Subscribe to South Asia Citizens Wire | feeds from sacw.net | @sacw
Home > Communalism Repository > Can We Ever Unravel the Samjhauta Express Bomb Blast Conspiracy?

Is the probe on terrorist actions of India’s hindutva fundamentalists being derailed?

Can We Ever Unravel the Samjhauta Express Bomb Blast Conspiracy?

by Subhash Gatade, 11 September 2010

#socialtags
Version imprimable de cet article Version imprimable
articles du meme auteur other articles by the author

With no breakthrough in the over three-year-old Samjautha Express blast case, the government has decided to hand over its probe to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to unravel the conspiracy. “The Samjhauta blast case has been handed over to the NIA,” Special Secretary (Internal Security) in the Home Ministry Utthan Kumar Bansal told reporters on the sidelines of a function in New Delhi.

Sixtyeight people were killed when bombs were set off in two coaches of cross-country Samjhauta Express, running between Delhi and Lahore, around midnight on February 18, 2007 at Diwana near Panipat, 80 kilometres north of Delhi. The case was being handled by Harayana Police which had failed to make any headway after its probe led to a tailor at Indore who had prepared the cover for the suitcase in which the bombs were planted.
- —NIA to probe Samjhauta Express blast case (July 29, 2010, The Times of India)

I

‘Samjhauta’ offers a variety of meanings: understanding, agreement, coming together, compromise and other such affable connotations. This might have been the idea behind naming this train service which provides multiple avenues of negotiation and contact for people between two traditionally hostile and often suspicious governments. Interestingly the context to start such service was the historic Shimla agreement and it had already completed 20 years of functioning (started on July 22, 1976) with minor interruptions,

There was a blast on this train near Panipat (February 19, 2007), which saw deaths of 68 innocent people and left many more wounded. The explosions had occurred in two coaches of the Delhi-Attari special train for Lahore which had been set off by IEDs. This incident culminated in a verbal duel between the two countries, where each blamed the other.

Of course, nobody bothered to mention the fact that the bombing had occured just as Khurshid Kasuri, Pakistan’s then Foreign Minister, was scheduled to meet with the Indian Government to further the peace negotiations and discuss the contentious issue of Jammu and Kashmir. He had himself told the media that he was going, to Delhi on February 21, 2007 to meet with Indian Government officials to continue peace talks and sign a nuclear risk reduction agreement.

Definitely there were forces active on either side of the border who wanted to sabotage any type of ‘coming together’ between these two ‘arch rivals’, any type of understanding, agreement emerging between these two countries and thus dampen the spirit of friendship developing between them.

Could it be Lashkar-e-Taiba or the Jaish-e-Mohammad type? The greater majority of the casualties were poor Pakistanis returning home from a visit to India. Going by the theories put forward, would this mean that Islamic fundamentalists were prepared to use their own compatriots as cannon fodder to sabotage the peace process? Perhaps the home-grown saffron terrorists seemed more probable to have committed it. Of course, there was no stopping the mandarins at the North Block to resort to much tested rhetoric.

In fact, not much time was wasted by them in even naming a terror outfit from across the border which, according to them, functioned with state support. It was a different matter that when the first meeting of the Joint Terror Mechanism occurred on March 6, 2007, just two weeks after the blast, the only ‘substantial’ proof the Indian side offered their counterparts was a photograph of a Pakistani national whom they claimed to be involved in the blast. With lot of vehemence the Indian delegation even demanded that Pakistan help hand over this man.

On its part Pakistan tried to find anyone of that name among the passengers on record as well as in their country. Of course, they could not find anyone of that name among the passengers on record as well as in their country. Looking back it is clear that neither any of the investigating agencies had reached any prima facie conclusion nor had they made much headway in the investigations. To put it bluntly, it was just a political charge to soothe the domestic constituency and peddle macho diplomacy in the subcontinent.

As things stand today, the probe into the yet (formally) unsolved blast has been handed over to the NIA. The Minister of Home Affairs has even asked it to probe the interlinkages (if any) between the Mecca mosque blast, Ajmer Sharief bomb blast and the Samjhauta Express blast.

II

TO recapitulate, the probe in this tragic blast has had many twists and turns.

The irony of the whole situation is that during this intervening period since the bomb blast occurred, there have been broadly three occasions when the investigating agency officials were set to unravel the big conspiracy hatched by the saffron terrorists, but they were stopped on the tracks itself. While the non-cooperation of the MP Government and its law and order machinery—as claimed by the Haryana Police which initially took up the job—must have played a role, the Central Government, especially the then National Security Adviser, did not seem very willing to expedite the case. A close look at what went on makes it clear that the probe was not allowed to reach its logical culmination with direct-indirect intervention from the powers that be as the government feared that the involvement of homegrown saffron terrorists in the blast would weaken India’s case in the world that Pakistan happens to be the ‘main exporter of terrorism’ in India. It remains to be seen whether the government shows enough mettle this time around at least to face some incovenient truths or would let the probe lose its track again at the altar of foreign policy.

