THE Samjhauta judgment has been grist to the Hindutva apologists’ mill, which has worked overtime to argue that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) spawned the bogey of Hindutva terror at the behest of the Congress. They say that there exists no evidence against Aseemanand and Co, and, in fact, leads that pointed to a Pakistan hand in the train blast, which were being pursued by other investigating agencies before the formation of the NIA, were ignored.
This sanitisation of Hindutva terror links crumbles before evidence. In February 2007, the explosion of an incendiary device in the unreserved bogeys of the Pakistan-bound Samjhauta Express led to the death of 68 people. Within days, the Haryana government constituted a Special Investigating Team (SIT) headed by senior police officer, VN Rai. From among the debris of the singed bogey, Rai’s team discovered a second, unexploded, device in a suitcase. This suitcase and the canvas cover led the team to a market in Indore. Rai has reminisced in interviews that their initial suspects included Pakistani militant outfits, as well as the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).
However, with time, the hand of a Hindu radical group became apparent. The SIT zeroed in on the names of Sunil Joshi, Ramji Kalsangra and Sunil Dange, who remained mysteriously untraceable, till Joshi was murdered at the end of the year. With this, the leads effectively dried up. The investigations received a new lease of life when Hemant Karkare cracked the 2008 Malegaon blast tracing the bomb-bearing motorcycle to Pragya Thakur. This led to the unravelling of a shadowy Hindu extremist network. The Central Bureau of Investigation, to whom the Mecca masjid case was transferred, also placed Sunil Joshi at the centre of the conspiracy, finally arresting Aseemanand from Haridwar in November 2010. Thus, before the NIA took up the cases, different agencies independently arrived at the same conclusion, and Karkare’s findings provided speed and spine to these investigations.
What of the Pakistani angle? In 2009, the UNSC and the US treasury department sanctioned the Laskhar financier, Arif Qasmani, for supporting the Samjhauta blast on the basis of an Indian Intelligence Bureau dossier. This dossier was based not on inputs from the Haryana SIT, whose case diaries do not even once mention Qasmani, but on the Gujarat police’s narco test of SIMI leader, Safdar Nagori. Nagori’s revelations are the staple of several news channels, but these scientifically dubious narco tests have no evidentiary value in court.
Now let us turn to the manner in which these cases were prosecuted, and allowed to collapse. The NIA special public prosecutor Rohini Salian’s revelations that she was asked to go slow in these cases must be measured against the conduct of the agency itself. It is strange that in the Mecca Masjid and Samjhauta cases, the judges have specifically found that evidence has not been brought on record: for example, the Call Detail Record of the accused, which could have helped prove their presence in the Indore market, was not produced, nor were the jail records which would prove that Aseemanand’s meeting Abdul Kaleem (arrested for Meccas masjid blast but later let off) in jail led to his change of heart and confessing his involvement. This reluctance is only matched by the prosecution’s refusal to cross-examine, “to contradict and confront” the witnesses who recanted from their statement recorded under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, as noted in the Samjhauta verdict.
Why has the prosecution not appealed against adverse verdicts? Surely, this is unheard of — though, of course, exceptions exist. The lower court may have thrown out Aseemanand’s recorded confession before the magistrate, but surely, a prosecuting agency would like a higher court to take a view on the centrepiece of its own case? Moreover, when the confession is used to attack political opponents, as the BJP does, it is to suggest that the judge who recorded it was also part of this so-called conspiracy. If the NIA investigations were indeed malicious, why has the government not prosecuted the officers responsible? Instead, the home minister calls it a “very credible investigating agency” while announcing on television that the Samjhauta case is over and no appeal shall be filed. The NIA, has however, maintained that it strictly followed all procedures.
Finally, why the rush to declare the endgame to Hindutva terror theory? The NIA court has convicted three ex-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharaks, including Sunil Joshi for the Ajmer Sharif blast. The Malegaon case is still going on, though the NIA insists that Pragya’s motorcycle is insufficient evidence. Is it so difficult to connect the dots?
(Manisha Sethi is the author of Kafkaland: Law, Prejudice and Counterterrorism in India. The views are personal. The article originally appeared in The Hindustan Times.)