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India: Hindutva linked terror accused in Malegaon blasts and other cases being let off and fine work by Hemant Karkare being taken down

18 May 2016

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The developments in the Malegaon blasts case have shown that the Hindutva forces are succeeding. Articles by Subhas Gatade and by Julio Ribeiro are posted below

catch news - 16 May 2016

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

by Subhash Gatade

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.

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.

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."

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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.

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

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

o o o

The Indian Express - May 18, 2016

Malegaon blasts case show that Hindutva forces are succeeding in widening Hindu-Muslim divide, writes Julio Ribeiro

Karkare is not alive to defend himself against all the forces that have been unleashed against him in his absence

Written by Julio Ribeiro

Hemant Karkare laid down his life for his friends. Every man and woman in the land was his friend. He did not discriminate between man and woman, Hindu and Muslim, this caste or that. He was a professional policeman. And he was a patriot. And that is what people expect of their public servants.

Karkare belonged incidentally to the topmost tier of the pecking order in the hierarchy of castes. That factor became irrelevant when he donned the uniform. Traditional culture was subsumed by a new “police” culture, which demanded that all citizens are treated equally. In the eyes of the law all are equal. Any policeman true to his salt would follow this maxim, which becomes his “dharma”.

I knew Karkare well. He was one of the — now, unfortunately, diminishing number of — IPS officers who enjoyed an unsullied reputation for integrity, both financial and intellectual. People who wanted true justice would gravitate towards him. He did not know what it was to speak anything but the truth (or what he felt in his bones was the truth).

He came to meet me on November 25, 2008, a day before his life was extinguished by jihadi terrorists. He came to tell me he was disturbed. He was disturbed because L.K. Advani had the previous day, or a couple of days earlier, accused the Maharashtra Police Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), of which he was then the chief, of framing Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and others in the Malegaon blast case. He said he would not dream of framing anyone and I believed him because I knew he would do nothing wrong. I told him I would speak to Advani personally as I had faith in his integrity.

Karkare had brought the case papers to show me that his investigations had nailed the real culprits. I did not look into those files for lack of patience. I am sorry today that I did not take more interest in his findings. If I had done so I could have attempted to defend that good and honest man with concrete facts. He is not alive to defend himself against all the forces that have been unleashed against him in his absence.

But I cannot let these forces go unchallenged. I will not be able to refute them on the details but the police officers who knew him are sure that he was not one to concoct evidence. Investigations were conducted first by Karkare’s predecessor in the ATS, then by the dead man himself and now by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The investigators seem to be hopelessly at odds with each other: The first set actually arresting the usual suspects, the second collaring a more plausible group with concrete proof in the shape of telephone intercepts and recorded conversations, and then the third watering down the evidence and charges against the alleged culprits named by the Karkare team. It is highly unusual for later investigators to weaken evidence in this manner. They are expected to strengthen cases, not do the opposite.

When the well-respected public prosecutor, Rohini Salian, bemoaned the attempt by the NIA to influence her to soften the case against the Hindutva ultras, I expected them to be let off. But, even in my wildest imagination, I could not have dreamt that to achieve this objective a national hero like my friend Hemant Karkare, would be sacrificed. His reputation was all that was left of him and that is being buried.

Hemant’s wife died a natural death not many years after his assassination. The pain was too much for her to endure. If she was around she would have fought. I have no doubt about that. But in her absence and in the absence of his daughters who are abroad, it is left to old colleagues like me to come to Karkare’s defence.

I have spoken to many officers and policemen who were disappointed with the NIA’s decision to sully the fair name of a trustworthy and fair-minded colleague. It smacks of an attempt to snuggle up to those in power. I had sensed a similar disenchantment in the force when the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), in the Ishrat Jahan case, named some Intelligence Bureau (IB) officers in the conspiracy to eliminate Ishrat. For the first time I saw one Central police agency trying to rope in a sister agency’s operatives in a criminal conspiracy when the ways of working of the latter agency are well known to the rank and file. “Snuggling” was apparent there too. If a law is in place to prevent “post- retirement” sinecures the tendency to “snuggle-up” will reduce.

The developments in the Malegaon blasts case have shown that the Hindutva forces are succeeding in widening the Hindu-Muslim divide.

When Karkare came out with his list of culprits it was easy for us Indians to proclaim that India was different from Pakistan. In that benighted country, jihadi terrorists are always protected if they act against the “enemy”, that is us. We proudly proclaimed that ours was a land governed by the “rule of law”. Hindus killing Muslims would be dealt with as sternly as Muslims killing Hindus.

But that pride has to be discarded now. This emperor, too, has no clothes. We are slowly but relentlessly moving towards being bracketed with Pakistan in our attitude towards the law, terrorism, and the minorities. I doubt if we will ever get to sit on the high table if the law is not enforced equitably and fairly.

When the NIA finally came out with its conclusions in the Malegaon case, my Hindu friends kept a studied silence till I cajoled them to comment. A leading question on the denigration of Karkare evinced a tepid response. But when I identified Islamist extremism as the cause for the unexpected and unusual birth of Abhinav Bharat they were infinitely more enthusiastic. My Muslim and Christian friends, on the other hand, were eager for me to articulate my thoughts through the media. The divisions are sharpening. And that is not a good augury.

(This article first appeared in the print edition under the headline ‘Burying Karkare’)

The writer, a retired IPS officer, was Mumbai police commissioner, DGP Gujarat and DGP Punjab

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The above articles from Catch News and From The Indian Express are reproduced here for educational and non commercial use