Investigators had found evidence of suitcases with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and flammable material, including three undetonated IEDs. Inside one of the suitcases containing the undetonated IEDs, a digital timer encased in transparent plastic was packed alongside a dozen plastic bottles containing fuel oils and chemicals. One of the survivors had even claimed that he saw two persons get off the train just before the bomb blasts. The implication: that the persons who planted the bombs got away to save their own skins.

III

A much neglected aspect during this first round of investigation was the handwritten letter sent by someone claiming to be speaking on behalf of the Bajrang Dal and ‘taking up responsibility for the blasts’. This threat letter was received at the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind headquarters in New Delhi as well as its Mumbai office. The said letter was unsigned, typewritten in Marathi, and even the address on the envelop was typewritten. Addressing the Jamiat people as “fools”, the letter threatened the Jamiat’s General Secretary and Rashtriya Lok Dal MP from Dehradun, Maulana Mahmood Madani, of dire consequences if he continued to support the backward classes. The Jamiat’s Secretary-cum-spokesperson, Maulana Abdul Hameed Noamani, had even confirmed the receipt of the threat letter. Maulana Madani had formally complained to the Delhi Police that he had received such a threat letter from the Bajrang Dal. A copy of the complaint was duly given to the Commissioner of Police, Dr K.K. Paul, while another copy of the same was sent to the SSP, Dehradun. The said letter, which unabashedly claimed responsibility for the blasts in the two coaches of the Lahore-bound Samjhauta Express on February 19 that killed about 67 persons, wondered whether the Jamiat people had forgotten the blasts carried out in the country earlier. According to the letter,

“We had warned you against being pretty wise and holding large conferences. But you people didn’t pay heed to our warning and held a large gathering at Malegaon on February 17, 18 and 19. We would have exploded the bombs there but the explosives were seized in Mumbai...

“We will establish Hindu Rashtra here anyhow. No one can harm us. It would be your men who would be arrested.”

According to Maulana Madani, when he was on his way back to Delhi from Dehradun (Uttarakhand) by Mussouri Express on February 19, he had received a call from +9144401 on his mobile at 9:15 pm threatening to teach him a lesson if he continued to attend meetings and conferences. On reaching Delhi he filed a written complaint at the IP Estate Police Station on February 20 and lodged an FIR there on February 26, he revealed.

Incidentally, the reference to the three-day meeting in Malegaon refers to a congregation organised by the ‘Tablighi Jamaat’ and not the Jamiat. Police sources had confirmed that a case has been registered at the IP Estate Police Station and further investigations were on. One does not know whether anything could come out of the probe.

It was worth noting that apart from a few Urdu newspapers (with the sole exception of The Statesman—but its 80-word reportage too does not refer to owning the blasts) no one from what is popularly known as the mainstream media deemed it necessary to even carry the said report about such a sensitive topic on their pages. A Member of Parliament belonging to an organisation which had played a stellar role the freedom struggle had received a threat but the news was just buried in the newsroom itself. Not very many days ago New Delhi had handed over “confessions” of a Pakistani national regarding his role in the October 2005 bombing to the Police Special Task Force headquarters in Hyderabad. Imagine the embarrassment if the other side had come up with a Bajrang Dal operator’s “confession” with regard to the bombing of the Friendship Express. Whether it would have helped the Indian Government’s case that the confessional letter is un-dated and un-signed and therefore it is unreliable. (For further details refer to Radiance, Vol. XLVI No.47, 2009-03-08, Bajrang-Dal-Owns-Up-Samjhauta-Express-Blasts.)

IV

LOOKING at the pace of the investigations and the reluctance of the powers that be to the investigations into the Samjhauta Express bombing, the first terror attack on the trans-border train between India and Pakistan, have remained inconclusive so far. The case figures among the sixteen high-profile unsolved terror cases periodically reviewed by a Special Committee of the Union Home Ministry.

The case which (in the language of the police) had gone ‘cold’ again reached national headlines once investigations into the Malegaon bomb blasts II (September 2008) were taken up by the Maharashtra ATS and one of the masterminds of the Hindutva terror plot, Lt Col Prasad Purohit, was nabbed by them.

Revisiting the submissions of the Special Public Prosecutor for Maharashtra, ATS Ajay Misar, and the results of the initial queries into the case by the ATS, there is enough ground for suspicion that the RDX which was used in the Samjhauta blast was supplied by Lt Col Prasad Purohit. He supplied the explosive to a person named ‘Bhagwan’ who is believed to be a link in the bomb blasts.

Demanding an extension of the police custody of Purohit, Ajay Misar had told the Nashik court that one of the witnesses in the case had revealed to the agency that Purohit had claimed he had 60 kg of RDX in his possession which he had got from J&K.

Misar said: “When Purohit was stationed at the Deolali Army camp, he had gone to Jammu and Kashmir on official work and is believed to have got 60 kg of RDX and a part of it was given to this link ‘Bhagwan’, who used it in the Samjhauta train blast. The ATS is probing his involvement.”

