On 8 September 2006, a series of bomb blasts killed 37 and injured 125 people inside a Muslim cemetery, adjacent to a mosque in the town of Malegaon in the Nasik district of Maharashtra. Eventually, on 21 December that year, charge sheets were filed against 8 Muslim men — Noorul Huda, Raees Ahmed, Salman Farsi, Farogh Magdumi, Shaikh Mohammed Ali, Asif Khan, Mohammed Zahid and Abrar Ahmed — who were suspected to have connections with the banned terrorist outfit SIMI, while Shaikh Mohammed Ali and Asif Khan were also found involved with the 7/11 trains bomb blasts in Mumbai.
The ATS further mentioned a Pakistani national by the name of Muzammil who was supposed to have brought RDX from Pakistan and assembled the bomb in Malegaon. The case was then transferred to the CBI within two months of filing of the charge sheets, and the CBI concurred with the ATS findings, too.
When NIA got involved in the investigations, they contradicted the earlier findings and dropped the idea of SIMI’s involvement in the case. Instead they produced a new set of accused in the case: Dhan Singh, Lokesh Sharma, Manohar Singh, Rajendra Chaudhary, Sandeep Dange, Shiv Narayan Gopal Singh Kalsanghra, Shyam Bhawarlal Sahu and Raj Mehul.
After the Samjhauta Express Blasts in 2007, the ATS held Lt Col Purohit as the one responsible for supplying RDX for the blast. Purohit in his defense claimed that he was a part of secret mission to infiltrate terrorist organizations and had kept his superiors in the loop about it. The following year, the Maharashtra ATS and NIA claimed that Lt Col Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya, whose motorcycle was used for the blast, were responsible for the Malegoan blasts as well. What is remarkable and inexplicable is how the ATS and CBI could name one group of people based on initial evidence and then, within a year of NIA taking over and the Samjhauta blasts, a totally new theory is floated to explain the events in Malegaon!
Meanwhile, a term “Hindu terror” was floated in mainstream media, which quickly gained currency and helped to serve the politics of the UPA government. This was used as a tit-for-tat measuring stick to remind the masses that if jihadi terrorism was a threat, so was Hindu terrorism. Never mind that the ATS initially rejected the idea of Hindu terrorism because the Hindu radical outfits lacked the wherewithal to pull off an RDX blast. An August 2009 cable record of the US Ambassador Timothy Roemer, as revealed by Wikileaks, mentions that the Congress party PM-in-waiting Rahul Gandhi tried to sell the idea that Hindutva terror was more damaging than Lashkar-e-Toiba! It would not be out of place to speculate that the sudden turn of investigations in the Malegaon case and Rahul Gandhi’s opinion may hint at a larger and deeper gameplan of the previous government, fuelled no doubt by a plaint media, to project Hindu terrorism as a serious threat. The pattern has been clear to any discerning citizen.
Right after the Batla House encounters in Delhi, Congress’s Salman Khurshid went out of his way to sympathize with the slain terrorists, even claiming that “Sonia Gandhi cried” on hearing of the encounter. In the perverted game of ‘secular’ politics, by playing up a threat of radical Hinduism, while covertly sympathizing with Jihadi threats, Congress hoped to create a vote-bank as well as cushion itself from allegations of going soft on threats from Islamists. It has been years since then, but neither evidence of involvement nor lack of involvement has been conclusively established in courts, until recently.
With the BJP-led NDA government at the centre coming to power, a new NIA took over the investigations of the Malegaon blast case. On 13 May, a supplementary charge sheet was filed, which suggested dropping of charges against Sadhvi Pragya under Maharastra Control of Organized Crime Act (MCOCA) for lack of sufficient and conclusive evidence. The NIA report claimed that the previous investigation by the ATS was questionable and dubious and that “that the prosecution against them is not maintainable.” The new charge sheet contended that while the motorcycle used in the blast was registered under the name of Sadhvi Pragya, it was actually Ramchandra Kalasangra who had been using the vehicle for two years. On 15 April 2015, a bench of Justices FMI Kalifulla and Abhay Manohar Sapre of the Supreme Court said there was no prima facie case for the six people, including Sadhvi Pragya, to be criminally liable under the provisions of MCOCA.
On 26 April 2016, however, a sessions court headed by Justice VV Patil declared the 9 men, with alleged links to SIMI, free, who had been arrested initially by the ATS noting that there was insufficient grounds to proceed against them. This month, a businessman Nisar Bilal filed an intervention application before the special NIA court opposing bail to Sadhvi Pragya. The special court rejected the bail noting that NIA had not sufficiently investigated the Sadhvi role in the blast, and that the accused could not avoid her connection with the motorcycle since it was registered in her name.
It is indeed intriguing that while no less an authority than the Supreme Court found the MCOCA charges applied by the ATS to be unsustainable, special Judge SD Tekale finds the ATS probe and the confessional statements extracted under MCOCA to be reliable enough to reject the bail petition. One wonders if both the courts are looking at the same set of evidence!
Further, if the ATS investigation was correct, then why were the 9 men, with alleged SIMI links, who were arrested right after the blasts, released? If not, why were they held for so long? How likely is it for the police to implicate people out of thin air, when the earliest reports did mention that they had evidence against these men? And if Sadhvi Pragya is indeed guilty, and NIA had evidence against her, why has it taken so long to file a charge sheet? And if the insinuation that the NDA government is influencing and/or manipulating the prosecution holds any water, why couldn’t the investigators crack the case under the UPA government for 6 long years between 2008 and 2014?