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Fully Investigate Hindutva Terrorists Role: From Nanded To Malegaon and Beyond

The ideological infiltration into India’s security agencies

by Teesta Setalvad, 9 February 2009

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People’s Democracy, February 8, 2009

The charge sheet fails to draw a picture of the wider nexus, of a preparatory training ground that breeds cadres of such terrorists, of the scale of their operation and their continued access to the expertise provided by Indian military and intelligence agencies. The latter point raises serious questions about ideological infiltration into India’s security agencies

The Teror Trail

From Nanded To Malegaon And Beyond

THE horrifying spectacle of the Mumbai terror attacks that held us all paralysed for 60 hours, killing more than 187 persons and injuring dozens, also took the pressure off the saffron alliance, squirming for once, for being openly associated with acts of bomb terror. The sangh parivar, including its parliamentary face, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had been facing acute embarrassment, October through November 2008, over the revelations in the Malegaon blasts investigations. Six persons died when pipe bombs placed on a motorcycle in a crowded street of Malegaon exploded on September 29, 2008, the eve of Id celebrations in the month of Ramadan.

The slaying of Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief, Hemant Karkare, along with 13 others from the Mumbai police (a total of 17 men from law enforcement died in the attacks) at the hands of Ajmal Kasab and his accomplices on November 26 had an unexpected consequence. The self-appointed saffron torch-bearers of Indian (read Hindutva) patriotism were miffed into silence. The reason? They, who had been busy tearing Karkare’s reputation to shreds for weeks before and right up to the day he was killed, had now been embarrassed into acknowledging him as martyr. But for Karkare’s death, these graceless pseudo-patriots would have cynically raised the public temper to a far more hysterical note, baying for some blood.

What was Karkare’s crime, for which he was a hunted man, targeted by the sangh parivar the day he died? He had dared to carry out the Malegaon blasts investigations with integrity and transparency, tracing the masterminds of the crime to a serving lieutenant colonel in the Indian army, Srikant Purohit (who was ably assisted by other, retired army personnel), a Sadhvi, Pragnya 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 BJP, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), embarrassed the highest echelons of the parivar. Moreover, the Sadhvi has also been a popular part of the BJP’s campaign trail in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

On January 20, 2009 the ATS under its former chief, K P Raghuvanshi, filed the charge sheet in the Malegaon blasts case naming 14 persons (11 under arrest and three absconding) as accused, holding them guilty of crimes under 16 major sections of Indian criminal law, including murder and criminal conspiracy. The accused have been booked under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for murder (Section 302), attempt to murder (Section 307) and conspiracy (Section 120B); for promoting enmity between groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, and committing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony (Section 153A); under Sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Indian Arms Act; and Sections 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the Explosive Substances Act.

Not The First Time

This was not the first time that the insidious hand of the Hindutvavadi terrorist was revealed. The Malegaon blasts investigation is the ATS Maharashtra’s third serious investigation into Hindutva-driven terror. The first was its probe into the Nanded 2006 blasts which resulted in two charge sheets being filed by the squad that were subsequently diluted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) under the present UPA government (see ‘Blast after Blast’, Communalism Combat, July-August 2008). The CBI was forced to reopen investigations into the Nanded blasts of 2006 following the campaign by CC which went on to receive some welcome support from an unexpected quarter. During interrogations, Rakesh Dhawade, one of the accused named by the ATS Maharashtra in the Malegaon charge sheet, confessed his involvement in the consistent training of seven-eight youth who were instructed in the preparation and detonation of bombs at a location near the Sinhgad Fort, Pune, in July-August 2003.

A third such investigation, also underway in Maharashtra, is related to the Thane-Panvel blasts of 2008. In October 2008 the then ATS Maharashtra chief, Karkare, had also investigated and charge-sheeted persons accused in the Thane-Panvel blasts where activists from the Hindutvavadi outfits, Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, were involved. The 1020-page charge sheet named six accused charged with attempt to murder, criminal conspiracy, causing disappearance of evidence and causing damage to property under the IPC as well as sections of the Arms Act, the Explosive Substances Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Significantly, the ATS did not directly implicate the organisations in the crime. At other times similar incidents where Hindutvavadi outfits were found to be involved in explosives creation have surfaced only to be suppressed. A blast also occurred at Modasa in Gujarat’s Sabarkantha district on September 29, 2008, the same day as in Malegaon, and primary evidence pointed to a link between this incident and the group(s) responsible for the Malegaon terrorist attack. The Gujarat police however have brazenly refused to make public any details of the incident.

In the charge sheet filed in the Malegaon case, a significant omission is the ATS’s failure to charge sheet the accused under Section 125 of the IPC for waging war against the nation despite some serious ingredients of the crime being in evidence. The ATS has also on the face of it treated the involvement of serving and retired army officers (a serious development) as a one-off event despite the evidence that has repeatedly surfaced, through the Nanded, Malegaon and even the Jalna, Purna and Parbhani blast investigations, of a wide 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. Public prosecutor, Ajay Misar, first told Judge H K Ganatra of the chief judicial magistrate’s court in Nashik that another (unnamed) army man had told investigators about Purohit’s role in stealing 60 kilos of RDX from the Deolali army base, Nashik, and leaking it out through a person named Bhagwan for use in the blasts. This is not an offence for which Purohit is specifically charged, however.

