Saffron Terror and Witch-hunt of Minorities
Between 2006 and 2009, a series of terrorist blasts occurred (Malegaon, September 2006; Samjhauta Express, February 2007; Mecca Masjid, May 2007; Ajmer Sharif, October 2007; Modasa, September, 2008 Malegaon, September 2008; Goa December 2009), claiming hundreds of innocent lives. Every time, immediately after the blast, one or the other Muslim outfit would confidently be declared responsible by investigative agencies. The names LeT, HUJI, Indian Mujahideen, SIMI – all rolled smoothly off the tongues of police officers. Muslim masterminds were named, wholesale arrests made, custodial confessions and narco-confessions and revelations obtained. Anyone questioning this narrative, and challenging both the ethicality and scientific validity of custodial confessions and narco-analysis would be shrilly branded as anti-national.
Slowly, reluctantly, other evidence, initially ignored and ridiculed, began to trickle in and become difficult to ignore, beginning with the Maharashtra ATS investigation headed by Karkare, and now the confession of Swami Aseemanand has connected the dots. It’s official now. All those blasts named above were in fact perpetrated by saffron terror outfits.
It should be stressed that Aseemanand’s confession is a class apart from the torture-tainted custodial confessions routinely obtained by police in such cases; he made the confession in front of a magistrate in December 2010 and reiterated it again in January 2011 in court, and as such it is admissible as evidence and is highly credible. Further, the evidence of saffron terror does not rest on Aseemanand’s confession alone. Dayanand Pandey’s laptop, recovered some time ago in 2008 following Karkare’s cracking of the 2008 Malegaon terror blasts that started with the arrest of Sadhvi Pragya, had valuable evidence with self-recorded audio and video tapes of meetings held to plan terror attacks.
Miscarriage of Justice
If the saffron terror groups perpetrated that series of blasts, who is responsible for the torture, tarnishing of reputation and incarceration of innocent Muslims in each of those cases? It is appallingly evident that a colossal miscarriage of justice has taken place, yet there’s a deafening silence from State governments, the Home Ministry and a series of investigating agencies as to how it was allowed to take place and what they intend to do to make amends and prevent a recurrence. Crime reporters and ‘experts’ and leading papers and magazines are yet to explain what was the basis of their ‘investigative’ reports naming Muslim ‘masterminds’.
Aseemanand’s confession has made painfully clear the extent to which terror investigations in India are tainted by Islamophobia and communal prejudices. Yet, even now, influential voices maintain that these are aberrations, and that on the whole the investigative processes are fine. One prominent media person, Rajdeep Sardesai, while condemning the BJP’s response to the saffron terror issue, has dismissed the demands to re-investigate every recent blast case and to release the accused from the minority community. While he concedes that “in some instances there has been a genuine miscarriage of justice” he suggests that anti-Sangh activists are "widening the communal chasm" by suggesting that “Muslims have been victimized in every case.” This is deliberately misleading. The argument for release of minority accused and re-investigation of all blast cases is not based on the assumption that no Muslim can be guilty of terrorist acts. The point is that the very modus operandi of police and investigative agencies in cases where Muslims are implicated has been proved not only unjust but also dangerously inaccurate. We’re saying it’s high time that our leniency with the police’s modus operandi of torture, custodial confessions, narco analysis and the like is acknowledged, penalized and discontinued.
Indisputably, at least nine Muslims are still in jail on charges relating to the 2006 Malegaon blasts – to which Aseemanand has owned up. Some 36 Muslim youths arrested in the Mecca Masjid blasts suffered the severest third degree torture before being released. They are still waiting for an apology and compensation. Further, there are a host of young Muslims related to SIMI arrested for other blasts. SIMI activist Safdar Nagori was arrested for blasts in Ahmedabad 2008 – whose narco analysis reportedly revealed involvement of SIMI in the Mumbai train blasts and the Samjhauta blasts. If Aseemanand’s confession has rendered these narco-induced revelations on the Samjhauta blasts suspect, what credibility holds for the corresponding ‘revelations’ on the Mumbai train blasts? How can such compromised ‘evidence’ continue to be used as the basis for continued investigations and arrests? Is it not equally possible that the Muslim youth and SIMI activists arrested on the basis of such evidence for the Mumbai train blasts and other blast cases too are wrongly framed?
