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Sabrang
Sabrang

Blast after Blast

Teesta Setalvad 01 Aug 2008

 

Who is responsible?

The news in April 2006 that a bomb had accidentally exploded in the house of an RSS man in Nanded in Maharashtra, killing two persons and injuring four others – all Bajrang Dal activists – created a national sensation. Initially, the first information report (FIR) on the incident registered by a local police officer unquestioningly recorded the injured activists’ claim that the unfortunate incident was the result of an accidental ignition of firecrackers stored at the site. But within days the police investigation itself revealed that the incident was in fact the result of an unintended explosion of bombs that were being assembled by Hindu extremists with the clear intention of targeting mosques and terrorising Muslims.

There have been past instances elsewhere in the country also linking Hindu extremists to bombs. But in the numerous blasts that have rocked city after city in India with frightening regularity in recent years the intelligence agencies and the police have invariably pointed their fingers at Muslim extremist outfits, either indigenous or from across the border.

Indian Muslims have repeatedly complained that almost immediately after every blast only Muslim names crop up among the accused and only Muslim organisations are named as suspect but the charges are rarely, if ever, proved in court. There is consequently a widespread feeling that terrorist acts by unidentified individuals are being used to demonise the entire Muslim community.

It is against this backdrop that the Nanded incident attracted considerable attention from secular activists and Muslim organisations. A close watch was kept on the investigating agencies to ensure that in a case where Hindu extremists had clearly been caught red-handed there would be proper investigation and prosecution. As a result of this sustained public vigilance the case was handed over from the police to the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) and then from the ATS to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Communalism Combat has been closely monitoring the Nanded case from the start. CC’s sustained investigation unravels a story of police bias, half measures by the ATS and, worst of all, an all too apparent bid, ‘Operation Cover-up’, by the CBI. Much was expected from the CBI by way of a thorough and non-partisan investigation but its conduct has been the most shocking. This raises the obvious question: is the apex investigation agency in the country communally tainted?

 

On the night of April 5-6, 2006 a bomb exploded in the house of Laxman Gundayya Rajkondwar, a retired executive engineer at the PWD, Nanded. Two persons – Naresh Rajkondwar and Himanshu Panse – died on the spot while four of their accomplices – Maroti Keshav Wagh, Yogesh Deshpande (alias Vidulkar), Gururaj Jairam Tuptewar and Rahul Manohar Pande – were seriously injured.

On hearing of the incident, an assistant police inspector (API) from the local Bhagyanagar police station, Ravindra Purushottam Dahedkar, who was on patrol duty, registered the first complaint. On the say-so of the surviving injured, he registered an FIR. The FIR said Naresh Rajkondwar was running a firecracker business from his home. The blast occurred because Rajkondwar and Wagh were smoking too close to where the firecrackers were stored. In short, it was an unfortunate accident.

Was Dahedkar just lazy, naïve, or were his actions influenced by the popular assumption that only people of a certain community engaged in the creation of bombs and bomb blasts?

It must have been a matter of some embarrassment, in retrospect, for the then district superintendent of police, Fatehsingh Patil, and the district collector of Nanded, Radheshyam Mopalwar. Relying presumably on Dahedkar’s FIR, both of them repeated the firecrackers-did-it story to the media.

Within days however the inspector general of police, Nanded range, Dr Suryaprakash Gupta, set the record straight, telling the media that the incident involved a bomb blast. During examination the police (Dahedkar himself) found "splinters" on the bodies of the deceased and the injured. A live pipe bomb was also found at the explosion site. It was thus obvious that the firecracker story was a deliberate fabrication in order to mislead the police.

Further investigations revealed that the deceased and wounded persons were all active workers of the Bajrang Dal who had been assembling bombs to target Muslim places of worship, camouflaging their entire operation to resemble a terror operation run by Muslims. Laxman Gundayya Rajkondwar, in whose house the bombs were being manufactured and whose son Naresh died in the explosion, is an RSS man. Diaries, important documents, suspicious maps and mobile telephone numbers that were unearthed from the houses of the accused incriminated them further. In a manner of speaking, members of the sangh parivar were literally caught red-handed with bombs in their basement.

A frantic effort was made to somehow divert attention from the facts. A large quantity of firecrackers, valued at Rs 1,20,000, was later found on the site of the explosion. These had obviously been brought in after the event; despite the occurrence of a high intensity blast the firecrackers remained intact! Where did this large stock of firecrackers come from? Why was it stored in a home illegally, without licence? The victims were now the accused.

