The lay people of the country are often swayed against the government by a piece of rhetoric by some politicians in the opposition. When an accused moves around scot-free, they say, “It’s your government; why don’t you prosecute them?” When the accused is already undergoing a trial, they say, “If they’re innocent, it’s your government; why don’t you free them?”
The rhetoric makes one believe that India is a state where who will be sentenced and who won’t be is decided by the political executive rather than the judiciary! That is exactly the belief of people who have been questioning the present NDA government since May 2014 as to why Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Col Shrikant Purohit and four others accused of the Malegaon bombings are still behind the bars.
On 15 April 2015, no less than the Supreme Court found that there was no evidence to support the claim that the duo was involved in the blasts of Malegaon. Let alone incontrovertible evidence, there was no prima facie case making the six people “criminally liable under the provisions of MCOCA” for the crime, as ruled by the Justice FMI Kalifulla-headed bench of the highest court of the country. The apex court, therefore, ruled that they should be released on bail, pending the formality of completion of the trial. The operative word here is: formality. Those who supported the Narendra Modi-led BJP in the 2014 elections and are now impatient — due to ‘no progress’ in such cases — must wait for the lower court to finish the procedure necessary to conclude a trial.
The release of the accused isn’t the only sticking point, though. One sees a pattern in the media commentary of the period 2002-14. Yes, it had started two years before the tenure of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government ended, with the 2002 riots of Gujarat. For more than a decade, journalists and commentators manning different institutions that have traditionally been hostile to the idea of a ‘Hindu nationalist’ government quoted each other to hold Narendra Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat, responsible for instigating the rioters or, at least, telling the police to go soft on them. If one studies these reports one by one, one would know that these media commentators cited articles written by one another to establish Modi’s ‘guilt’ instead of going by police reports, the report by Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigating Team and the Nanavati-Shah Commission of Inquiry report.
A journalist interviews, on an average, two to five people, to file a report whereas a commission examines thousands of witnesses. And yet, they created an impression that their opinion was more credible than the information disseminated by official sources. To do so, a magazine like Tehelka questioned the SIT on the basis of pages that did not exist in the SIT report in the first place! And they questioned Justice GT Nanavati’s appointment to the commission, overlooking the fact that it was a settled debate, wherein Justice Nanavati was appointed precisely because Justice KG Shah alone could not satisfy Modi’s detractors.
Anyway, the details we will examine in this piece is that of the Malegaon blasts and a few subsequent bombings, after which “saffron terror” became a standard term for a bunch of politicians led by P Chidambaram, Digvijaya Singh, Rahul Gandhi and pro-Congress intellectuals out to defame the Hindu society. More loyal than the king, these overzealous intellectuals had, in fact, started branding the community much before the Congress had come back to power. They made the coinage popular following Chidambaram’s address to chiefs of different States’ police forces.
On 8 September 2006, a series of blasts ripped through Malegaon, a Muslim-dominated town in the Nashik district of Maharashtra, killing 38 and injuring more than 100 people. It was the Congress-led UPA government’s Anti-Terrorism Squad, and not the BJP-led NDA, that first saw a hand of Pakistan in the bombings. It was no wild guess; the ATS named a certain Pakistani Muzammil who brought the RDX from Pakistan and assembled it in Malegaon. Then they said that the bombs were installed by Noor-ul-Huda, Raees Ali and Abrar Ahmed. They said a Shabbir Masiullah was part of the conspiracy, and an imam of Yavatmal called Zahid Majeed was another planter of a bomb. It is unbelievable that the police would imagine all these names without evidence. But that is exactly what the government’s subsequent changed stance seems to suggest!
When the National Investigation Agency got the charge of the case, it changed the names of the accused from Muzammil, Noor-ul-Huda, Raees Ali, Abrar Ahmed, Shabbir Masiullah and Zahid Majeed to Dhan Singh, Lokesh Sharma, Manohar Singh, Rajendra Chaudhary, Sandeep Dange, Shiv Narayan Gopal Singh Kalsanghra, Shyam Bhawarlal Sahu and Raj Mehul! It has been about 10 years since the incident, and the prosecution could prove neither the first set nor the second guilty.
On 18 February 2007, two blasts wrecked as many coaches of the Pakistan-bound Samjhauta Express train. The incident killed 68 not instantly, but due to the fire that broke out in the coaches due to the blasts — which points at a possibility that the bombs were not as deadly as is expected from bombs from a military source. But then Congress-NCP-ruled Maharashtra government’s ATS said in 2008 that Lt Col Purohit had supplied RDX for this purpose. The next year, it claimed that he was responsible for the Malegaon blasts, too and so were Sadhvi Pragya, Ajay Rahirkar, Sudhakar Chaturvedi and Ramji Kalsangra.
