Criminal conspiracy - The ATS charge sheet in the Malegaon blast case

Written by Teesta Setalvad | Published on: April 22, 2019
First Published on: February 1, 2009

The crime
On September 29, 2008 there was a bomb explosion in a crowded locality of Malegaon. The explosion occurred opposite the Shakil Goods Transport Company, located between Anjuman Chowk and Bhiku Chowk, a busy and populous part of town. The blast was caused by an improvised explosive device (IED) fitted on an LML Freedom motorcycle bearing the registration number MH-15-4572. Six persons were killed as a result of the explosion and 101 persons sustained various degrees of injuries. Property worth Rs 4,23,500 was also destroyed. The IED was assembled using RDX, ammonium nitrate and ammonium nitrite.



This act was the handiwork of a group of conspirators whose ultimate aim, according to the ATS charge sheet in the Malegaon case, was to "propagate a separate Hindu Rashtra with its own constitution and aims and with Bharat Swarajya, Surajya, Suraksha, in its preamble". The charge sheet goes on to say that members of "this organised crime syndicate wanted to adopt a national flag i.e. solo-themed saffron flag with a golden border. The length of the flag would be twice its breadth, with an ancient golden torch (bhagwa dhwaj)".

The charge sheet filed by the ATS runs into 4,528 pages. It contains two confessional statements of accused Rakesh Dhawade and Sudhakar Dhar Dwivedi alias Swami Dayanand Pandey, a list of 431 witnesses the prosecution wishes to examine and forensic evidence. The ATS has also included telephone, audio and video transcripts running into hundreds of pages. A total of 14 persons have been named as accused in the crime and arrests began in October 2008. Three of the 14 accused are absconding.
 
The conspirators
1. Sadhvi Pragnyasingh Chandra-
palsingh Thakur alias Swami Purnachetanand Giri (38), originally from Madhya Pradesh but living in Surat, Gujarat. A member of the VHP’s Durga Vahini and a former member of the ABVP, Pragnya Thakur is closely associated with BJP leaders and has participated in their election campaign meetings as well.
2. Shivnarayan Gopalsingh Kalsangra (36), a native of Madhya Pradesh and living in Indore.
3. Shyam Bhavarlal Sahu (42) from Madhya Pradesh.
4. Ramesh Shivji Upadhyaya (57) from Uttar Pradesh. He organised camps and training modules to ideologically and physically draw young men into violence. (The fact that Upadhyaya is a retired officer of the Indian army is not mentioned in the charge sheet.)
5. Sameer Sharad Kulkarni (39), a resident of Pune but originally from Jalgaon in Maharashtra. A former ABVP member, Kulkarni revived the Abhinav Bharat in Pune. He worked at a Bhopal printing press for some time and was in charge of Abhinav Bharat’s activities in Madhya Pradesh.
6. Ajay alias Raja Eknath Rahirkar (39), living in both Pune and Jalgaon. He was Abhinav Bharat’s Pune-based treasurer who provided logistical and financial support to Kulkarni and Purohit.
7. Rakesh Dattatraya Dhawade alias Rao (42) from Pune district. He is an arms expert linked to Abhinav Bharat.
8. Jagdish Chintaman Mhatre (40) from Dombivli, Thane.
9. Lt Col Prasad Srikant Purohit alias Balawant Rao alias Shreyak Ranadive (36), living in Pune and Panchmarhi, Madhya Pradesh. This is the first time that a serving army officer has been accused in a terror attack. Purohit is charged with providing training, coordinating the blasts, sourcing funds and arranging for the explosives. Being an army officer, he operated under at least two aliases.
10. Sudhakar Udaybhan Dhar Dwivedi alias Swami Dayanand Pandey alias Swami Amrutanand Devtirth alias Shankaracharya of Sharada Sarvagy Peeth (40), a native of Jammu living in Uttar Pradesh. A self-styled ‘Dharma Guru’, Dwivedi was also guru to the Sadhvi, Pragnya Thakur. There are possible indications that could link Dwivedi to the Kanpur blast in October and the Jammu agitation over the Amarnath shrine last year.
11. Sudhakar Onkarnath Chaturvedi (37), a resident of Nashik but originally from Uttar Pradesh.

