Achhe Din for Malegaon accused: Clean chit to Pragya, MCOCA dropped against rest
- NIA has removed Sadhvi Pragya\'s name from its chargesheet in 2008 Malegaon blasts
- It has dropped MCOCA charges against all accused. They\'re charged under UAPA & IPC now
- Martyred ATS chief Hemant Karkare\'s investigation is being questioned
Soon after Narendra Modi assumed power in 2014, a senior Congress leader raised questions whether a free and fair probe can be expected in all the Hindutva terror cases being investigated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). He stressed that the government under the influence of BJP's ideological parent - Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - would let all those accused in these cases go scot free.
His fears were not unfounded. On Friday, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) gave a clean chit to Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, one of the accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case. It also dropped charges framed under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) against the accused.
In fact, the central government's intentions of diluting the probe were exposed after former public prosecutor Rohini Salian in 2015 disclosed that an NIA officer had asked her to "go soft" against the accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case soon after the NDA assumed power. She was subsequently de-notified by the NIA from its panel of lawyers. On Friday, another NIA prosecutor Avinash Rasal said that he was deeply hurt by the chargesheet and accused the agency of keeping him in the dark.
Earlier, an extension to NIA chief Sharad Kumar also raised eyebrows. Considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah, Kumar's extension was seen as a ploy to derail the investigation in all the saffron terror cases being probed by the agency.
Even senior bureaucrats were surprised with this blatant move and questioned how a police officer, a Director General, was given an extension after the implementation of Sixth Pay Commission. They claim that it was first of its kind. Congress leader Anand Sharma too raised objections on his extension and said that the this move has raised questions on the credibility of NIA.
While the NIA has dropped all charges against Sadhvi Pragya, saying that there isn't sufficient evidence, Col. Shrikant Purohit continues to be an accused.
The probe was initially handled by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS). The investigations had revealed that the motorcycle used to plant the bomb, which killed 6 people and injured 101, belonged to Sadhvi Pragya.
While the Nashik police had registered cases under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the ATS added various provisions of MCOCA on 20 November 2008 after investigations. The chargesheet, filed by the NIA on Friday, has put a question mark on the investigations conducted by the then ATS chief Hemant Karkare. Karkare was martyred in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.
The ATS arrested 11 persons in connection with the blasts, including Sadhvi Pragya and Col. Purohit. The investigations were completed on 20 January, 2009 and the first chargesheet in the matter was filed. The ATS filed a supplementary chargesheet on 21 April, 2011. The investigation was handed over to the NIA on 1 April, 2011. "The investigations into the matter got delayed since various accused have filed several petitions challenging maintainability of MCOCA. The investigations were completed in April 2015 after the Supreme Court decided the petitions," the official said.
In its final report, NIA has recommended prosecution of Col. Shrikant Purohit, Ramesh Shivaji Upadhyay, Sameer Sharad Kulkarni, Jagdish Chintaman Mhatre, Ajay Rahirkar, Rakesh Dhawde, Sudhakar Dhar Dwivedi, Sudhakar Chaturvedi, Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange under various sections of the UAPA and IPC. MCOCA charges have been dropped against all the accused.
NIA officials said that the agency could not gather sufficient evidence against Sadhvi Pragya, Shiv Narayan Kalsangra, Shyam Bhavarlal Sahu, Praveen Takkalki, Lokesh Sharma and Dhan Singh Choudhari. "There isn't sufficient evidence to sustain the case under MCOCA against these accused. Furthermore, we could not rely on the confessional statements recorded by the ATS. Hence, charges against these accused were dropped and their names removed from the final report," an NIA official said.
The final report by NIA has given the BJP reasons to rejoice. Many senior leaders had protested against the arrest of Pragya Singh and the party had objected to the use of the term 'saffron terror' by the then UPA government.
Reacting to the development, chief spokesperson of the Maharashtra BJP Madhav Bhandari said, "The removal of Sadhvi Pragya's name from the chargesheet has exposed the heinous political game started by Congress when it was in power. This is just the beginning of even more shocking exposes. Congress tried to portray Hindus as terrorists and called it saffron terror. However, despite keeping these people in custody for 10 years, the Congress government failed to prove the charges. It is clear from the NIA chargesheet that it was nothing but a political game."
The Congress, on the other hand, launched an offensive against the government for trying to shield those involved in terror activities. Digvijaya Singh, who has been particularly vocal about the involvement of Hindutva outfits in terror cases, said that the present government wanted to protect the 2008 Malegaon blast convicts.
Reacting to the clean chit to Sadhvi Pragya, Singh didn't mince any words and accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and the Union Cabinet of pressurising police and NIA officers to save Sangh members involved in terror activities. He said, "I have been saying this from the very beginning that people from the RSS and those influenced by its ideology are involved in terror activities".
He was especially disappointed with the agency labelling the investigation by Karkare as flawed and lambasted the BJP for suspecting someone who died as a martyr. The Congress General Secretary said, "The person, who gave his life fighting for the glory of the nation, is now being framed as someone who tried to falsely implicate the accused. It is highly regrettable that Hemant Karkare's deeds in the case are being criticised." He urged the government to not malign Karkare.
On the issue of clean chit to Pragya Thakur, Congress spokesperson Gaurav Gogoi said, "This premeditated intention to release has to be strongly condemned and the weakening and the dilution of NIA seems to be that NIA has now become the 'Namo Investigation'. So whatever the instructions come from the leadership in Delhi, that approach will be taken by the NIA and this bias was also confirmed by the public prosecutor when she said there was pressure on her in this case. We do not want softening of any investigation. So, we still press with that demand that we want a Supreme Court monitored probe in the Malegaon Blast case."
The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has alleged that the central government has pressurised the NIA to get the accused released. "Getting the accused cleared of charges has been part of BJP's agenda. One should not forget that senior BJP leaders like Rajnath Singh had been siding with the accused and demanding their release, ever since they were arrested in 2008," said NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik.
More in Catch - #SamjhautaBombing: NIA chief gives clean chit to Lt Col Purohit