This looks like one of those fables about the inept Indian police where they get hold of one suspect and impose charges of all pending cases on him!
On his part, Lt Col Purohit said he had rendered a service to the nation by “infiltrating” into Abhinav Bharat, a supposedly radical outfit, to bust its alleged plans of executing terrorist activities, and that the Army was kept in the loop about his stealthy actions. What is shocking, his defence lawyer expressed the apprehension that he could be killed in custody.
A few months after the Samjhauta Express bombings, the Mecca Masjid of Hyderabad was bombed. The pipe bomb killed 11, and 5 more got killed in police firing at a mob that resorted to rioting after the blast. For this, Swami Assemanand (aliases: Naba Kumar, Jiten Chatterjee and Omkarnath) and four others were arrested and are still being tried. Various reports emerged in newspapers, quoting sources in the police, revealing his so-called plan. However, he finally said that he was coerced into issuing the confession of guilt.
An example will be enough to demonstrate the nature of the coercion Aseemanand talks of. He says that the Ajmer Dargah blasts of 11 October 2007 were ordered by RSS sarsanghachalak Mohan Bhagwat, but later Bhavesh Patel, an accused in this bombing case, accuses then Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde (of the Congress) of forcing the accused to implicate the RSS by dragging Bhagwat and Indresh Kumar to the case.
Curiously, the very Abhinav Bharat that the media wants us to believe is an offshoot of the Sangh is also accused of hatching a plot to eliminate the RSS’s supreme head Bhagwat!
Two things are clear from the pattern: One, the section of media hostile to Hindus have been consistent in its accusations before, during and after the UPA rule. Two, the accused did not retract their statements emboldened by the BJP’s coming back to power; they said they were innocent when the Congress was still in the driver’s seat. The present government at the Centre, therefore, cannot be accused of either pressuring journalists to sing a different tune, nor did it pressure investigating agencies and the prosecution to change their stand. In fact, when the NIA could not prove that Sadhvi Pragya had murdered swayamsevak Sunil Joshi, they transferred the case to Madhya Pradesh police under a BJP government and even thereafter the lady ascetic got no reprieve.
This anti-Hindu section of the media, which has an image of sensitivity towards human rights violations, however, goes silent not only when the under-trials accuse of undue pressure by the prosecution to make them confess crimes they say they did not commit, but also when they accuse the police of torturing them in the prison.
There are two distinct parts that make a media commentary: reporting and opinionating. While the news of arrests of all Muslim accused is followed by articles shedding copious tears on the ‘plight’ of the jailed, the ‘sensitive’ columnists never write an article sympathizing with the likes of Pragya, Purohit and Aseemanand. Their bias became too obvious to be denied when they did not condemn the torture perpetrated upon Sadhvi Pragya, a woman, by the police.
Pragya’s statement was of an extreme serious nature. The Times of India reported:
… she was summoned by the Maharashtra police on October 10, 2008. She was illegally detained and tortured for the next 13 days because the ATS wanted her to acknowledge her involvement in the Malegaon blasts. Pragya Thakur named policemen including an inspector Khanwilkar, another policeman in plainclothes called Award, ATS inspector Suvarna Shinde, Paramveer Singh and one uniformed man she could not identify.
“There were five to six policemen whose job was to abuse me in filthy language. They would beat me round the clock, night and day to keep me awake. The policemen who were given the job of beating me would change because they got tired. But my beatings would not stop,” Pragya Thakur’s statement said.
No columnist of the newspaper above, however, sprung into action after the report to slam the police for their atrocities against a hapless woman in their custody. No such article of condemnation was penned by the columnists of The Hindu or The Indian Express either — who are otherwise prompt at raising human rights issues.
Now, finally, if all these “saffron terror” stories were results of a witch hunt, why are the accused still not free after so much of evidence that suggests a witch hunt? Because the case against them is not one, but many. When one gets a relief in one case, he or she continues to be embroiled in others. The previous governments India, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh (now divided) all put together a mesh of allegations against the member of one Hindutva organisation after another (led or inspired, according to them, by the RSS). Every court, in turn, is taking its own sweet time to proceed in the case under its jurisdiction. Then, while the accused may have changed their statements or forever maintained that they were innocent, the witnesses in the cases more or less continue to insist that the accused had indeed committed these acts of terror. It will take more than changes in government at the Centre and in the States to bring these cases to conclusion. Unfortunately, our judiciary is not known for its alacrity and pace of work.