Absconding accused:
12. Ramchandra Gopalsingh Kalsangra (38) from Indore in Madhya Pradesh. The person responsible for planting the explosives at Malegaon, Ramchandra Kalsangra was in constant touch with Sadhvi Pragnya Thakur and coordinated the blasts.
13. Sandeep Vishwas Dange, from Indore in Madhya Pradesh.
14. Pravin Mutalik, a resident of Karnataka.
Sections Applied: Sections 302, 307, 326, 324, 427, 153A, 153A(1)(b) and 120B of the IPC read with Sections 3, 4, 5 and 25 of the Arms Act 1959 read with Sections 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the Explosive Substances Act 1908 read with Sections 15, 16, 17, 18, 20 and 23 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act 2004 read with Sections 3(1)(i), 3(1)(ii), 3(2), 3(4) and 3(5) of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) 1999.
The police are also on the lookout for Swami Ashim Anand from the Dangs district in Gujarat who has been absconding since the day news leaked out that the ATS was on the hunt for him. If caught, fresh details about the plot might be revealed along with possible links to the Ajmer and Mecca Masjid, Hyderabad, blasts as well as the blasts on the Samjhauta Express.
This crime syndicate procured and transported the materials required for the bomb explosions... These acts are often committed in areas where there is a dense population of Muslims. The supposed justification for these actions is revenge for acts committed by the Muslim community

Unlawful assembly
The terror ring held meetings at various places i.e. Faridabad, Kolkata, Bhopal, Jabalpur, Indore, Nashik, etc to plan their conspiracy under the banner of Abhinav Bharat, which was concurrently propagating its idea of a Hindu nation to be established through a takeover by the army.

To further this larger conspiracy, a meeting was held at Faridabad on January 25-26, 2008 at which the accused Prasad Srikant Purohit, Ramesh Upadhyaya and Sudhakar Chaturvedi were present. At the meeting Srikant Purohit took on the responsibility for providing the explosives while Sudhakar Chaturvedi took on the responsibility for providing two men who would set off a blast at an unspecified location. Chaturvedi also offered the use of his house at Vanat Chawl, Bhagur Road, Deolali camp, Nashik, as a location where the IED could be assembled and stored. The keys to Chaturvedi’s house were kept at the Military Intelligence (MI) office at the Deolali camp, Nashik. Purohit had asked Pravin Mutalik (an absconding accused) to collect the keys from the MI office at Deolali so as to enter Chaturvedi’s house for the purpose of assembling the IED which was finally used to explode bombs at Malegaon.

At a similar meeting held in Bhopal on April 11-12, 2008 the conspirators, Pragnya Thakur, Ramesh Upadhyaya, Sameer Kulkarni, Srikant Purohit, Sudhakar Dhar Dwivedi alias Dayanand Pandey and Sudhakar Chaturvedi among others, together plotted to take revenge against Muslims in Malegaon by exploding a bomb in a densely populated area. Srikant Purohit took on the responsibility for providing the explosives while Pragnya Thakur took on the responsibility for providing men to carry out the explosion. It was at this meeting that all the participants decided to carry out the explosion at Malegaon.

Around June 11, 2008 another meeting was held, this time at the Circuit House in Indore. At this meeting Pragnya Thakur introduced Ramchandra Kalsangra (an absconding accused) and Sandeep Dange to Sudhakar Dhar Dwivedi, saying that both these persons were her confidants and had always supported her. Sometime in the first week of July 2008, at another meeting in Indore, Pragnya Thakur asked Dwivedi to direct Srikant Purohit to give the explosives to Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange in Pune.
 
Unravelling a conspiracy
The ATS has held that all the accused persons were part of a criminal conspiracy operating through meetings held in different parts of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh between January 2008 and October 23, 2008, the object of which was to commit unlawful acts in furtherance of the criminal conspiracy.