“Purohit handed over the RDX to Bhagwan who is suspected to be in hiding in the garb of a godman. So Bhagwan is a key link and we hope to learn about his whereabouts and antecedents in the three-day remand given,” Misar told The Indian Express.

The ATS also said that Purohit—along with Pragya Thakur and Dayanand Pandey—is suspected to have played a key role not only in the Malegaon blast of September 29 but in other blasts as well.

The witness, whose statement had been recorded, had said that Purohit showed him two small brown bags containing RDX, which he said he had recovered from J&K, Misar added. (Purohit supplied RDX for Samjhauta bomb: ATS, Posted: November 15, 2008 at 0127 hrs IST, Mustafa Plumber and Anubhuti Vishnoi, Indian Express)

The ATS had also then probed the role of a Nashik-based builder who was paid Rs 2.5 lakhs by Ajay Rahirkar at the behest of Purohit. As far the issue of funds was concerned (according to the police), funds amounting to lakhs were routed to Rahirkar through hawala channels. Rahirkar, in turn, had transferred a part of it to Pandey and Purohit’s accounts.

In fact, it was at the same time that the Haryana STF, which had initially probed the case, had also sent its officials to interrogate the accused. In a tete-a-tete with the media K.K. Mishra, the Inspector General of Haryana Railway Police, shared that the Indore angle of the blasts is now under investigation as the needle of suspicion has turned to Hindu militant organisations operating from this town. (November 12, 2008). According to him, the circumstantial evidence was clearly pointing to their likely involvement.

In an exclusive investigation on the Samjhauta blast, titled ‘Dead In Its Tracks’ (Chander Suta Dogra, Outlook, July 19, 2010) which concludes that the probe continued as long as Pakistan was seen as the culprit; once the Hindu angle appeared then the probe was subtly stalled. ‘The commonly given explanation is that when the government’s policy has been to blame Pakistan for every terrorist incident in India, it would have damaged the country’s credibility if, after blaming them for the blast, it was proved to be the work of Hindus.’ During this investigation also sources in the Haryana Police reiterated what they had claimed earlier—that ‘[a]ll their leads pointed to the involvement of “Hindu fundamentalist” elements, and despite several arrests, they failed to find any evidence of the involvement of Islamic groups like Indian Mujahideen or SIMI’.

In a disturbing revealation it also tells us: “Crucially, several senior police officials told Outlook that it was the office of the then National Security Advisor, M.K. Narayanan, which informally advised the police to go slow on the probe and not investigate the Hindu connection.”

V

AS events unfolded, despite sincere attempts by the Haryana Police the CBI did not take up the case, but in the later phase it did render some help; however, by then it was ‘too little too late’. A coordination meeting of the NIA (North Zone) which was attended by all senior police officers of Haryana and other States, was held at Panchkula in August 2009. Supposedly to restart the stalled investigation it was decided that a coordination meeting with the CBI and concerned SP/GRP would be held at the CBI headquarters in Delhi. The said meeting never materialised.

Interestingly, it was in the same period that the Rajasthan Police, which had got some vital clues in the Ajmer blast case and Samjhauta Express blast case, had questioned 10 people from western Madhya Pradesh A local leader of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, Praveen Mandal (who runs a cycle shop), was also grilled to unearth further details. The said clues clearly hinted that the material used in the explosion was bought from Indore.

The investigators also tried to probe possible links between them and the absconding Malegaon blast accused, Ramji Kalsangra and Sunil Joshi of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Sunil Joshi, a Pracharak of the RSS wanted in connection with a murder, was shot dead in December 2007.

VII

IMMEDIATELY after the blast The Indian Express had carried a write-up (February 22, 2007) by a teacher from Lahore, Furrukh Khan, who had underlined ‘how a new track is opened up each time a person from one country crosses the border to the other’ and how through ‘this physical act one is able to challenge the ideologies of fear and loathing instilled in sections of the population’.

He had concluded his informative piece with the observation:
‘..[w]hen the time comes to take up the task of pushing for a more encompassing dialogue between the people and the governments of Pakistan and India, there has to be a more steely resolve to open more tracks of communication. While one might not be able to do much for the victims, one can at least promise to use their memory to fuel the drive for better relations between the two countries. The moral majority has to make its presence felt through its participation in a variety of ventures which would make it much more difficult for the minority to believe that it can destroy the feelings of goodwill which beat in so many hearts on both sides of the border. Next time someone sets out from Delhi for Lahore, it should be the warmth of a Lahori that greets the traveller, not the murderous smoke and fire of a terrible attack.’.

One does not know how the said interrogation of the saffron activists proceeded; it happened last October. Perhaps with no public vigilance of the case the matter must have ended there with the investigation officials asked to pursue some other case.

As one can see, within three-and-a-half years of the blasts, there were at least three occasions when the said case could have been unravelled; but everytime there were attempts to derail the investigation or at least indirect hint from the powers that be to go slow in the matter. With the NIA taking up the case, would the results be qualitatively different? One has serious doubts about it.