Malegaon and the Samjhauta Express blasts and the investigation which followed were key events in the recent history of India. The investigation led to unexpected directions. For the first time the focus shifted from the conventional ploy of blaming the Muslims and holding up a religion for indictment. No doubt immediately after the blasts a number of Muslim youth were picked up and subjected to the usual torture and interrogation of the Indian style. However, soon afterwards the investigators came upon something which they had not even conceived. The 2007 Samjhauta Express blasts which killed sixty eight people and injured hundreds, mostly Pakistanis, took the investigators of the National Investigation Agency into the terrain of the Hindu outfits. A serving Indian army officer Lieutenant Coloner Shrikant Purohit came under the scanner. His role was confirmed by Swami Aseemanand. Further, a wider network of Hindu right wing organisations was unfolded, which had played their part in the terrorist activities either by providing the ideological support and the concrete logistical mechanism for perpetration of terrorism. The inside slogan was "bomb ka badla bomb sei." The inquiry into the 2006 and 2008 Malegaon blasts also uncovered the role of the Hindu right wing organisations like the Abhinav Bharat. The Anti Terrorism Squad of Maharashtra brought in the disreputable role of the Sadvi Pragya Thakur, Dayanand Pandey and almost half a dozen others. Interestingly, the head of the ATS, Mr. Hemant Karkare, in whose tenure the members of the right wing organisations were charge sheeted, was mysteriously killed.
Now eight years after the blasts, key witnesses are turning hostile. Some people like Yashpal Bhadana and R P Singh are claiming that they were coerced and tortured to accuse Purohit and Pragya Thakur. All along these years they did not come out to state their statements were taken under duress. They had the avenues available with them and a significant social support to legally fight against the people who made them to say things against their will and choice. They did not do that, and now that a new regime is in power, which is eminently sympathetic to their cause, some 19 witnesses have turned hostile and saying things opposite to what they had recorded before. This turnaround also comes in the wake of allegations by public prosecutors that the National Investigation Agency has asked them to "go soft" on the accused. According to K P Raghuvanshi, head of the Anti Terrorism Squad, the evidence put up before the NIA is not merely based on the recorded statements of the witnesses but also other material evidence which is sufficient enough to subject to punitive justice the accused. So there is hope that the trial court will weigh in all evidences and set a new standard of justice, perhaps for the first time in the history of independent India. So far that does not appear to happen, for the members of the ruling regime have come out in support of the accused in a style and manner which is not unique to them only. Power has been traditionally used to bend the levers of justice.
And look at this comparison. Yakub Memon was incriminated in the case of the Mumbai blasts based on a Fiat Car which was used in the blasts. In Malegaon a Hero Honda bike became the source of a chain of evidences. On the one hand Yakub Memon was hung and on the other there is process underway to exonerate the people involved. The double-standard is striking. The culpability through the Fiat car was taken all the way to the noose and the incrimination through the bike, belonging to Thakur, is undermined by stage-managed hostile witnesses, and an encouraging political structure. The reason why there is a degree of ganging up against the investigation is because the term Saffron terror or Hindu terror got the the goat of the right wingers across the board. It is difficult for those who subscribe to the essentially-tolerant Hindu faith idea, to see that a tribe of theirs is manufacturing and planting bombs to kill and maim human beings. The phrase Saffron terror got quite a bit of coinage during the previous UPA regime when one after the other groups and individuals were unveiled involved in the terror activities. The reigning idea was that Saffron and terror cannot be linked while as terror and Muslim cannot be untied. That theory was disproved by the investigation and is now again sought to be reinstated with the manipulation of the investigating agencies.
Up till now the favourite claim dished out was that Pakistan (the ideal punching bag of the right wingers) shields those who perpetrate terror; that the "non-state actors" receive the support and patronage from the spy agencies of the governing establishment especially the Army. With the fear of the death of fair investigation looming large over the Malegaon and Samjhauta blasts cases, one wonders who will accuse the Pakistanis of being hand in glove with the "terrorists." If there was any doubt that India was dipping into another banana republic where justice is defined by the sweet choice of the ruling regime, that disbelief stands removed with justice becoming a casualty.
(Javaid Iqbal Bhat is Assistant Professor South Campus, University of Kashmir)