Hindutva’s Terror Link

. 11/3/08

The revelation that a militant section of the Hindutva network was behind the September 29 bomb blasts in Muslim-dominated Malegaon in Maharashtra and Modasa in Gujarat has shattered the myth propagated by the Hindutva campaign that only Islamist fundamentalism breeds terrorism. Indeed the Sangh Parivar’s loaded argument has been that while all Muslims are not terrorists, all terrorists are Muslim. Saffron rabble-rousers have had no compunction in lobbing this charge at the Muslim community as a whole. While it has become almost an article of faith with the parivar to link Islamist fundamentalists with terrorism, today, with the arrests of radical Hindu activist Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and four others, among them a retired Major, the Sangh and its affiliates find themselves warding off the same accusations. Prima facie, the case against the Sadhvi and her accomplices is serious. The Anti-Terrorism Squad of Maharashtra, which has been on the trail of Hindutva terror since 2006, has charged them under the Indian Penal Code for murder as well as under sections of the Indian Explosives Act, 1884, and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.

The antecedents of the accused, the suspected role of former military personnel in providing training to them, and the recovery of military-grade explosive material (possibly RDX) from the blast sites, have added to the discomfiture of the BJP and the parivar, which claim to be India’s only truly nationalist forces. The Sadhvi is a former activist of the BJP’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. She and her accomplices were associated with several right-wing Hindu extremist organisations. There is another deeply worrying aspect to the case: How did the accused lay their hands on military-grade explosives? The other question is how far the trail will go as the investigators pursue the leads provided by this lethal mix of Hindutva and terror. There is no escaping the crisis that this has set off in the parivar. The BJP’s first response was to deny that any Hindutva outfit could be involved in terror. But party chief Rajnath Singh, who has been photographed with Pragya Singh Thakur, has subsequently gone on the offensive, insisting that she must be presumed innocent unless proven guilty. What all this highlights is the imperative of acknowledging that terrorism is too serious a challenge to be left to opportunistic, subjective interpretation. Combating terror is a responsibility governments and political parties across the spectrum must take up in a united and cooperative way.

Nanded case: of lost leads and shoddy investigation

In April 2006, a powerful explosion in the Nanded home of a retired Public Works Department (PWD) executive engineer Laxman Gundayya Rajkondwar was the first indication of a possibility of a home-grown right-wing terror network. Though initially police covered it up by saying that it was a cracker explosion, investigations revealed that Rajkondwar’s house doubled as a bomb-making factory. Two persons, Laxman’s son Naresh and another Bajrang Dal leader Himanshu Panse, died on the spot. Four others present that night, Maruthi Keshav Wagh, Yogesh Vidulkar (Deshpande), Gururaj Jairam Tuptewar and Rahul Manohar Pande, were grievously injured.

Rahul Pande who was later subjected to narco analysis in June 2006, said Himanshu Panse was a Bajrang Dal leader and an active member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Pande also said that Himanshu had planned the bomb blasts at masjids in Jalna, Purna and Parbhani in 2003 and 2004 and Rahul had even accompanied Himanshu to Jalna. The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) which investigated the case, found that Himanshu had organised a training camp at the Bhonsala Military School in Nagpur, apart from other camps. Several leads in the Nanded investigation could have been useful to the ATS now had they been followed meticulously. The School is very much in the news in the current Malegaon blast investigation by the ATS.

The ATS which was entrusted with the Nanded case in May 2006, filed a charge sheet by August 24, 2006. Himanshu Panse and Rahul Pande had started a gymnasium called Power Zone to motivate youth and rally them around for the war against Muslim terror. The ATS charge sheet said that the accused Wagh, Panse, and Vidulkar went to ‘Akanksha Resort’ near Sinhagad near Pune in 2003 for training in making pipe bombs from a man named Mithun Chakraborty. They also had expertise in making three types of bombs including Improvised Explosive Devices (IED)s. Panse and Wagh attended a 40-day training camp at Bhonsala Military School at Nagpur. The charge sheet and narco analysis of accused in the Nanded blast case clearly show that a training camp was held in the Bhonsala Military School at Nagpur attended by 100 to 115 people in May 2000 from all over the country.

