How Pragya Singh Thakur, Sunil Joshi and Swami Aseemanand plotted the Samjhauta Express blasts

26 April 2017
When images of the destruction brought Neera to tears, Pragya Singh Thakur asked her not to cry, because all the dead were Muslims.
AM Faruqui/The Hindu Archive
When images of the destruction brought Neera to tears, Pragya Singh Thakur asked her not to cry, because all the dead were Muslims.
AM Faruqui/The Hindu Archive

On 24 April 2017, the Bombay High Court granted bail to Pragya Singh Thakur, a former national executive member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case. On 29 September 2008, twobombs concealed in a motorcycle had explodedin the Muslim-dominated town of Malegaon in Maharashtra. Four persons were killed in the blast and 79 others injured. The investigation into the blasts was initially conducted by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), which filed its chargesheet in January 2009.In it, the ATS named 14 persons, including Thakur. She was arrested in October 2008. TheATS alleged that Thakurwas one of the masterminds behind the blast. It stated that she owned the bike associated with the blast, and had given it to a co-accused Ramchandra Kalsangra, who planted the bomb and placed it at the blast site. The evidence the ATS presented against Thakur included statements from witnesses and co-accused, which placed her at meetings planning the blasts before its execution.

In April 2011, the home ministry transferred the case to the National Investigation Agency. Five years later, in 2016, the NIA filed a supplementary chargesheet in which it called the ATS investigation “dubious” and dropped Thakur and five others from the list of accused persons, claiming that “sufficient evidence have not been found” against them. The NIA chargesheet statedthe ATS had tortured a witness who made a statement indicting Thakur.Another witness, RP Singh, who had earliertold the ATS that he overheard Thakur showing her readiness to provide men to arrange the blast,retracted his statement. On these grounds, and arguing the bike used in the blast was not in her possession, the NIA issued a clean chit to Thakur. One month after the NIA's supplementary chargesheet was filed, an NIA court rejected a bail application filed by Thakur, in June 2016, stating that prima facie charges were still made out against her. Thakur filed an appeal against the order dismissing bail before the Bombay High Court. While granting her bail, the court said: “It cannot be said that there are reasonable grounds for believing that accusation made against her are prima facie true.” 

The Malegaon blasts were not the only terror attacks in which Thakur has been named. In the cover story for the February 2014 issue of The Caravan, “The Believer,” Leena Gita Reghunath reported on the rise of Swami Aseemanand in the Sangh. Aseemanand was also named, though not charged, in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case. In the following excerpt from the story, Reghunath recounts Aseemanand's interactions with Pragya Singh Thakur and their role in planning and executing the bombing of the Samjhauta Express train in February 2007. 

For the three years precedingthe Shabari Kumbh, alongside preparing for the festival, Aseemanand had been meeting with several other long-time Sangh workers to discuss a problem far more distressing to them than religious conversions. At the core of this group were Pragya Singh Thakur, the executive member of the ABVP; and Sunil Joshi, the former RSS district leader in Indore.

In early 2003, Aseemanand received a phone call from Jayantibhai Kewat, who was then a BJP general secretary for the Dangs. “Pragya Singh wants to meet you,” Kewat told him. Kewat arranged for them to visit his house in Navsari, Surat, the next month.

Leena Gita Reghunath was formerly the editorial manager at The Caravan. She received the Mumbai Press Club’s Red Ink award for her reporting in 2015 and 2018, and Population First’s Laadli Media Award for Gender Sensitivity in 2018.

Keywords: Aseemanand RSS Pragya Singh Thakur Samjhauta Express blasts Malegaon blasts ABVP Sunil Joshi
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