The charge sheet states that the organised crime syndicate has been active since the year 2003; a key member of this syndicate, arrested accused Rakesh Dattatraya Dhawade, has been active since then. Rakesh Dhawade was among those present at an oath-taking ceremony of members of Abhinav Bharat that was held at Raigad Fort in 2006, which Srikant Purohit and Ajay Rahirkar also attended. Dhawade and the organised crime syndicate had been carrying out bomb blasts since 2003. All the accused also joined this syndicate and continued its unlawful activities. Dhawade was involved in procuring arms and ammunition for the group. This organised crime syndicate procured, acquired and transported the materials that were required for the bomb explosions and also transferred vast amounts of money, arms and ammunition used to carry out its unlawful activities. These unlawful acts are often committed in areas where there is a dense population of Muslims. The supposed justification for these actions is revenge for acts committed by the Muslim community.
 
Missing links
Army and intelligence links

The most dangerous trend revealed by the Nanded investigations and reconfirmed now in the Malegaon probe is the involvement of both serving and retired officers of Indian intelligence agencies and the Indian army in training outfits that are ideologically opposed to the Indian Constitution, in the making of bombs, in generating terror and in spreading bitter communal poison.

A serving officer and four retired officers of the Indian armed forces have already been shown up for their links to various recent acts of terror. The Malegaon charge sheet implicates Purohit and Upadhyaya in the crime. But Col (retd) S. Raikar, a former Indian army officer and until recently the commandant of the Bhonsala Military School, Nashik, who made the school campus available for training terror groups, was questioned by the police but has been spared in the ATS charge sheet. He has since resigned from his position at the Bhonsala Military School.

The earlier charge sheet(s) of 2006 (prepared by the ATS Maharashtra) in the Nanded blast case implicate Sanatkumar Bhate in training members of the Bajrang Dal at the Akanksha Resort at Sinhgad near Pune. Bhate is a former officer in the Indian navy. A legitimate follow-up to this would be to probe the true depth of ideological infiltration into the Indian armed forces, of ideologies that seek to establish a religion-based state through violent means. The ATS does not mention the positions or former positions that some of the accused have held in the armed forces. Does this omission by the ATS stem from a reluctance to track the role of army and navy officers in unconstitutional acts? The ATS has also not probed the involvement of any army officials in these crimes. Those army men who were questioned have been given a clean chit and been named only as witnesses.

Lt Col Purohit procured the RDX (research department explosive) used in the blast while he was posted in Jammu and Kashmir. He stored it in his homes in Pune and Nashik. The transcripts included as part of the charge sheet implicate Purohit in at least two other similar incidents whereas the ATS charge sheet limits itself to the Malegaon incident alone. In these transcripts Purohit said, "Main kuch baat kahunga isse pehle kabhi nahi kahi gayi thi. Do operation humne kiye, successful ho gaye. Operation karne ki meri kshamta hain, swamiji. Mere paas equipment ki kami nahi hain. Main equipment paida kar sakta hoon. Equipment la sakta hoon. Agar jab thaan leta hoon. Lekin target chunna yeh mere ek ke vishay ke hisaab nahi hona chahiye (I will say something that I have not spoken of before. We have carried out two operations in the past and they were successful. I am capable of carrying out operations. I have more than enough equipment. Getting equipment is easy… But choosing the target should not be my decision alone)."
In this probe, the ATS has also failed to question many of the conspirators who plotted a Hindutva takeover of the country. For instance, reference is made to a two-time BJP parliamentarian named Col Dhar and a Delhi-based doctor, RP Singh, who were actively engaged in giving shape to Purohit’s idea of a "new nation". The probable links of the accused with others who currently occupy influential political positions have not been probed further.

The ATS also stops short of drawing the wider link to the larger network of terror that resulted in the Nanded blast of 2006 and the Malegaon blast in 2008. While it has included the Parbhani and Jalna mosque blasts within the wider conspiracy, Nanded is mysteriously absent.
 
Bhonsala Military School, Akanksha Resort spared
The Bhonsala Military School, located at two places in Maharashtra (Nashik and Nagpur), which were the locations used for training cadres in bomb-making and the use of explosives, has escaped the ATS net. So has the Akanksha Resort at the Sinhgad Fort, Pune, where such training in explosives creation possibly takes place even today.

While some of the school’s functionaries have been cited as witnesses, the ATS has given the institute lenient treatment. This despite the fact that a top functionary of the school, Col (retd) S. Raikar, the then commandant of the Bhonsala Military School, Nashik, and a former officer of the Indian army, is accused of making available the campus where these groups were trained. Raikar himself has only been made a witness.

