Swami's confession

Published : Feb 11, 2011 00:00 IST

Swami Aseemanand, a file photograph. He was originally arrested in connection with the 2006 Malegaon blasts but his reported confessions of December 18, 2010, point to his involvement in as many as five terror attacks. - THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Swami Aseemanand, a file photograph. He was originally arrested in connection with the 2006 Malegaon blasts but his reported confessions of December 18, 2010, point to his involvement in as many as five terror attacks. - THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Swami Aseemanand's confessions on the involvement of Hindutva outfits in terror attacks leave investigating agencies red-faced.

WHATEVER the final verdict on the reported confessions made recently by Swami Aseemanand, leader of Abhinav Bharat, a Hindutva extremist organisation, the fact is that they have raised vital questions about terrorist activity in India. The most important of these relates to the process that security agencies adopt for investigating terrorist attacks and the projections they make as part of it.

The confessions also suggest that a widespread network of Hindutva terror groups has advanced its extremist activities systematically over the past six to seven years with help from many leaders in mainstream Hindutva organisations as also groups within these organisations that are a part of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar.

Another important question relates to the responsibility of the government and the larger judicial establishment towards persons found to have been implicated wrongly and arrested in many terror-related cases that have taken a dramatic about-turn as a result of new revelations such as the one made by Swami Aseemanand. This also raises the question as to how the government and other institutions plan to redress the wrong done to these innocent persons.

On the central question raised by Swami Aseemanand's confessions, that is, of the process of investigation into a terror attack, administrative and political authorities claim that the multidimensional investigations carried out by a clutch of agencies, including the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), working together or separately, are done secretly and confidentially.

However, it has been the practice in the immediate aftermath of almost every attack to blame jehadi groups working within the country or their so-called cohorts based in different parts of the world, including neighbouring countries. The experience has been that investigating agencies and those who wield control over them in the security establishment or the Home Ministry at the Centre or in the States help in the propagation of such jehad-oriented stories. Aseemanand's reported confessions raise questions about this practice as well as the line of investigation that has been adopted in many cases over the past decade.

Aseemanand was originally arrested in connection with the 2006 Malegaon blasts but his reported confessions of December 18, 2010, point to his involvement in as many as five terror attacks. According to the reported confession, Aseemanand and his associates, who were members of Hindutva terror outfits, were involved in the many terror attacks, including the bomb blasts in the Samjhauta Express (February 2007) and those at Hyderabad Mecca Masjid (May 2007) and Ajmer dargah (October 2007). The associates apparently included Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Lokesh Sharma, Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit, Retired Major Ramesh Upadhyay, Swami Dayanand Pandey (all of whom were arrested during the course of the investigations) and Sandeep Dange, who is absconding, and Sunil Joshi, who was apparently killed by a few of his own associates. The name of Indresh Kumar, a member of the RSS national executive, also finds mention in the recorded confession.

According to it, these Hindutva activists had joined hands to carry out attacks at Muslim places of worship or in areas with a significant population of Muslims. A common feature of the terror strikes was that a large number of the victims were Muslims. The deadliest attack by this group was on the Samjhauta Express on the night of February 18-19, 2007, in which 68 persons were killed.

Significantly, in all the terror attacks referred to in Aseemanand's confessions, the line of investigation by different agencies focussed only on jehadi terror groups and their national and international associates such as the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), the Lakshare-Taiba (LeT) and the Harkat-ul-Jehad-e-Islami (HuJI).

The Samjhauta Express blasts, for instance, were described as a macabre attack by the LeT. This line of investigation and the projections made on that basis found such widespread currency that this was highlighted even in international forums such as the United Nations. The U.N.'s listing of the LeT as a terror outfit in its international watch list made a specific mention of the Samjhauta Express blasts. Similarly, it was widely propagated that the Mecca Masjid blasts were planned and executed by the HuJI. Hundreds of people from different parts of the country were arrested in these cases as part of the investigation, which has now been exposed as fallacious, and kept either in custody or in jail for long periods of time.

For example, as many as 60 persons were arrested immediately after the Mecca Masjid blasts following the HuJI attack theory. The line of investigation advanced at that time by the Hyderabad police and broadly supported by Central investigating agencies was as follows: Shahid Bilal, a resident of Moosrambagh in the old city of Hyderabad had carried out these blasts in order to create communal tension. There were two first information reports (FIRs) in this case, one dealing with the blasts and the other dealing with the recovery of unexploded explosives.

Charges ranging from involvement in seditious activity to conspiracy were brought against all the 60. The viewing of recordings of the demolition of the Babri Masjid was held to be an act that spurred the suspects into indulging in terrorist acts.