According to the statement given by one of the trainers at the camp to the police, Sanatkumar Raghuvittal Bhate, this was no ordinary camp. People were trained in short sticks, karate, obstacle course, and weapons. It had retired army and retired Intelligence Bureau men imparting firearms training. Bhate says that it was the RSS which provided the trainers in various disciplines for the camp. Himanshu Panse and his activities were clearly responsible for the three blasts in Nanded, Parbhani and Purna. In fact, he died while making a bomb which was to be planted at an Aurangabad mosque. While later, the CBI which took over the case, tried to show this as an isolated instance, subsequent events in Maharashtra have proved that extreme right wing groups are not entirely innocent.

While in 2006, initially the ATS was to file a charge-sheet against 21 accused persons, it later sought sanction for only seven. It added four more accused — the men who were present at the time of the Nanded blast. The CBI which took over this case after protests that ATS did not do a proper job, diluted the case in its charge sheet submitted in February 2008. It dropped charges against Laxman Rajkondwar who had allowed his house to be used to make bombs. The remaining ten persons were not charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 1967 or section 120 B of the Indian Penal Code for criminal conspiracy.

However, the leads of the ATS investigation were not followed and the CBI charge sheet will now be challenged in the Supreme Court by activist Teesta Setalvad, who is demanding that the case be transferred back to the ATS. She is also going to seek a stay on the CBI charge sheet which has been filed in the Nanded district court in February 2008.

In a repeat of the April 2006 blasts, another powerful explosion took place in Nanded in February 2007, this time inside a bakery shop. Two persons died in the incident, one of them a member of the Shiv Sena. While police maintain it was a fire, a Concerned Citizens Inquiry headed by Justice (retd) B.G. Kolse Patil has raised several uncomfortable questions. The matter is with the State Human Rights Commission while the government has handed over the probe to the ATS. Clearly the leads in the investigation into the 2006 Nanded blast were not followed up and no linkages were made with the second blast. The current ATS probe into the Malegaon blast has put several people under the scanner including a serving officer in the Indian Army, for the first time. The probe is taking place in several states and there seems to be some earnestness and direction in the investigation. Already a retired major has been arrested on very serious charges and even if the ATS is not yet publicly making the linkages with rightwing organisations, the evidence points in that direction. While it may be the Sadhvi’s (Pragnya Singh Thakur) passion for bikes that did her in, her links to the right wing groups are not in doubt at all. Pragnya Singh Thakur was an active member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad along with Sameer Kulkarni and the others arrested also have similar connections.

In September, the ATS filed a voluminous charge sheet against six members of a religious revivalist organisation near Mumbai, Sanatan Sanstha, and the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti for a series of crude bomb blasts in Thane, Panvel and Navi Mumbai. While the Sanstha has been protesting its innocence, investigations are continuing. If the police had stuck to the suspicion of a wider terror network in the Nanded blasts and probed accordingly, perhaps subsequent blasts could have been averted and lives saved. The current ATS probe has serious and wide-ranging implications. A serving army officer is being questioned and ATS is looking at links between the supply of RDX which was used in the Malegaon blasts and the source of its procurement. Clearly the investigating agency has learnt some lessons from the past and is spreading the dragnet wide enough to trap all the suspects this time.

For some time now, there is evidence that all the blasts in the country are not the handiwork of terror groups supported by Pakistan or Bangladesh. What are the resources of this right wing terror network, its reach and implications? Only a sustained and meticulous investigation can give results and it is time the government and investigation agencies have learnt some lesson from the slip ups in Nanded. Investigations into the terror activities which seem disparate right now have to be coherent. Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.
The Hindu

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