that happened in the Delhi High Court speaks volumes of its efficacy and efficiency. However, barring few instances, the NIA has not come under the scanner of the judiciary leading to a situation where a terminally ill accused is made to languish in jail against all tenets of law. All in all, Ms Thakur’s case forces us to ponder if the ills of our system are so pervasive that the old adage “justice is not only be done but seen to have been done” is turned on its head where there is no justice, let alone being seen.
By Sandeep K Mahapatra
(The writer is a Senior Advocate, Supreme Court)
P Chidambaram, during his tenure as Home Minister, raised the issue of saffron terror in August 2010. Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh and incumbent Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde took over the mantle soon after. Shinde made an outrageous and baseless statement on January 20, 2013, at Jaipur Chintan Shivir of Congress alleging that “the training camps run by the RSS and the BJP were promoting Hindu terrorism”. His statements were celebrated by the terrorist organisations, based in Pakistan. With an eye on the minority votes, it seems, the Congress is following a conscious strategy to link Hindutva to terrorism. Interestingly, after the creation of NIA, all such cases were clubbed together by the UPA government, which helped in coining a malicious terminology of Hindu terror. For the past eight years, thorough investigation has been going on by multiple government agencies and for the last six years, NIA has been investigating all possible angles of these cases. But, the NIA is yet to find a shred of evidence against the RSS leaders. Whatever cases are there against the accused, it’s only on the basis of confessional statements, which were obtained under coercion. However, these confessions were also retracted later in the court. Apart from these, NIA has no independent evidence against the accused. It should also be taken into consideration that there are at least three sets of theories and two confessional statements with regard to the Samjhauta blasts. Moreover, some of the motivated leaks from the CBI cannot become the basis for reaching any conclusion because the credibility of the investigative agency is nil in the public opinion. The ploy to create ‘Hindu terror’ equivalent to Hafiz Sayeed was too clear for most discerning Indians. Interestingly, the first revelation about involvement of ‘Hindu groups’ in Malegaon blasts (Malegaon-II) was made in end 2008, i.e. just before the Lok Sabha elections in 2009. Then revelations about involvement of the same groups in Malegaon blasts of 2006 (Malegaon-I) and Samjhauta Express came at a time when the government was beset with damning accusations and was politically most vulnerable.
More than five years since investigations started, the probe agencies—CBI, NIA and state police—are still clueless about those named by Aseemanand. The charge-sheets in these cases have been filed on the basis of Aseemanand’s confessional statement, which he has subsequently denied vehemently. While this is one part of the case, the other question that is being asked pertains to the United Nations report relating to the Samjhauta case, which refers to a man called Arif Qasmani. The UN terror list for 2009 shows Qasmani, a close aide of fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim, as one of the key plotters of the blasts. He is a resident of Karachi and today facilitates the movement of al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan. It is said that he had raised funds through Dawood to fund this attack.
It is noteworthy to mention that in all these three cases of Malegaon blasts, Ajmer blasts and Samjhuta Express blasts, the Islami fundamentalists were arrested after detailed investigations by state police and ATS and they confessed to dastardly attacks before magistrate U/S 164 of CrPC. However, after cases were assigned to NIA, it seems, the NIA has turned these cases upside down only to drag names of a particular community in terrorist acts.
By Nilabh Krishna
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