In the first few days following the blasts the police arrested 16 persons who were then remanded to police custody. The remand application highlighted two points. One, the accused persons knowingly provided the police false information on the day of the crime, saying the blast was caused by firecrackers when in fact it was a bomb blast. Two, investigations had revealed that the accused persons possessed diagrams, maps and other documentary material related to the manufacture and storage of bombs and the identification of target areas for the purpose of creating terror in the country.

Further investigations revealed that the deceased and wounded persons were all active workers of the Bajrang Dal who had been assembling bombs to target Muslim places of worship, camouflaging their entire operation to resemble a terror operation run by Muslims

Named among the accused were a practising advocate at the Nanded district court, Milind Arvind Ektate, and a medical practitioner, Dr Umesh Dinkarrao Deshpande. One of the accused men, Rahul Manohar Pande, had sustained serious injuries in the blast but had escaped from the scene and sought surreptitious medical attention. Advocate Ektate was among those who helped Pande go into hiding while Dr Deshpande provided medical care without notifying the police. Curiously, neither of the two men had any difficulty in obtaining anticipatory bail from the district court. Ektate applied for and was granted anticipatory bail through an ad interim bail application on April 10 while Dr Umesh Dinkarrao Deshpande made a similar application on April 13. He was also granted ad interim bail the same day following an oral "no objection" from the assistant public prosecutor, AJ Kurtadikar.

As of today, all the accused, apart from the absconding Rahul Manohar Pande, are out on bail.

Heinous deeds by Hindu extremists

On May 4, 2006 the case was transferred to the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Maharashtra police. By the time the ATS filed its first charge sheet on August 24, 2006, it had already amassed a mountain of damning evidence against a whole network of Bajrang Dal and other sangh parivar workers engaged in terrorist activities. Reproduced below are some highlights and excerpts from the ATS charge sheet:

 

Highlights

  •  The accused persons involved in assembling the bomb(s) at Nanded were also responsible for three earlier bomb blasts in neighbouring districts: at the Mohammadiya Masjid in Parbhani (November 2003), at the Quadriya Masjid in Jalna (August 2004) and at the Meraj-ul-Uloom Madrassa/Masjid in Purna in Parbhani district (August 2004). (So far state police efforts to track down the perpetrators of these blasts had drawn a blank.)

  • Four of the six prime accused in the case under investigation – Sanjay Choudhary, Himanshu Panse, Maroti Keshav Wagh and Yogesh Ravindra Deshpande – had planted bombs at the Parbhani mosque on November 21, 2003.

  • Two of the six accused – Sanjay Choudhary and Gururaj Jairam Tuptewar – admitted to planting bombs at the Purna mosque on August 27, 2004.

  • One of the six accused – Maroti Keshav Wagh – was charged with planting bombs at the Quadriya Masjid, Jalna, also on August 27, 2004.

  • Five of the main accused in the Nanded blasts were involved in throwing acid on a Muslim teacher, Shaikh Yousuf Shaikh Gafoor Sahab, in Nanded on April 8, 2001.

  • The target of the bombs which blew up in their faces on April 5-6, 2006 was a mosque in Aurangabad. Both Himanshu Panse and Maroti Wagh had visited and taken a close look at the Aurangabad mosque and its surroundings in May 2004.

  • Police raids on the houses and other establishments of the accused persons and subsequent search operations uncovered materials in the possession of the accused which establish that they were all active members of outfits like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal.

  • Evidence against Maroti Wagh includes a register and an identity card that clearly links him to the RSS. Papers linking him to the RSS were confiscated by the ATS.

  • A house search of the accused, Gururaj Jairam Tuptewar, revealed that Himanshu Venkatesh Panse, Naresh Laxman Rajkondwar, Maroti Keshav Wagh, Yogesh Ravindra Vidulkar (Deshpande), Gururaj Jairam Tuptewar, Rahul Manohar Pande, Sanjay Choudhary, Ramdas Ananda Mulange (an employee of one of the accused) and Laxman Gundayya Rajkondwar were/are hardcore activists of the RSS and the Bajrang Dal.

  • Ten live 7.65 mm cartridges were found at the site during investigations and seized by the police. Laxman Rajkondwar kept the live cartridges in his home illegally. This was one reason why the ATS included Laxman Rajkondwar among the prime accused in the crime.
     

‘Panse and Wagh underwent 40 days’ training at Bhonsala Military School at Nagpur. After returning from Pune in the year 2003 (they) exploded bombs at the Gousiya Masjid, Parbhani’
 

Excerpts

  • "Propaganda by these organisations made them propagate that innocent Hindus were being attacked by the extremist Muslim organisations day in and day out and hence the accused Himanshu Panse, Rahul Manohar Pande, started a gymnasium to mobilise youth."

