EIGHT ATTEMPTS were made on Mahatma Gandhi’s life before the final one on January 30, 1948 was successful. Yet public discourse is reluctant to acknowledge that the first act of terror perpetrated on independent India’s soil stemmed from a determined and vicious planning by the Hindu Right. Moreover, it refuses to admit that the assassination, was premeditated. When Godse, a member of the Hindu Mahasabha, a Hindu nationalist organisation executed the crime, India’s first home Minister, Sardar Patel said on record: The RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] celebrated and distributed sweets when Gandhiji was assassinated. Sardar Patel’s government banned the RSS after the killing. And Patel had made that remark to justify the ban.
Close fraternal relations of thought and action did and continue to afflict varied Hindu right outfits. But public discourse in India is evasive of this first terror act committed by these outfits, and is sparing in its indictment of their deep and organised commitment to use violent means to spread their message and mission. Public discourse is formed by what a polity allows to be stated and accepts openly. Be it on the streets, in drawing rooms, state assemblies, Parliament, school texts or public speeches, the assassins of Mahatma Gandhi have been spared public indictment or scrutiny. Newspapers and television too have fallen prey to this selective public discourse.
For the past three decades we have been made a victim of brute mob terror guided and supported by these outfits. The benchmark was the frenzied eight years between 1987 and 1992 that tracked the bloody rath yatra led by former Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani. The yatra succeeded in legitimising a public discourse of venom and hate against India’s largest religious minority. The demolition of the Barbi Masjid in full public view with India’s paramilitary forces mutely watching the violence tore at our soul and claimed lives and property, shook our existence as a Republic and damaged, near permanently, India’s commitment to the rule of law. Gujarat 2002, a genocidal pogrom, further tested the commitment we made on January 26, 1950.
These outfits that drew support from a tainted and communalised administration and police force adopted techniques of mob terror. It is their clear and overt transition from mob terror to bomb terror that had yet to sink in. Their link to a well-greased network of terror training and bomb making has only recently impacted public discourse. The investigations of the 2006 Nanded bomb blasts (in the home of Bajrang Dal and RSS activists) by the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) were reasonably independent, till the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) subsequently and suspiciously watered it down. But it was with the thorough investigations into the 2008 Malegaon blasts that the extent of this network became public. The Malegaon investigations were startling. They traced the masterminds of the crime to a serving Lieutenant Colonel in the Indian army, Srikant Purohit, a Sadhvi, Pragya Singh Thakur, and Swami Dayanand Pandey among others. Purohit’s close association with an organisation called Abhinav Bharat and the Sadhvi’s own links to the student wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) revealed a wider patronage to this brand of terror.
Now, six months after filing the chargesheet, the Maharashtra ATS has again come under fire after a Mumbai special court discharged some of the accused of the Malegaon blasts case, including Sadhvi Pragya Thakur from the dreaded Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime (MCOCA) Act. A week before this development, another key accused Rakesh Dhawade (accused in the 2006 Purna mosque blast in Central Maharashtra) was discharged despite his confessional statement in which he admitted to arms making. During the investigations in the 2006 Nanded blast case, he had stated that the bomb blasts at the mosque were part of a pattern and conspiracy. Dhawade also revealed that he was involved in imparting training for bomb preparation and detonation to seven or eight youth at a location near the Sinhgad Fort, Pune in 2003. Given the evidence against him, it is inexplicable how a court could discharge Dhawade.
Under pressure to challenge both developments, the ATS appears confident of reversing these adverse developments in higher courts. The moot question however is the reluctance of the better investigative agencies, as also sections of our judiciary, to admit to the existence of this brand of terror and to cast a firm and unbreakable net of evidence around individual and outfits linked to them.
ON JANUARY 20, 2009 the ATS under its former chief, KP Raghuvanshi, filed the chargesheet in the Malegaon blast case naming 14 persons (11 under arrest and three absconding) as accused. The chargesheet held them guilty of crimes under 16 sections of the IPC, including murder and criminal conspiracy. A striking omission is the absence of section 125 of the IPC for waging war against the nation despite serious evidence. Two months earlier, ATS chief Hemant Karkare, who had spearheaded the Malegaon investigations, had been killed in the Mumbai terror siege in November 2008.
The chargesheet makes a strong argument for the application of MCOCA, stating that this organised crime syndicate of Rakesh Dhawade had been committing bomb blasts since the year 2003. All the other accused had joined this organised crime syndicate and continued its unlawful activities, which included the procurement and transportation of the materials which are required to make bombs. They had also transferred large amounts of money, arms and ammunition used to carry out unlawful activities and had worked together to advocate and promote their organised gang and continue its unlawful activities, namely promoting their fundamentalist ideology to form a separate Hindu Rashtra. Their strategy, according to the ATS chargesheet, was to explode bombs and other improvised explosive devices in areas with a dense Muslim population even as they sought to create the impression that they acted in retaliation and revenge for acts committed by the Muslim community.
