How the State makes Muslims pay for Hindutva terror

The court discharged nine accused in the 2006 Malegaon blasts case, which was an indictment of former ATS chief KP Raghuvanshi.

KP Raghuvanshi, former chief of Maharashtra’s anti-terrorism squad (ATS), was understandably absent from the media glare around the Mumbai special MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act) court’s order of April 25, 2016 that discharged nine Muslim accused from all charges in the Malegaon bomb blasts case of 2006.

The retired additional director general of police had led the ATS investigation of the Malegaon blasts as well as the Mumbai train blasts of 2006. Just a few months earlier, in September 2015, he had been prominently present in the MCOCA court at the time of the delivery of the train blasts case judgment, handing out sound bites and interviews to the electronic and print media alike. This time around, however, he was nowhere near the court.

Just three days before the court discharged the nine accused in the Malegaon case, Raghuvanshi had appeared in a lengthy exclusive interview with Times Now’s Arnab Goswami on prime time television (see video below) defending his investigation and implication of the nine accused and expressing confidence in the trial court.

Goswami, in his typical media trial fashion, had even delivered a verdict that he “believed” Raghuvanshi’s version. However, when the actual trial court ruling came, Raghuvanshi was unavailable even to the Times Group. Times of India reported that he was “not available for comment, despite repeated attempts by TOI“.


ATS involved in serious offences

Raghuvanshi’s reticence obviously stemmed from the court’s systematic demolition of his chargesheet and its drawing of conclusions which pointed categorically to Raghuvanshi and his men being involved in a string of actions that actually amounted to serious offences under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The ATS case rested on the confessions extracted from eight of the accused, one of whom was targeted to be made approver against the rest. When the case was handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) the confessions were all shown to be obtained under duress, making them worthless as evidence under section 24 of the Indian Evidence Act.

It was found by the NIA that the confessions in most cases could not be true as there was conclusive proof that the accused were actually at places other than they were shown to be in the confessions. Accused number two, Shabbir Ahmad, was actually in judicial custody at the time he was shown in the chargesheet to be participating in actions relating to the blasts. The obtaining of such false confessions, under duress, is an offence punishable with imprisonment up to seven years under section 195A and section 330 of the IPC.

The other important evidence proffered by the ATS was the matching of soil samples from the blast site and the godown of accused number two which was shown to also contain RDX. The NIA verified this and found “that the panchas/witnesses who are shown on the panchanama of lifting soil were not present at the time of collecting the soil samples but present at some other place” (para 59 of the MCOCA court order).

Such a discovery which has been upheld by the court is an extremely serious finding amounting to an offence committed by Raghuvanshi and his investigating team of fabricating evidence with intent to procure conviction for a crime, which is punishable under section 194 of the IPC with life imprisonment. It also raises questions regarding the source of the RDX shown, pointing to possible offences under explosives and terror laws. This would require a separate investigation.

The court also debunked the core of the ATS’ case to be “highly impossible and improbable” and “not a digestible story”. The ATS showed that the accused were making bombs and holding key conspiracy meetings in the godown of Shabbir, accused number two, when Shabbir himself was in custody in a case under investigation by the ATS. Few things could be less believable.

The judge also found the “basic foundation or the object” behind the blasts shown by the ATS to be “not acceptable to a man of ordinary prudence”. He didn’t believe the tale that a Muslim group aiming to stir up Hindu-Muslim riots had targeted a Muslim religious occasion rather than the Ganesh idol immersion that had just preceded the Muslim holy day. He concluded that the nine Muslim accused were innocent and had been made scapegoats by the ATS and therefore ordered their immediate discharge from the case.

Discharge is not justice enough

The discharged accused welcomed the court’s pronouncement with tears of relief and prayers of thanksgiving. When one of the authors (Vernon) spent time with them in jail in 2007-’08 they had come across as simple men who had wrongly been framed.

Though they had been shown to be leading activists of the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and operatives of the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), they did not show any signs that they shared the ideology and approach of these organisations.

They spent their time in jail trying to be of some help to their fellow prisoners. Shabbir had some knowledge of acupressure and his skills were constantly on call – even by the jail staff. Sridhar, one of the co-accused, had his arthritic knees attended to by Shabbir.

Vernon got advice on management of bleeding piles from accused number five, Farogh, when he met him in prison. Farogh was one of the two unani doctors implicated in the case. Their jail-time simplicity seems to have continued outside and most of them have not asked for anything more than the present court judgment.

But would the MCOCA court judgment suffice? On the day after the judgment, India Today TV’s Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted, “No outrage here? no hashtags/trends? No ‘framing’? Who will give these men back their 10 years?”

Others have called for compensation and punishment of the officers responsible. These calls for justice are correct and will probably go before the higher judiciary.