The ATS has also spared two important private institutes, 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 at Sinhgad near Pune. These institutes enjoy patronage from the highest echelons of the sangh parivar. These locations had earlier been used to train cadre in bomb-making as has been revealed in the Nanded blast charge sheets filed by the ATS in 2006. In the Nanded investigations, as also the investigations into both the Malegaon and the Jalna mosque blasts, a common link is accused Rakesh Dhawade, an expert in arms-making. Dhawade’s statement, (a copy of which is in our possession), clearly demonstrates his involvement in this terror ring for over six years now.

Both the Nanded investigations as well as the Malegaon probe have pointed to the indoctrination/inspiration provided by high-profile rabble-rousing leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Dr Praveen Togadia and Acharya Giriraj Kishore, in exhorting youngsters towards these acts, both individuals having allegedly visited Nanded on the eve of the blasts in 2006. The ATS has been wary of drawing them into the charge sheet as accused or witnesses, however. Similarly, in the Malegaon case, the involvement of Himani Savarkar, niece of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, and daughter-in-law of Narayan Savarkar, the brother of Hindutva ideologue, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, is also handled with kid gloves. Himani Savarkar, 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’s own investigations, 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 witness.

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 November 9, 2008 Lt Col Srikant Purohit spilt the beans about his own role in and his network’s connections to the Samjhauta Express blasts that occurred on February 18, 2007, killing 68 persons, most of them Pakistanis. Similarly, he spoke during his interrogations of a possible role in the Ajmer Sharif blast (that killed two persons) and the Mecca Masjid blasts in Hyderabad (where 11 people died in the blasts and five in subsequent police firing). The police force in Haryana and Rajasthan are re-investigating these blasts in the wake of this information while the CBI is handling the Mecca Masjid blasts case. (Muslim youth who were initially accused of perpetrating the attacks but were subsequently found not guilty had been brutally tortured while in custody of the Andhra Pradesh police). When public prosecutor, Ajay Misar, first made these declarations public in November 2008, the then ATS chief, late Hemant Karkare, had quickly clarified that the Malegaon investigations had revealed no connections whatsoever with the blasts on the Samjhauta Express.

Evaluating The Charge Sheet

Given these details, how does one rate the charge sheet in the Malegaon blasts case?

The charge sheet has drawn a firm net around the 14 persons accused of the immediate crime that took place at Malegaon. Making a strong argument for the application of MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act), the charge sheet states that “this organised crime syndicate of Rakesh Dhawade (accused number 7) had been committing bomb blasts since year 2003.” All the other accused had joined the said 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 huge amounts of money, arms and ammunition used to aid and abet 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 charge sheet, was to explode bombs and other improvised explosive devices in areas with a dense Muslim population even as they seek to create the impression that they act in retaliation and revenge for acts committed by the Muslim community.

But the charge sheet fails to draw a picture of the wider nexus, of a preparatory training ground that breeds cadres of such terrorists, of the scale of their operation and their continued access to the expertise provided by Indian military and intelligence agencies. The latter point raises serious questions about ideological infiltration into India’s security agencies. Detailed revelations of the involvement of over half a dozen serving and retired army officers in this network of Hindutva-driven terror that spans at least eight states in the country and goes back at least a decade remain largely ignored, with the ATS Maharashtra treating it as a single, albeit serious, case of terror-driven crime. As investigations go, under both Karkare and Raghuvanshi, the results have been professional but limited.

Historic Legacy

The reluctance of the authorities to track and trace the vicious spread of Hindutva’s terror network despite its systematic planning and exhaustive training in violence is a historical legacy. Eight attempts were made on Gandhi’s life before the final one on January 30, 1948 was successful. Yet public discourse is reluctant to recognise that the first act of terror perpetrated on independent India’s soil stemmed from determined and vicious planning from the Hindu Right. Discourse is formed by what a society allows and accepts out in the open. Be it in our public parks, drawing rooms, state assemblies, parliament, school texts or public speeches.

It is this reluctance to accept the genesis, seriousness and viciousness of Hindutvavadi terror that has affected our law enforcement agencies as a whole and can be analysed in the charge sheets of both the Thane-Panvel and the Malegaon investigations. These lacunae are rooted in the assumptions reflected in the pervasive discourse that surrounds home-grown terror and violence. Cleverly but not entirely influenced by the ideologues of the BJP and the sangh parivar who are omnipresent in the national media, Hindutva-driven terror is slotted by definition as reactive and through this association as less pervasive and dangerous than the jihadi’s murderous games. Its easy and ‘natural’ certificate of association with patriotism lends a further dangerous ambivalence to the Hindutvavadi’s actions.

The limitations in the Malegaon charge sheet therefore stem as much from probable and insidious political pressure exerted on officers of the ATS both within and without the system as from this carefully formulated discourse of the sangh parivar. It is a strategy cultivated through propaganda that stresses that any violence stemming from the Hindu fold is only retaliatory, driven by a righteous angst against the heap of injustices perpetrated on ‘us’ in the name of Islam. And where jihadi attacks are seen as only the most recent manifestation of a centuries old plan to devour this civilisation through invasions of both a physical and moral kind.