  • "The gymnasium, named Power Zone, was set up in order to unite youths and draw them towards their version of Hinduism. Panse and Wagh started a branch of Sangh at Nanded, Bajrang Nagar, opposite MGM College. Accused Yogesh Vidulkar has also started (a) hostel for orphans at his residential house."

  • "They have created an anti-Muslim atmosphere by organising seminars and giving speeches aimed at emphasising how the Muslims commit injustice to Hindus and motivating the Hindus for doing something for Hinduism; they have organised religious ceremonies on the occasions of Hindu New Year Day, the birth anniversary of Ram, Vijayadashmi, Ganesh festival, Durga festival and various other Hindu festivals through the organisations RSS and Bajrang Dal in Nanded city and Nanded district."

  • "In order that the aim of revenge is effectively fulfilled, accused Wagh, Panse, Choudhary and Vidulkar (injured) went to ‘Akanksha Resort’ at the foot of the Fort Sinhgad near Pune in 2003 and got training (in) making pipe bombs from a man named Mithun Chakraborty. They got themselves trained for making three types of bombs, such as timer bombs (IEDs). After demonstrating (to) them how to explode these bombs, the explosives were handed over to Panse by Chakraborty. Panse (also) underwent training by the VHP and Bajrang Dal at Goa for two years."

  • "Panse and Wagh underwent 40 days’ training at Bhonsala Military School at Nagpur… After returning from Pune in the year 2003 (they) exploded bombs at the Gousiya Masjid, Parbhani, for which crime No. 61/03 has been registered at the Nanal Peth police station."

  • "The accused Laxman Rajkondwar allowed his house to be used for the making of bombs even though he was aware of the consequences of the bomb blasts and possibility of damage to life and property.

  • "The said bombs were to be used at some place for terrorist and anti-national activities and they were well aware that these bombs could kill many persons and they themselves could lose their life while handling the said bombs. They (father and son) had purposefully kept (a) huge quantity of firecrackers at their house with intentions to make people believe that it was an accident involving firecrackers and not bomb blasts if any such untoward incident took place. It has been informed, in writing, by the honourable collector, Nanded, that there was no legal permission for such accumulation of firecrackers."

  • "From the ‘Ramdas Raznishi’ and pocket diary confiscated during the house search of Wagh, and the map found in the pocket diary, it is revealed that while he was staying at Aurangabad for (a) BPEd diploma along with his friend in the year 2004 Panse visited the place in May 2004 and at that time witness Shrikar Shivsamb Sonawale and three others went round Aurangabad city and Panse inspected the masjid carefully."

  • "From the false beard and moustache confiscated during the house search of Himanshu Venkatesh Panse and the conversation on mobile No. 9822297494 of witness Atul Vinod Kamtikar, it was revealed that Wagh was to visit Aurangabad on April 5, 2006… and hence (a) motorcycle was kept ready on April 4, 2004 at Dhoot Motors, of Sachin Suresh Kadam, for carrying out some work at Aurangabad."

  • "All these facts reveal that these accused had preplanned a bomb explosion at some mosque for the purpose of creating unrest among Hindus and Muslims."


Terror squads

Highlights

  • Based on its findings, the ATS included Sanatkumar Ragvithal Bhate, a Pune resident, in the list of witnesses. In his statements given to the ATS on April 20 and May 18, 2006 Bhate revealed that he had been with the RSS since 1996 and was formerly a member of the Indian navy. Bhate confessed that in March or April 2000 he received a telephone call from the office of the Bajrang Dal situated behind the Saraswati Mandir School, Pune. Dal leader Milind Parade requested Bhate to train his activists, due to arrive in Pune for a camp, in the use of "short sticks" (gelatine sticks). He admitted to attending the camp to carry out the requested training. Around 40-50 state-level activists attended the camp at which one of the accused, Himanshu Panse, was the group leader. Bhate said he met Panse at the camp. Parade then requested Bhate to also participate in an upcoming national-level camp of activists at the Bhonsala Military School, Nagpur. Parade and three of his disciples from Pune carried 300 sticks with them for this camp, said Bhate. Why was Bhate not named among the accused by the investigating agencies, not even by the ATS?

  • Bhate stated that on arriving at the Bhonsala Military School he learnt that the camp had been organised by the RSS to give karate, ground obstacles and revolver firing training to participants. Two retired ex-servicemen who were present at the camp trained participants in revolver handling. Also attending was a senior retired officer from the Intelligence Bureau (IB). In all there were 115 participants from all over India at the camp.

  • Govind Nagacharya Puranik, a BSNL employee at the Nanded telephone exchange, also played a key role in the nefarious activities. A member of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh trade union affiliated to the RSS, