Aseemanand acquitted in Mecca Masjid blast case. Judge resigns soon after verdict
Eleven years after an explosion ripped through Hyderabad's Mecca Masjid killing nine and maiming dozens, a special National Investigating Agency (NIA) court citing lack of evidence, acquitted five accused. This includes Swami Aseemanand, a former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) activist.
The verdict has come as a shot in the arm for Hindutva outfits, which are now accusing the Congress of hounding Hindus. However, the pitch was queered to some extent in the evening with special NIA judge Ravindra Reddy, who delivered the verdict, resigning under mysterious circumstances. The reasons for his decision are not known.
A member of Hindu right-wing group Abhinav Bharat, Aseemanand, along with four others, were chargesheeted by the NIA for the May 18 2007 blast that rocked the mosque during Friday prayers, killing nine people and injuring over 50 others.
Soon after the blast, violence rocked old Hyderabad wherein police had to resort to firing killing five persons. Thereafter, Hyderabad police detained several Muslims for their alleged involvement in the blasts before the case was handed over to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in June 2007.
All 21 people were accused of planning and executing the blast but they were all acquitted by the court citing lack of evidence. Considering that Aseemanand and others have been acquitted, it still remains a mystery as to who was behind the blast.
“The special anti-terror court (Hyderabad) acquitted Aseemanand, Devender Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar and Rajender Chowdhary. The prosecution failed to prove allegations,” said a counsel informing the media about the verdict.
While 10 people in the case having links with Hindu right wing organizations were indicted, only five were put to trial. Two accused Sandeep V Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra are absconding, while a third accused Sunil Joshi was murdered.
Investigation of the two other accused is continuing. This the second big terror case in which Aseemanand has been acquitted. A special court in 2017 acquitted him in the 2007 Ajmer Dargah blast. The explosion in the 13th century Dargah of Sufi mystic Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti during Ramzan, had killed three people.
The modus operandi of the two blasts was strikingly similar particularly the use of cylindrical metal pipes as bombs and timers in mobile phones to set them off. It is for this reason that CBI had claimed that the two blasts were linked. Even the fake documents used to procure SIM cards which were used to set off bombs.
Aseemanand, whose real name is Nabakumar Sarkar, is also accused in the Malegaon and Samjhauta Express blast cases. When the details of the case linking Aseemanand with the blasts surfaced, he went absconding only to be arrested in 2010 from Haridwar. However, he was granted conditional bail in 2017.
In his confession before a magistrate in 2010, Aseemanand had informed about his involvement in carrying out explosions at various places of worship for taking revenge against the “terror acts of Muslims.”
While the NIA in its chargesheet had mentioned about his confession, Aseemanand later retracted it. The NIA in the instant case had stated in the chargesheet that the explosion was aimed to “avenge” “terrorist attacks committed on Hindus and their temples".
In 2017, 64 witnesses, including Lt Col Shrikant Purohit, turned hostile derailing the entire investigation process. Purohit had claimed that his statements were never recorded either by the CBI or NIA. The former army officer was to identify Aseemanand, Sunil Joshi and other accused. Joshi, a key accused in the case, was shot dead by unknown assailants in 2007 in Devas, Madhya Pradesh. The investigating agencies were hoping that Purohit would prove that Assemanad called him after Joshi was murdered.
Meanwhile, the acquittal of the accused also led political slugfest between the Centre’s ruling BJP and the opposition.
“I blame it entirely on the Narendra Modi government and the NIA for failing to bring the accused to book and let the criminal off. It is a failure of the Modi government,” said Owaisi alleging the prosecution deliberately failed to produce evidence against the accused.
“BJP must be wanting to distribute sweets and burst crackers after this verdict. Will the BJP appeal against this verdict? Will it ensure that justice is done,” he said. Claiming that the government has gone soft on such terror cases, he said that this exposes the government's so called fight against terrorism.
The Hyderabad MP also questioned NIA's motives while mentioning former special prosecutor Rohini Salian's charges of how she was asked to go soft on these cases.
Justice is delayed & denied. Innocent people who were killed in the blast have not got justice. We still have faith in our agencies&hope the real culprits are caught: Mohammad Irfan,man who spotted the second bomb at Hyd's Mecca Masjid&handed it to bomb squad #MeccaMasjidVerdict pic.twitter.com/Fijwh5ltMO— ANI (@ANI) April 16, 2018
Besides Salian's revelation, there's also the case of NIA officer Pratibha Ambedkar who was mysteriously dropped from the case a few weeks ago.
Also it isn't just the judge in #MeccaMasjidVerdict who has resigned. Just two weeks ago, the NIA officer in the case Dr Pratibha Ambedkar also was suddenly dropped from the case!— sunetra choudhury (@sunetrac) April 16, 2018
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad also questioned the NIA’s functioning. “Turning truth is the new law for this government. People don't have any faith in the investigating agencies now,” he said.
Referring to former union home ministers Sushil Kumar Shinde and P Chidambaram’s “Hindu terror” and “saffron terror” remarks, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra accused the Congress of insulting Hindus for the sake of its appeasement politics.
“Be it Shinde or Chidambaram, they learnt the art of insulting Hindus from you (Rahul) and Sonia,” said Patra.
He also alleged that Rahul Gandhi had earlier told a US envoy that “danger was from Hindus rather than (banned Islamist organization) SIMI (Students' Islamic Movement of India).
Continuing the attack, Patra also referred to Congress leader Salman Khurshid’s earlier remarks that Sonia Gandhi had “wept bitterly” after seeing images of the controversial Batla House encounter.
“The truth is for the sake of its appeasement politics, the Congress has been doing whatever it can to prove that there is something called saffron terror,” said Patra demanding the Gandhi duo to publicly apologise for insulting Hindus.
He also referred to former Under Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs RVS Mani’s allegations that the investigation in Mecca Masjid case was carried out with “ulterior motives”.
Claiming that high ranking NIA officials were Chidambaram's 'choicest men', Mani alleged the counter-terrorism agency was used by the then political dispensation for its own political interests.
Even Sadhvi Pragya, who was granted bail by the Bombay High Court for the 2008 Malegaon blasts, called the entire investigation a Congress conspiracy against Hindus and nationalists. “The conspiracy against the nation has been exposed. Even those who conspired will soon be exposed. The saffron terror script was written by Congress and I am a living example of that,” she said.
Pragya went on to add that she has complete trust in the judiciary which will expose who “Hindus, sanyasis and nationalists were framed by the Congress”.