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Why exoneration of Sadhvi Pragya should worry everyone who stands for justice

Subhash Gatade | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:50 IST

There are a few photographs which the bigwigs of the Hindutva Brigade/Sangh Parivar would like to be erased from public memory. One such photograph shows Sadhvi Pragya, an ex-member of the ABVP, sitting with Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Rajnath Singh and few others. As it was later revealed they had gathered to console the widow of a BJP leader from MP, who had just died.

Read- Achhe Din for Malegaon accused: Clean chit to Pragya, MCOCA dropped against rest

Public memory is very short but one can stretch it a bit to recollect the tremendous consternation in BJP/RSS circles when Sadhvi Pragya was arrested by the Anti Terrorist Squad led by the legendary police office Hemant Karkare on 23 October, 2008 for her alleged role in the 2008 Malegaon bomb blast. This photograph had suddenly gone viral when there were denials by many leaders of the saffron brigade that they had never met her.

Now that the NIA, the federal agency established by the government to combat terror in India, has given a 'clean chit' to Sadhvi Pragya and few of her accomplices, should one expect that all those photographs showing her proximity to various leaders of the saffron establishment would be prominently exhibited? It must be remembered that leaders of BJP have even claimed that it was an act of "treason" to arrest her.

Sadhvi Pragya is still accused in the murder of RSS Pracharak Sunil Joshi

The Malegaon blast was one of the most high profile anti-terror cases in the last decade, which was able to put a temporary stop to the 'stigmatisation' and 'terrorisation' of the biggest minority community in the country that had become a norm post 9/11. But before coming to the NIA's about-turn in the case, it is important to underline that Sadhvi is no angel as her followers would like us to believe. She still remains the prime accused in the murder of a RSS Pracharak Sunil Joshi - who himself was part of a terror module which had planted bombs in Ajmer Sharief Dargah, Mecca Masjid etc.

The terror network

For close watchers of the Hindutva terror cases, there is nothing surprising about the NIA's new found wisdom and its raising questions about the investigations done earlier by Hemant Karkare, who is not there to defend himself. Karkare led the ATS (Anti Terrorist Squad) Maharashtra then and had in a meticulous way unearthed the pan-India (with tentacles outside the country also) Hindutva terror network which involved functionaries of RSS as well as other Hindutva organisations, military officers, doctors, saffron robed sadhus - one of them claiming himself to be a Shankaracharya - and even officials of the Bhonsla Military School that was started by a Hindutva stalwart called BS Moonje. Karkare was martyred during the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai, while defending his poorly armed colleagues under controversial circumstances.

It was in the mid of last year only that first concrete doubts were raised about the course and pace of the investigations into Hindutva terror related cases. A series of apparently unconnected developments had strengthened the belief that these investigations were changing course.

Also read- Hindutva terror cases are stalling: here are the facts. Connect the dots

The first major indication of this were the revelations by Rohini Salian, public prosecutor in the Malegaon bomb blast case. She had gone public with the fact that she was being pressurised by the NIA to go slow on the case.

"Salian had said that soon after the NDA government came to power last year, she got a call from one of the NIA officers, asking to come over to speak with her. "He didn't want to talk over the phone. He came and said to me that there is a message that I should go soft."

(See more at:http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/sunday-story-the-importance-of-being-rohini-salian/#sthash.WSyw971H.dpuf)

Close on the heels of Salian's revelations and her removal by the NIA from this responsibility had come the news of a number of witnesses turning hostile in the Ajmer bomb blast case (2007) and other Hindutva terror cases and the sudden decision of the NIA to shift the Sunil Joshi murder case back to Madhya Pradesh. It was the same period when news appeared that the NIA had finally decided to close the Modasa bomb blast case citing 'insufficient evidence'.