The investigation into the Samjhauta Express blasts has also been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. The attack on the train named after the Urdu and Hindi word for accord or compromise was perceived as an attack on the efforts to strengthen India-Pakistan cooperation. The train connects New Delhi to Lahore and passes through the India-Pakistan border in Punjab at Attari.

On the basis of the perception that the blasts were perpetrated by those who wanted to scuttle or at least impair India-Pakistan cooperation, both the Indian and Pakistan governments condemned the attack. A day after the bombings, Indian investigating agencies said it was a suitcase bomb attack carried out by five people associated with the LeT. The agencies even released sketches of two suspects. Later, some people who allegedly sold the suitcases to the alleged attackers were arrested from Indore. But that was about all in terms of concrete progress.

Things started to unfold differently in November 2008 when the interrogation of Lt Col Purohit revealed that there could be a Hindutva terror dimension to the attack. This aspect gained momentum in October 2010 when the charge sheet prepared by the Rajasthan anti-terrorism squad stated that a meeting of Hindutva bomb makers in February 2006 discussed the Samjhauta Express as a potential target for attack. In yet another development, WikiLeaks linked David Headley, the suspected brain behind the Mumbai attacks of November 26, 2008, to the bombing. Aseemanand's confessions have come as the latest twist in this series of events.

The Sangh Parivar as a whole, and specifically the RSS and its political arm the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have pointed to the changing facets in the investigations to claim that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre is using various agencies to prop up a misnomer called Hindu terror. According to an editorial in Organiser, the journal of the RSS, Aseemanand's confessions are nothing but the concoctions of the investigating agencies to suit the political needs of the Congress.

The editorial stated: So far there has been no instance of any Hindu organisation boasting credit for a terror strike anywhere in the world. So far no outfit has claimed to work underground to advance a Hindu agenda through arbitrary force, undemocratic means or through intimidation. Normally gangs resort to such methods when they are in a miserable minority and have no hope of achieving their goal through democratic, constitutional methods. Or when they are not confident of the support they enjoy in society. In any case, even home-grown terrorism cannot sustain without technical and logistic support and funds from outside the country. By general consensus there is no religion or colour for terrorism. But the jihadi outfits do not make any secret of the religious agenda they want to enforce. By all these parameters Hindu terror is a misnomer.

It also wondered why only the persons named in alleged Hindu radicalism seem to be making confessions' and why we have not heard of a [Ajmal] Kasab, [Mohammad] Afzal [a.k.a Afzal Guru] or Geelani or such other jihadi terrorists making any confession. The Sangh Parivar leaders, including BJP president Nitin Gadkari, have made bold to absolve RSS national executive committee member Indresh Kumar of all culpability and have appeared along with him in several public functions.

Notwithstanding such protestations, there is enough evidence to show that Hindutva terror groups have time and again received overt or covert support from mainstream Hindutva organisations. Not only the cases cited by Aseemanand but also a number of untoward happenings in Maharashtra underscore this point. Independent civil society investigations into the blast in the house of an RSS worker in Nanded, which resulted in the death of two Sangh Parivar activists, and the attacks later in Pabhani, Beed and Jalna have underscored the collusion between leaders and activists of mainstream Hindutva organisations and peripheral Hindutva terror units.

Incidentally, Aseemanand himself came into prominence within the Hindutva fold when he organised a massive Hindutva-oriented conference in the tribal-dominated Dangs district of Gujarat in 2006. That conference, where plans were made for the coming decades, was perceived by Sangh Parivar observers as a milestone event. Aseemanand worked closely with the BJP's Hindutva icon, Chief Minister Narendra Modi, and his ministerial colleagues in convening the conference. A similar meeting is being organised in 2011, obviously without the presence of Aseemanand, but of course with the blessings of Narendra Modi. Clearly, these connections and the push they give to fringe Hindutva groups cannot be wished away.

According to the Lucknow-based political observer Indra Bhushan Singh, who is also a senior lawyer in the Lucknow High Court, the trajectory of terrorism of different hues can be distilled and identified properly only if such organisational activity, too, is monitored properly.

He said: Only such scrutiny will lead to correct investigations and correct conclusions. Unfortunately, our investigating agencies seem to be perennially in reaction mode and not in a proactive mode. That is why we have spectacles such as the investigation into the 2006 Varanasi blasts, where a man was arrested and even convicted but a couple of years later new accused were discovered and paraded from different parts of the country. Clearly, this is an issue involving basic human rights and demands serious attention and concrete action from different sections of society, including lawmakers.

Indra Bhushan Singh's contention has special relevance in the context of Aseemanand's confessions and the effect it will have on people linked to the several attacks he has mentioned. However, given the track record of the investigating agencies and their political bosses, it may be too much to expect concrete measures to correct the flip-flop methods that drive terror investigations.

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