Even beyond the cases to which Aseemanand has confessed, there is widespread evidence of police frame-ups in terror cases. In 2007, the Tamil Nadu SIT exposed how police had fabricated evidence to arrest five members of Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP) on the charges of conspiring to bomb hospitals in Coimbatore. In 2008, it was exposed that Delhi Police had picked up Tariq Ahmed Batloo at the Delhi airport, but falsely claimed to have arrested him from his hideout in Kashmir. In another case, the CBI exposed how two police informers Mohammad Qamar and Irshad Ali were declared terrorists of Al-Badr group by the Delhi Police special cell. The miscarriage of justice is clearly not confined to an isolated case here and there – it permeates the very process and procedures of investigations - and will do so until we insist on a no-tolerance policy for such procedures. It is a disturbing question for Indian democracy and justice that had Aseemanand not confessed, the communal profiling and scapegoating of minorities by the investigative agencies and a pliant media would have continued unquestioned.
Soft on Saffron Terror
Majoritarian communal bias in terror investigations is an aberration that has been corrected, we are told: after all, investigative agencies now are nabbing the likes of Pragya Thakur, Lt. Col. Purohit, Indresh Kumar and Aseemanand and their associates.
But this is not true. Through the investigations and even today, investigators continue to let political expediency decide the direction and pace of the probe. Let us recall that right since 2003-2004, evidence had surfaced at Nanded, Parbhani, Jalna, Kanpur, Faizabad, Nagpur and Tenkasi (states as wide apart as Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu) of saffron groups planning or perpetrating blasts and trying to implicate Muslims in these blasts. Investigators stubbornly shut their eyes to these leads and continued with the policy of assuming that terrorists could only be Muslim.
In the ongoing investigations into the murder of RSS leader Sunil Joshi (a key co-conspirator according to Aseemanand), the MP police had reportedly destroyed crucial evidence. The chargesheet by the Rajasthan ATS filed on 23 October 2010 names Indresh Kumar and Aseemanand but did not put them in the category of the accused! Nor did it name the RSS as an organization. The Rajasthan ATS has formally arrested Aseemanand only now, following his confession.
Above all, the question is that if SIMI could be banned based on questionable evidence like custodial confessions and narco-analysis, why has no action been taken against the RSS, in spite of Aseemanand’s evidence implicating an entire range of RSS pracharaks from their district level upto central working committee level? If a Lashkar training camp were to be discovered would it be allowed to function publicly, enjoying patronage by ex-army officers? If not, why is there no action against the Bhonsala Military Academy in Nashik – where there is far more credible evidence (such as that found on Dayanand Pandey’s tapes) that ex-army men trained the Hindutva terrorists?
Why have various state ATS teams and the CBI failed to pursue most of the army officers, retired and serving, who figure in the tapes found on Dayanand Pandey’s laptop? Of the eight army officers (four of who have a Military Intelligence background), only Lt Col Purohit and Major Upadhyay are now in jail. Col. (retd) Hasmukh Patel was questioned but let off by the NIA. A retired commandant Col Shailesh Raikar, named as a commander of the Bhonsala Military Academy in the tapes, is also said to be under observation by the NIA. The NIA is yet to follw up the leads on Col Aditya Bappaditya Dhar (Parachute Regiment, now retired); Brig Mathur; Major Nitin Joshi and Major Prayag Modak and Brig Lajpat Prajwal – all of whom are shown in the tapes to be involved with terror plots.
Why are investigators, known to arrest/shoot first and ask questions afterward where Muslim youth are concerned, so coy about investigating Army officers? Is it because in such cases, the country’s deeply cherished stereotypes about the ‘patriot’ and the ‘terrorist’ stand threatened?
Another area where the investigators have been extremely reluctant to tread has been that of political linkages. It is apparent that Aseemanand, Sadhvi Pragya, Indresh Kumar have all enjoyed proximity to a range of BJP leaders. Pragya shared the dais with Rajnath Singh, Modi has visited Aseemanand’s ashram and written welcoming letters to the Hindu Sanatan Sansthan (implicated in blasts in Goa). Moreover, there is fresh evidence that some of the blast conspirators also played a role in the Gujarat riots. If Modi protected and patronized these men in Gujarat as rioters, is it not worth enquiring if he also helped them in their other terrorist activities?
Political Agenda of Saffron Terror
The RSS, in a repeat of its tactics of disowning Savarkar in the wake of the murder of Gandhi, has declared that the terrorist elements had been expelled from the organization long back. But RSS and BJP cannot evade the terror taint. Apart from the solid material evidence linking their leaders with terror plots, it is significant that the saffron terror outfits like Abhinav Bharat also share ideological moorings with the RSS and BJP, and their acts serve the political agenda of the BJP which use bomb blasts and terror as fodder to foster communal prejudices. By themselves orchestrating acts of terror and then implicating Muslims in these blasts, the groups like Abhinav Bharat and other shadowy outfits of RSS helped to feed the fear and prejudice against the Muslim minorities – while the BJP reaped this fear and hatred in elections and political arena by posing as the champion of nationalism against ‘Islamic’ terrorism!