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A Hindutva plot

Print edition : Feb 13, 2009 T+T-
K.P. Raghuvanshi, chief of the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad that filed a charge-sheet against the Malegaon blast accused.-VIVEK BENDRE

K.P. Raghuvanshi, chief of the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad that filed a charge-sheet against the Malegaon blast accused.-VIVEK BENDRE

THEIR plans may not be as sophisticated as those of jehadi terrorists and their arms training not as good as that of the fidayeen, but the 11 persons arrested in connection with a bomb explosion in Malegaon in September 2008, the police say, are equally dangerous.

Maharashtras Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) recently filed its charge-sheet against this group in the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) court. The revelations that the investigation resulted in were startling.

When the group was arrested in October-November 2008, the theories that Hindu right-wing terror cells existed became a reality. The charge-sheet now says that these groups not only exist but are actively working on an agenda severely detrimental to communal harmony.

The charge-sheet explains that there was a larger conspiracy hatched by the blast accused. Malegaon was their first act of terror. Six people died and 101 were injured in a bomb explosion at Bhiku Chowk, a crowded area in Malegaon, a small textile town in Maharashtra with a large number of Muslims.

The charge-sheet says the 11 accused were linked to the Hindu fundamentalist group called Abhinav Bharat. [This is different from the organisation by the same name, which is registered as a public charitable trust.] It was to be a front organisation with the intention of propagating a Hindu Rashtra with their own constitution and aims and objectives as Bharat Swaraya, Surajya Suraksha. The Abhinav Bharat had put together an ambitious plan that called for a Taliban-like government, which would ensure that India was rid of anyone opposed to the idea of a Hindu Rashtra, it says.

In order to accomplish its goals it would start by fighting terror with terror. It would raise funds through businesses such as retail stores and impart arms and ammunition training to those who were interested in the plan. The organisation had also planned to approach Israel for help. It had even decided to adopt a national flag, which was to be saffron in colour with a gold border.

This and much more is revealed in the 4,528-page charge-sheet, filed by the ATS. Along with extensive details on the planning and execution of the bomb blast, the charge-sheet gives background information on each of the arrested and the wanted.

The 11 extremists arrested are Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Lt. Col. Prasad Shikant 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. Ramjis capture, say the police, would help unravel much more.

K.P. Raghuvanshi, ATS chief, categorically stated that Purohit, who was a serving Army officer, Thakur, Rahirkar and Dwivedi, a self-styled god man, were the masterminds behind the blast. They chose Malegaon for its high concentration of Muslims. Furthermore, they hoped to mislead investigating agencies as the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was responsible for an attack on the town in 2006, said Raghuvanshi.

The charge-sheet says that all the accused entered into a criminal conspiracy between January 2008 and October 23, 2008, with the intention to strike terror in the minds of people by exploding a bomb in Malegaon.

It says that members of Abhinav Bharat held meetings at various places such as Ahmedabad, Ujjain, Faridabad, Kolkata, Bhopal, Jabalpur, Indore, Pune and Nashik. Purohit met the other accused during the various meetings in these cities. At every place, he would assign them a task related to an attack. For instance, in Ujjain, he asked Dhawade to provide explosives to Ramji and Dange in Pune, the charge-sheet says.

Purohit procured the RDX (Research Department Explosive) used in the blast during his military posting in Jammu and Kashmir. He stored it in his houses in Pune and Nashik. The task of making the bomb was given to Chaturvedi in Nashik. Many people were attracted to Abhinav Bharats ideology and its commitment to establish a Hindu Rashtra, explains Raghuvanshi.

Interrogations revealed that Purohit collected nearly Rs.21 lakh for the organisation. The amount was kept with Rahirkar, who disbursed it to Dwivedi and others to procure hand grenades and other ammunition. The police, who interrogated this band of Hindu right-wing terrorists, say that it was tough to get details from the accused. Most would deny any involvement. Then we showed them corroborating evidence and that broke them, said a police officer. For instance, we have been able to get recorded phone conversations between Purohit, Rahirkar and Upadhyay, with them discussing the activities of Abhinav Bharat.

Then there is the seizure of Dwivedis laptop. All the literature, plans and agenda of Abhinav Bharat were found in it. The police even found pictures there of Muslims killing Hindus. When we confronted them with this, they had no choice but to tell us their tale, said the officer.

An interesting aspect of the Malegaon case is the involvement of Himani Savarkar, niece of Nathuram Godse (Mahatma Gandhis assassin) and daughter-in-law of Narayan Savarkar, the brother of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Himani Savarkar, a member of Abhinav Bharat, was present at the meeting in which the Malegaon conspiracy was hatched. Raghuvanshi was unwilling to comment on her involvement.

The accused have been booked under the Indian Penal Code for murder (Section 302), attempt to murder (Section 307), and conspiracy (Section 120-B); for promoting enmity between groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony (Section 153A); sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Indian Arms Act; and sections 3, 4, 5, 6 of the Explosive Substances Act.

The MCOCA was slapped on them on the basis of two charge-sheets against Dhawade for his involvement in the Nanded and Parbhani blasts. The MCOCA is a tough law, which allows the police to hold the accused in custody for a long period of time. This gives the prosecution a lot of leeway.

It allows confessions given to any senior police officer to be used as admissible evidence in court. The defence lawyers say that the MCOCA was slapped just for this and that the case does not require such a stringent law. The arguments, which have begun, now focus more on the use of the MCOCA than on the actual crime.

Hemant Karkare, ATS chief, had cracked the Malegaon case just before he was killed in the Mumbai terror attacks. The key to the case was the tracing of the ownership of a motorcycle used in the blast to Pragya Singh Thakur.

Her arrest and subsequent investigations led the ATS to Purohit and the rest. Purohits arrest sent shock waves across the country, as a serving Army officer was linked to terrorists. Ever since a pipe bomb exploded in Nanded in 2006, there has been some noise about Hindu extremists being responsible for sporadic bomb blasts in Maharashtra.

The emergence of Abhinav Bharat shows that there is indeed a Hindu militant movement. Should it be painted with the same brush as the jehadi groups are? Concerned groups believe it should be crushed now before it turns into a monster.