ON May 1, reviving memories of a long-forgotten terror attack, the Rajasthan Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) came up with a surprising revelation by arresting one Devendra Gupta for his alleged involvement in the Ajmer Dargah Sharif blasts of October 11, 2007. Another arrest, of Chandrashekhar, a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) worker from Madhya Pradesh, indicated that the links were spread wider than was thought earlier.
In an interview to a television channel, ATS chief Kapil Garg pointed out the role played by Abhinav Bharat, a Hindu nationalist organisation with pre-Independence origins (not the registered public charitable trust based in Mumbai). The Pune-based organisation, in its new avatar, is managed by Himani Savarkar, a niece of Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, who is married to a nephew of the Hindu nationalist leader V.D. Savarkar. The ATS chief's claim was supported by none other than Ashwani Kumar, chief of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Speaking to mediapersons at the sidelines of a function, he said that there was a link between the Ajmer, Mecca Masjid and Malegaon blasts. The similarity in the modus operandi and in the explosives used substantiated these claims.
Devendra Gupta apparently had links with the RSS. On the day of the blast at Ajmer, some 5,000 people had gathered for iftaar. The attack was initially attributed to the Harkat-ul-Jehad-e-Islami (HuJi) by the then Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who is now the Governor of Rajasthan. The Home Ministry, it was believed, had formed this premature conclusion primarily because an India-Pakistan meeting on ways to deal with terror mechanisms was due on October 22 that year. Islamist terror outfits were blamed for about one and a half years. On the basis of this belief, several people were rounded up and there were arrests, detentions and interrogations.
Muslim and secular groups in the State have demanded a fresh probe into the Ajmer blasts and a ban on the RSS. In the light of the fresh links that have emerged, groups like the Rajasthan Sadbhav Manch, the Association for Protection of Civil Rights, the Bhaichara Foundation and the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind have demanded that the Jaipur serial explosions of May 2008. in which 70 people were killed, should be investigated again.
In the Ajmer dargah, when a tiffin box kept a few feet away from the main mausoleum exploded, three lives were lost and 30 persons were injured. Thankfully, the casualties were not very high. It was the brazen attempt and the nature of the attack that shocked the country; this was the first time that a prominent Sufi shrine had been targeted.
The revelations of the State ATS were further bolstered by the assertion of the State Home Minister, Shanti Dhariwal, who said that the investigating agencies had enough evidence to prove that the arrested person had links with the RSS, a claim that the organisation denied. He also said that the bomb-maker had been identified and that the centre of activity lay in Madhya Pradesh.
Devendra Gupta, it was claimed, was in touch not only with Sunil Joshi, an RSS zila pracharak, who died after the blast in October 2007, but also Sadhvi Pragya Singh, the alleged brain behind the Malegaon blasts of September 29, 2008, in which six people were killed. The blasts occurred in the month of Ramzan. In 2006, too, Malegaon was ripped apart by blasts at three different places, including a mosque-cum-graveyard where 38 people were killed and a hundred were injured. The occasion was Shab-e-Baraat and people had come to offer prayers for their dead. Three persons were then arrested from Indore. Another person arrested for the Malegaon blasts, Colonel P.S. Purohit, apparently confessed that Joshi had masterminded the dargah operation with Devendra Gupta's help.
In August 2007, two Bajrang Dal activists, Rajeev Mishra and Bhupendra Arora, were killed in Kanpur while assembling bombs.
A few months before that, blasts in the Samjhauta Express killed 68 people, all Pakistanis. No one at that time remotely suspected the hand of homegrown outfits, operating and acting in the name of Hindutva, though the Rajasthan police had noted that the pattern of the Ajmer blast resembled that of the Mecca Masjid blasts in Hyderabad. Nine people were killed in the blasts on May 18, 2007, at the 17th century Mecca Masjid and five were killed in subsequent police firing. It emerged only later in some sections of the media that there could be other possibilities. Muslim groups in Hyderabad have demanded a fresh probe.
Raising the issue at zero hour on May 6 in the Rajya Sabha, Communist Party of India (Marxist) member Brinda Karat drew the attention of the House to the recent developments that pointed to the role played by groups acting in the name of Hindutva. She said: It is true that terror has no religion and it is equally true that terrorists taking the name of any particular religion defame the very religion in whose name they act. In the current investigations these highly condemnable anti-national acts of terror and bomb blasts in places of worship like the Sufi shrine in Ajmer or the Masjid in Hyderabad were committed by groups acting in the name of Hindutva. In these two blasts several innocent people were killed and hundreds injured.
Earlier, in the Malegaon bomb blasts in 2006 and again in 2008 in Malegaon and Modasa, groups acting in the name of Hindutva have been implicated. Recently it was reported that the RSS had expelled one of its pracharaks for his involvement following the investigations.
She expressed surprise at the way Ministers and officials linked the blasts, immediately after they occurred, to members of the Muslim community and the HuJi and the Laskhar-e-Taiba. We know about the culpability of Huji and Lashkar in many acts of terror in this country, but when it becomes an automatic reaction to blame Muslims for blasts, it is the gravest injustice to the community and in fact it helps terror groups operating across the border, as the credibility of our own investigation gets compromised, she said.
She stated that the arrest, torture and incarceration of 75 young Muslims in Hyderabad in 2007 and 2008 was a shameful example of prejudice and community profiling. She called upon the House to join her in demanding compensation for them. Simultaneously, she also demanded a fresh probe into the Mecca Masjid blasts in the light of new evidence of links with the Ajmer Sharif blasts. She demanded that the government institute an inquiry into the network of groups, operating in different parts of the country, that had committed acts of terror in the name of Hindutva.
She called upon the House to condemn politics that produces persons who commit such acts, the politics of communal hatred, the targeting of Muslims, the false propaganda and the distortions of history.
In a separate statement, the CPI(M) said: The arrest of three persons in the Ajmer Sharief Dargah blasts of 2007 has revealed the role of Hindutva extremist elements in this terrorist attack. One of those arrested is reported to be a member of the RSS. These elements are linked to the group which conducted the Malegaon blasts in Maharashtra. The enquiries point to the involvement of the same elements in the Mecca Masjid blast in Hyderabad. It also highlighted how after the Mecca Masjid bomb blast a number of Muslim youth were rounded up and kept in detention and tortured for weeks; 26 of them were charge-sheeted and kept in prison for seven months.
The general bias against Muslims in police investigations into terrorist attacks was disturbing, the party said. It also called upon the Andhra Pradesh government and the CBI to compensate suitably all those arrested and detained in the Hyderabad blast case.
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari called for a a holistic investigation to discern the linkages of Abhinav Bharat and the position of Abhinav Bharat in the larger Sangh Parivar. He also said that it was disturbing that the name of this organisation was repeatedly coming up in various blast-related investigations.