Deeper conspiracy of the higher-ups

Justice in a courtroom, however, cannot address a problem that goes somewhat deeper and extends much higher than Raghuvanshi and his men. Malegaon in 2006 was after all only one in a series of bombings of Muslim targets during 2003-2006, that included Parbhani, Purna, Jalna in Maharashtra, Modasa in Gujarat, Hyderabad, Ajmer and Delhi and also the attack on the Samjhauta Express.

Most of these were falsely pinned on innocent Muslim men, thus leaving the field open for the actual culprits to continue their terror plans. It was only after the cracking of the Malegaon blasts case of 2008 during the eight-month tenure of slain ATS chief Hemant Karkare that further investigations were made, which made it clear that all these were the handiwork of Hindutva-inspired modules engaged in a deep conspiracy with links to the higher echelons of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and even the state apparatus. As the links started reaching higher there was a definite slowdown in the investigations during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rule.

With the coming of the BJP in Delhi, there has been a systematic endeavour to subvert the cases. Investigators, prosecutors and witnesses have been pushed to toe the Centre’s line. The cap was blown on this by the senior public prosecutor in the Malegaon 2008 case, Rohini Salian, who disclosed how she had been told by the NIA to go soft on the pro-Hindu group Abhinav Bharat that is believed to have been a part of the conspiracy.

She was later removed as prosecutor. This plan of going “soft” on the Hindutva terror accused seems also to go hand-in-hand with going “hard” on Muslim accused. This was on display in the discharge of the nine Muslim accused a few days back, and the court order itself referred to the NIA doing a volte face. It had shifted from a “no evidence” stand of 2013 to a “no discharge” stand in 2016.

With such directions from the top to the premier agency investigating these blasts, it should come as no surprise that most of the witnesses are turning hostile in the trials of Hindutva accused and there is only a remote chance of any of them getting convicted. This fixing of the court trials is then being used in recent months to run parallel media trials where the principal accused, particularly Lt Col Prasad Purohit, are beind declared innocent.


Thus the support to these terror accused, which was relatively discreet in the UPA days, is now on open display. It emanates from the highest levels of government and the state apparatus and from significant sections of the media and civil society.

It is the type of support that aims at nurturing “our” Hindutva terror gangs that will supposedly keep the “other” communities in check. It is the type of support that the Pakistani ruling classes displayed for years to “their” terror operatives until things got totally out of hand. It will require more than courts of law to handle this malaise, if we are not to tread the path traversed by our neighbour.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira


Why it isn’t just Modi government that’s soft on Hindutva terror

BannerSpecial public prosecutor in the Malegaon blasts case, Rohini Salian’s disclosures are not merely about the present government – they are more about the non-secular character of the Indian state.

When they came in November 2008 they had none of the coyness and reserve typical of new entrants into a prison. Even the more hardened Anda Barrack inmates of Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail were somewhat taken aback at the cockiness of the new lot led by Lt Col Purohit, whose words were soon being passed through the cells in hushed whispers: “We’ve done it and we’ll do it again”. Though implicated in the 2008 Malegaon bomb blast, this set did not show any of the unease characteristic of other terror accused and were quite willing to wear their guilt on their sleeves like some badge of bravery.

Their bravado had of course a lot to do with the high-level backing that had been generated in their support. There was the present Union home minister, Rajnath Singh, giving them a clean chit and saying, “I’m not ready to believe that Sadhvi Pragya Thakur is a terrorist“. Former deputy prime minister and home minister, LK Advani, even met the prime minister to intercede on their behalf. No one in the Anda Barracks then anticipated that this group would remain long behind bars – not the the accused, not the other inmates, not the writers of this piece who were then in prison. Anyone with some experience of the workings of the criminal justice system can tell that those with sufficiently high-level friends championing their cause can find ways to soon get out by arm-twisting the investigating officers or fixing the prosecutors or even influencing the courts.

Cold calculations can however go awry in the face of the tenacity and obduracy of an uncommon individual or two who refuse to bend under the pressures of the powers that be. So it happened with the expectations of a quick bail-out for Purohit and his co-accused.

Hemant Karkare’s investigations

Hemant Karkare, the then chief of Maharashtra’s Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), who had reached there after a seven-year stint in the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), had already created a name for being different. He had bucked the trend among “anti-terrorist” police officers in the country that had seen the implication and arrest of Muslims in all blast cases becoming some sort of a SOP (standard operating procedure). He led the investigations that first identified Sadhvi Pragya’s direct role in the 2008 Malegaon blasts and then uncovered the larger conspiracies of the Abhinav Bharat group, led by Purohit, which had planned and executed a number of bomb blasts, including the 2006 Malegaon, 2007 Samjhauta Express, 2007 Hyderabad Mecca Masjid, and 2007 Ajmer Sharif blasts. He had an uncorrupt reputation and was not known to easily submit to unlawful demands of higher-ups.