Given that these assertions in the chargesheet are corroborated by Dhawade’s confessional statement, the ATS could have ensured that Dhawade was not so easily let off as an accused in the Purna masjid blast case. Dhawade’s discharge in a related crime was a legal prerequisite to MCOCA charges being dropped against the Sadhvi, a week later.
A related issue: Why have the Maharashtra government and police been reluctant to treat all related investigations – Nanded 2006, 2007, Jalna, Parbhani and Purna (all in Central Maharashtra) masjid blasts (from 2003) as terror acts by the same group despite confessional statements by Dhawade and others linking the acquisition of explosives and training to a well-funded ring?
The ATS has also, on the face of it, treated the involvement of serving and retired army officers as a one-off event. This, despite the evidence that has repeatedly surfaced, through the Nanded, Malegaon and even the Jalna, Purna and Parbhani blast investigations, of a wider network of serving and retired officers being involved in some of these activities. Instances of RDX leakage from the armed forces that have surfaced in over a dozen cases all over Maharashtra since 2002 have also not been treated with the severity the offence demands.
LT COL Purohit procured the RDX used in the blast while he was posted in Jammu and Kashmir. He stored it in his homes in Pune and Nashik. The transcripts (of an audio recording allegedly found on Dayanand Pandey’s l
aptops) included as part of the chargesheet implicate Purohit in at least two other similar incidents, whereas the ATS chargesheet limits itself to the Malegaon incident alone. In these transcripts Purohit, while talking to Pandey, said, Main kuch baat kahunga isse pehle kabhi nahi kahi gayi thi. Do operation humne kiye, successful ho gaye. Operation karne ki meri kshamta hain, swamiji. Mere paas equipment ki kami nahi hain. Main equipment paida kar sakta hoon. Equipment la sakta hoon. Agar jab thaan leta hoon. Lekin target chunna yeh mere ek ke vishay ke hisaab nahi hona chahiye (I will say something that I have not spoken of before. We have carried out two operations in the past and they were successful. I am capable of carrying out operations. I have more than enough equipment. Getting equipment is easy. But choosing the target should not be my decision alone).
The earlier ATS chargesheet( s) of 2006 in the Nanded blast case also implicate Sanatkumar Bhate, a former navy officer, in training members of the Bajrang Dal at the Akanksha Resort at Sinhgad near Pune. Bhate, like Dhawade, escapes a thorough probe by the ATS.
Links to other blasts in which this widespread terror ring may be involved have also surfaced during these investigations. During a narco analysis test conducted on Lt Col Purohit on November 9, 2008, he spilt the beans on his role in and his network’s connections to the Samjhauta Express blasts of February 18-19, 2007, which killed 68 persons, most of whom were Pakistanis. Purohit, during interrogation, also spoke of a possible role in the Ajmer Sharif blast and the Mecca masjid blast in Hyderabad). The police forces in Haryana and Rajasthan are reinvestigating two of these blast cases, while the CBI is handling the Mecca masjid blast case.
The ATS has also been lenient and spared two important private institutes affiliated to the Maharashtra RSS, the Bhonsala Military Schools at Nashik and Nagpur, which were found to have been regularly used for terror training and bomb-making, as well as the Akanksha Resort. These institutes enjoy patronage from the highest echelons of the Sangh Parivar. These locations had earlier been used to train cadres in bomb-making as has been revealed in the Nanded blast case chargesheets filed by the ATS in 2006. Soft exclusions in these investigations also spare the high profile rabble-rousers of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) Praveen Togadia and Acharya Giriraj Kishore in exhorting youngsters towards these acts. Both Togadia and Kishore allegedly visited Nanded on the eve of the 2006 blast.
Similarly, in the Malegaon case, the involvement of Himani Savarkar, Nathuram Godse’s niece, and daughter-inlaw of Narayan Savarkar, the brother of Hindutva ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, has also been handled with kid gloves. Himani, a member of Abhinav Bharat, (who is on record on video as saying that she supports the ‘bomb versus bomb theory’) was, according to the ATS, also present at the meeting in which the Malegaon conspiracy was hatched. She is not named as part of the conspiracy but is only named as a witness.
Grappling with this brand of terror is a sharp challenge to the Indian establishment, security agencies and law enforcement. The ATS Maharashtra has so far led by example even admitting that way back in 2006, ‘organised Hindu terror’ posed a challenge to the Indian establishment. Does it have the grit to correct the errors, plug the loopholes and carry its findings to their logical end?
High levels of infiltration into India’s administrative and governance apparatus by those who regard India only as a Hindu nation are responsible for the breakdown of the rule of law and impunity against prosecution. This ideological affinity, which defies the basic Constitutional vision of India as a secular democratic republic has allowed a free run to mob terror and bomb terror. The investigations into the Nanded and Malegaon blasts and their successful prosecution are a wakeup call for those within and outside the Indian establishment wedded to the idea of the Republic and the Rule of Law.
Setalvad is co-editor of Communalism Combat and Secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace
Teesta Setalvad, 15 August 2009 Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 32,