Modasa blast

In fact, closing of the Modasa bomb blast case was the first concrete indication that with the BJP coming to power, Hindutva terror cases won't be pursued in the same manner. Perhaps an indication of the changed times was the statement then by a senior minister that there is "nothing like Hindu terror in the country" despite being aware of the fact that the NIA was still handling at least a 16 high profile cases supposedly involving Hindutva terrorists and many of the top bosses of these organisations were still under scanner.

Not very many people even know or remember that Modasa was a copycat bombing. It took place on the same day and at around same time as the much investigated Malegaon bomb blast (29 September, 2008), in a similar (Muslim majority) locality and in a similar manner (use of a two wheeler in planting the explosives).

The only difference was that Malegaon lies in Maharashtra, then ruled by the Congress-NCP alliance whereas Modasa, a tehsil in Gujarat then, was ruled by BJP. There were 8 casualties and injuries to more than 80 in the Malegaon case.

Investigations into Hindutva terror cases seem to have been weakened after BJP came to power

Even a layperson could see the obvious linkages between the two blasts and would conclude that it must be the same terror group which executed both these operations. It is a different matter that the investigations into the Malegaon bomb blast helped unearth the widespread Hindutva terror network whereas the Modasa blast probe was abandoned midway. Despite its apparent inability to crack the case, the Gujarat police did not deem it necessary to solicit help from ATS Maharashtra which had successfully cracked the Malegaon bomb blast case.

Read more- #SamjhautaBombing: NIA chief gives clean chit to Lt Col Purohit

Leena Gita Reghunath, former editorial manager at The Caravan' who has done painstaking work to bring forth the truth in the 'Hindu Terror' cases had in an article written around the same time provided further details about how investigations in these cases were falling apart.

"A string of witnesses turned hostile in the Ajmer case, which is being tried at the NIA court in Jaipur. Most of these witnesses were from the rank and file of the Sangh, and one of them, Randhir Singh, is a minister in the BJP's Jharkhand government. The public prosecutor in the case, Ashwini Sharma, told the Indian Express that 'the testimonies of those who have turned hostile would have made for a watertight case. Despite tough cross-questioning, they refused to admit in court what they had once told the ATS or the magistrate. This considerably shakes the ground of the case.'

The case surrounding the Samjhauta bomb blast, which was the most devastating in terms of casualties, with 68 people killed, has been similarly hampered by uncooperative witnesses. As of the second week of July, ten witnesses had turned hostile at the trial, being heard at the NIA court in Panchkula, Chandigarh. These included Bharat Mohan Rateshwar and his wife Kavita, who, according to the chargesheets, hosted crucial meetings at their home in Valsad district in Gujarat, thereby witnessing the planning of the attacks."

A key point raised by the NIA in exonerating Sadhvi Pragya is that although the bomb planted in Malegaon was on a motorcycle owned by her but she was not using it and it was with other accused. Question remains whether law can be applied differently in different cases. In the 1993 Mumbai blasts case, Rubina Memon was convicted as the car used to transport bombs was registered in her name. A Facebook post by well known filmmaker Rakesh Sharma poses an important question

"Rubina is now serving a life sentence for her 'role'. If ownership of the bomb-laden vehicle is enough for a conviction, then Sadhvi and Rubina must be treated as equal before the law, a fundamental right India extends to all is citizens, not just some!"

Perhaps the last word in this particular case would be reserved for Rohini Salian. When she was contacted by the Indian Express about the turn around by the NIA she simply said

"This chargesheet the NIA filed today is their opinion, it's not a judgment. The order has to come from the court that will decide on the basis of evidence submitted to them earlier and now. They need to club the chargesheet filed earlier by the ATS and what has been given now by the NIA, and come to their own, independent conclusion and decision."

Edited by Aditya Menon

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First published: 16 May 2016, 6:03 IST
Subhash Gatade

Subhash Gatade, writer, translator and activist, he writes in Hindi, English and Marathi and sometimes in Urdu. He has five books to his credit, two in English, two in Hindi and one in Gujarati