As the attacks on him from within the ruling classes mounted, he dug his heels in. This was written about by retired Mumbai police commissioner, Julio Ribeiro, whom Karkare met just before he was killed in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. His was a lonely job with even the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-Congress ministers in Maharashtra not coming out strongly in his support. His rivals in the police force – senior officers in the crime branch and the office of the director general of police (DGP) – were even tapping his telephone conversations to keep track of the Malegaon bomb blasts investigation.


The deeper conspiracy

The concern shown by Karkare’s bosses was but natural. It was during the time of his predecessor in the ATS, KP Raghuvanshi, that the Maharashtra Police had even recruited prime terror accused, Purohit, to provide training to its anti-terror personnel. He also received a letter of appreciation from Himanshu Roy (who was till recently the ATS chief) for assistance, cooperation and information-sharing and an educative workshop in Nashik in November 2006 – just two months after a blast in Malegaon in the same Nashik district, which is now revealed to have been executed by Purohit’s own terror group. It was clear that Purohit had friends high up in the hierarchy and deeper investigation into the forces behind the blast conspiracy could very well end up at some very senior police officers’ doors.

Same is quite likely true of the Army. Purohit, despite being in prison for almost seven years under such grievous offences, has neither been suspended nor dismissed from the Army and his wife continues to receive his full salary.

Contrast this with Delhi University’s suspension of Prof Saibaba on half salary within five days of his arrest on a much less serious charge of supporting Maoists. There seem to be at least some among the top brass of the Army who are protecting Purohit. He, on his part, has even claimed that his Army bosses were aware of what he was up to. Thus, though it is obvious that there are more high-level officers involved in the conspiracy, no attempt is evidently being made to delve into the truth.

Prosecution sabotaged

It is in this background that one must see last week’s disclosures by Rohini Salian, the special public prosecutor (SPP) in this case, wherein she has detailed how, soon after the Modi government came to power, the NIA (National Investigation Agency) asked her to go soft on the accused in this case and how, when she did not comply, she was told to stop representing the NIA. She has also related how even Mariar Puttam, the senior counsel for the prosecution in the Supreme Court, was unceremoniously nudged aside in order to thwart the prosecution from obtaining favourable orders.

Salian’s disclosures also tell how in 2008 Karkare had, despite her having resigned from public prosecutorship, specially requested her to come back to handle this case. Karkare obviously handpicked her knowing that the other SPPs could not be trusted to stand up to the pressures that were already building up in favour of the accused. She apparently lived up to Karkare’s trust in her and did not let go. This is probably why, despite Karkare being killed soon after her appointment as SPP, the evidence collected under his watch was used to file a strong chargesheet, and the prosecution remained firm on it through all the legal twists and turns resorted to by a battery of top notch lawyers for the accused. This obviously will not continue now that Salian has been removed from the scene.

A non-secular state

However it would be a mistake to merely agree with Salian’s portrayal that the problem is the Modi government that is soft on Hindutva terror groups. It would also be a mistake to simply concur with post-Salian disclosures and media commentary that links the Modi government’s softness to the links of the accused with the Sangh Parivar. While this is undoubtedly true we must recognise that the malaise goes much deeper.

Salian herself narrates how after Karkare’s death she had to go to the ATS office and literally shout at the officers to go ahead with the case, to make Karkare’s “soul happy”. She also recounts how after the case was transferred to NIA in 2011 (by the United Progressive Alliance government) “they have not put in a single paper in court after taking over” and even allowed default bail for three accused by not submitting a chargesheet against them. All this slumber was under the watch of P Chidambaram, arguably India’s most hands-on home minister in recent times who, according to Salian, “has seen every paper of the case”. Similarly the Army’s leniency towards Purohit has been under AK Antony’s command.

Thus, though the Modi government has gone proactive in protecting and moving to release the accused of Hindutva terror organisations, this should in no way amount to an endorsement of the secular credentials of the earlier government. More importantly, there remains the nagging question of the commitment (or lack of it) of the various arms of our state apparatus to the idea of a secular state. Time and again our state police forces, central investigative agencies, paramilitaries and even the military have failed to show the required allegiance to the values of a secular India, which we do not tire of loudly proclaiming to the world. But scratch the surface and our state machinery displays slight variance, if at all, from the behaviour of an avowedly non-secular Pakistani state.

Julio Ribeiro has been quoted as saying, “the Hindu terror probe should be carried out professionally. If they are scuttled on religious grounds, India would lose its moral right to take on Pakistan for going slow on Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi… “. The question is whether, going by the practice of its prime organs over the past several years, the Indian state is secular enough to be up to the task.