Materials used
RDX was used in the IEDs exploded at Malegaon. Another disturbing trend over the past few years or so is the leakage and consequent availability of highly controlled and dangerous substances like RDX in the marketplace for easy use by any outfits that wish to make a career out of bomb-making. In India, RDX is only legally available to the Indian army. Yet there have been reported cases of RDX leakage in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana, which have been treated casually by the state police. Gelatine sticks and ammonium nitrate, volatile substances that are often used in the making of bombs, are carefully controlled in law and leakages from both industrial and retail users should be very easy to trace. The ATS charge sheet in the Malegaon case avoids any investigation into the leakage of these explosive substances.

The fact that this has not been done in any blast-related cases, be it the Samjhauta Express, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Thane or Panvel, establishes not just the laxity in our investigating agencies. It underscores the cynicism of a political class, across party lines, that places a tragically low premium on life itself and uses communalism of all hues to further electoral gain.
 
The missing Mithun Chakraborty
The Malegaon investigation also reveals in its forensic laboratory reports that a person who went by the name of Mithun Chakraborty, after a training session with recruits, handed over a bag containing large quantities of RDX to conspirators at the Pune railway station. Investigators have concluded that this is an assumed name. Chakraborty is untraceable and the ATS’s failure to trace him remains a gaping hole in their investigations.

The name of a mysterious trainer, Mithun Chakraborty first surfaced during the interrogation and narco analysis test of Rahul Pande, a key suspect in the 2006 Nanded blast investigations who revealed that a tall well-built man identified as Chakraborty alias Sir was the main conspirator in the plot. Pande also stated that Chakraborty had trained right-wing Hindu militants to prepare various kinds of bombs and IEDs and had even procured and provided them with large quantities of explosives to make more bombs.
 
Organisations spared
What is Abhinav Bharat? The ATS charge sheet tells us that the Abhinav Bharat is an organisation floated in 2007. The charge sheet claims this organisation is not the same as the public charitable trust registered in the same name even though its founder, Himani Savarkar, was present at one of the meetings the conspirators held! Savarkar is on record as stating her concurrence with the actions of the Malegaon accused and justifies her position with the assertion that "only bombs can reply to bombs". The ATS’s assertion – that the two organisations bearing the same name and sworn to the same ideology are unconnected – rings hollow.
 
Why was Section 125 not applied?
The crime syndicate has among other things also advocated the overthrow of the Indian republic bound by the Indian Constitution in favour of a Hindu nation under army rule. These chilling visions of the syndicate’s dream future are clearly revealed in the Malegaon charge sheet. This vision was advocated in public and secret meetings to fire youngsters and urge them to enlist in the cause. The ideology that drives the conspirators is not only manifest in ‘retaliatory’ acts of bomb terror, such as the attack in Malegaon, but also goes to the very foundation of the republic itself. The transcripts describe extensive mobilisation of young cadres by the conspirators and others, in public, to generate anger against the Indian Constitution and advocate the overthrow of the Indian republic. If these acts do not amount to sedition, what does?

Despite detailed transcripts of conversations between Purohit and others that reveal commitment to the overthrow of the Indian secular republic and the creation of a militarised Hindu nation, Section 125 of the IPC – for waging war against any Asiatic power in alliance with the Government of India – has not been applied.

(Speaking to CC, acting chief of the ATS, KP Raghuvanshi said that he was concerned with creating a watertight case that could ensure convictions and not in outlining charges that could not be proved. "We consulted senior public prosecutors who advised us that the ingredients of sedition were not present in the crime itself.")

Section 125 of the IPC states: "Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life to which fine may be added."

In law the actions of these conspirators amount to sedition and war against the Indian state. If it is proved that this war is being waged from the inside, from a section, not exactly small, of our army, and this fact has escaped the attention of the top echelons of the armed forces so far, it would be logical to conclude that the infiltration into our armed forces runs deep. Just as an ideologically fanatic ISI of Pakistan must shoulder a substantial share of the responsibility for their country’s disintegration into violence and chaos, the trends revealed in the Nanded and Malegaon investigations have the potential, if allowed to pass unchecked, of driving India to disintegration, if not total destruction.

Archived from Communalism Combat,  February 2009 Year 15    No.137, Cover Story 2