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Terrorist face

Print edition : Aug 13, 2010 T+T-

The Malegaon investigations showed for the first time that Hindu right-wing terror cells exist.

in Mumbai

FROM 2002 until 2008, there had been several minor yet noticeable bomb blast incidents in Maharashtra and neighbouring States. The involvement of Hindu right-wing members in them was alleged but there was no concrete proof of this. Then, on September 29, 2008, the Malegaon blast happened. It resulted in the death of six persons and injuries to many in the predominantly Muslim area. The State's Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) went after every possible suspect and eventually hit the shocking terror trail of Hindutva-driven fundamentalists, many of whom had links to national-level political parties. Their agenda, as the investigations by the ATS showed, was to create a Hindu Rashtra by fighting terror with terror.

Within a few weeks of the blast at Bhiku Chowk, a crowded area in the small textile town, the ATS arrested 11 persons, including Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, a former member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). All of them were subsequently charge-sheeted. They have also been linked to some of the other blasts in the State, such as those in Nanded, Parbhani and Jalna; the police are yet to establish their involvement conclusively.

On July 19, 2010, the Bombay High Court upheld the charges against the Sadhvi and the others, including an Army officer Lt Col Shrikant Purohit, under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA). This is the first time members of a Hindu right-wing organisation have been accused of carrying out violent, anti-national activities.

Essentially, the Malegaon investigations revealed that Hindu right-wing terror cells existed and that terror attacks were not exclusive to jehadi groups. From the charge-sheet filed in 2009, it emerges that the members of the saffron brigade, who are known to be rabble-rousers, have found other means to strike terror and propagate their agenda.

Ever since bombs exploded at masjids in Parbhani (2003), Jalna (2004) and Purna (2004), the involvement of Hindu groups in terror activities was suspected. The suspicions were strengthened in 2006 when a bomb that was being assembled in the house of a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) in Nanded exploded. The Malegaon blast, in which six people were killed, was confirmation, in a sense, of the existence of Hindu right-wing terror.

Interestingly, since the arrest of the Sadhvi and the others, there has only been one incident involving Hindutva activists. In October 2009, two men died in Margao, Goa, when a bomb they were carrying exploded. The men were linked to the Sanatan Sanstha, a right-wing group with a presence in Maharashtra and Goa. During the investigations, the police recovered two unexploded improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at Sancaole, Goa, which they believe belong to the Sanstha or a similar organisation.

The charge-sheet

After an exhaustive study of the terror trail, ATS chief K.P. Raghuvanshi and his team filed a 4,528-page charge-sheet against the group involved in the Malegaon blast. The charge-sheet was put together on the basis of evidence that included several hours of telephone call transcripts and contains explosive details of the group's operations and beliefs.

The 11 accused arrested are Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Prasad Purohit, Sudhakar Dwivedi alias Dayanand Pandey, Rakesh Dhawade, Sameer Kulkarni, Sudhakar Chaturvedi, Shivnarayan Kalsangra, Shyam Sahu, Major Ramesh Upadhyay (retd), Ajay Rahirkar and Jagdish Mhatra. Among the people accused but absconding are Ramji, Sandeep Vishwas Dange and Pravin Mutalik. Ramji's capture, say the police, can unravel much more on the activities of the group.

Conspiracy

Another mastermind who goes by the name Swami Asimanand is also missing. His capture should shed more light on whether the various blasts are linked to the same group of people, say the police.

The charge-sheet points to a larger conspiracy hatched by the accused. Malegaon was their first big act of terror. The accused chose Malegaon for its high concentration of Muslims. Furthermore, they hoped to mislead the investigating agencies into going after the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) because it had been held responsible for an attack in the town in 2006.

The telephone conversations recorded in the charge-sheet give the impression that the Sadhvi was disappointed by the extent of destruction caused by the blast. She says in a phone call to one of the accused: Why did so few people die? Why didn't you park [the bike] in a crowded area?

Abhinav Bharat

The charge-sheet says the accused are linked to a Hindu fundamentalist group called Abhinav Bharat. It was to be a front organisation with the intention of propagating a Hindu Rashtra with its own constitution and aims and objectives [such] as Bharat Swaraya, Surajya Suraksha. The Abhinav Bharat had put together an ambitious plan that called for a Taliban-like government that would ensure that India was rid of anyone opposed to the idea of a Hindu Rashtra.

A motorcycle placed at the bomb site to aid the explosion eventually led the police to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur as its owner. Her arrest in Surat was the key to unravelling the Malegaon plot. Pragya Singh was once an active member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and a member of Durga Vahini, the VHP's women's wing.

Interrogation indicated that in the past few years, she had been a member of various right-wing organisations and had been in touch with godmen, Hindu spiritual leaders and those inclined towards Hindu extremism. Defending herself in court, she said she and the two others arrested along with her were innocent and claimed that they were being implicated as part of a larger game to defame the Hindutva movement.

Soon after her arrest the police made a major breakthrough with the arrest of a serving Army officer, Lt Col Purohit. He allegedly provided the RDX (Research Department Explosive, also called cyclonite) for the bomb and, along with Ramji, masterminded the operation.

Purohit was the main planner and trainer, says the charge-sheet. At Abhinav Bharat meetings held in Ahmedabad, Ujjain, Faridabad, Kolkata, Bhopal, Jabalpur, Indore, Pune and Nashik, Purohit would recruit people for carrying out attacks. He even managed to raise Rs.21 lakh for the organisation.

The investigation into Purohit's background led the police to the Bhonsala Military School in Nashik, which the RSS apparently uses to train its cadre. Purohit had attended a short-term course here long ago and in the recent past he allegedly held a few meetings at the school. According to information available on the school, its founder, B.S. Moonje, was influenced by fascist leaders such as Mussolini and had decided to establish an institution to further this ideology.

Teesta Setalvad, an activist with the Committee for Peace and Justice, insists that the school is a hotbed of RSS activity and has called for its scrutiny in the Malegaon blast case.

The other attention-grabbing aspect of the Malegaon case is the involvement of Himani Savarkar, a niece of Nathuram Godse (Mahatma Gandhi's assassin) and daughter-in-law of Narayan Savarkar, the brother of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Himani is a member of Abhinav Bharat and was present at the meeting in which the Malegaon conspiracy was hatched. She is yet to be questioned and the police do not want to comment on this angle.

It is not entirely clear where the perpetrators sourced their funds for the operation. What is clear is that money was not a problem. The use of RDX, the training given to people in handling weapons, and the indications of the presence an extensive network are enough proof of that.