Today, the Indian Expressreleased a story that centred around an interview with Rohini Salian, Special Public Prosecutor in the case related to the Malegaon blasts in 2008, in which four Muslims were killed during Ramzan. Those arrested in the case included personalities such as Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur who was a national executive member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), and Lt Col Shrikant Purohit a former military intelligence officer. Salian alleged that the National Investigation Agency (NIA)—that was investigating the case—exerted pressure on her to go “soft” in the case. In this excerpt from “The Believer” that was published in our February 2014 issue, Leena Gita Reghunath reports on Swami Aseemanand's account of how senior leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) encouraged, instigated and aided the perpetrators of a number of such attacks, including but not restricted to the Malegaon blasts.
THE NIGHT OF 18 FEBRUARY 2007, the Samjhauta Express started on its usual course from platform 18 of the Delhi Junction railway station. The Samjhauta, also known as the “Friendship Express”, is one of only two rail links between India and Pakistan. That night, almost three-quarters of its roughly 750 passengers were Pakistanis returning home. A few minutes before midnight—an hour after the train started its journey—improvised explosive devices (IEDs) detonated in two unreserved compartments of the 16-coach train. Barrelling through the night, the train was now on fire.
The explosions fused shut the compartments’ exits, sealing passengers inside. “It was awful,” a railways inspector told the Hindustan Times. “Burnt and half burnt bodies of the passengers were all over in the coaches.” Two unexploded IEDs packed into suitcases were later discovered at the scene; the devices contained a mixture of chemicals including PETN, TNT, RDX, petrol, diesel and kerosene. Sixty-eight people died in the attack.
This was the second, and deadliest, of the five attacks in which Aseemanand, the Hindu firebrand accused of plotting several terrorist attacks on civilian targets across the country between 2006 and 2008, is implicated. He is now accused number one in the Samjhauta train blasts; accused number three in a bombing at Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid that killed 11 people, in May 2007; and accused number six in a blast at the dargah in Ajmer, Rajasthan, that killed three people, in October 2007. He is also named, but not yet charged, in two attacks in Malegaon, Maharashtra, in September 2006 and September 2008, that together took the lives of 37 people.
Many of these cases have been investigated by multiple agencies at different points in time—including the Mumbai Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), the Rajasthan ATS, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and the National Investigation Agency (NIA). At least a dozen chargesheets have been filed in the five cases. Thirty-one people have been formally accused, and two of Aseemanand’s close associates are among them—Pragya Singh Thakur, who was a national executive member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a student group affiliated to the RSS; and Sunil Joshi, who was a former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) district leader in Indore. All of the investigative agencies determined that Aseemanand played a central role in plotting the attacks. Aseemanand, by his own account, hosted planning sessions, selected targets, provided funds for the construction of IEDs, and sheltered and otherwise aided those who planted the bombs.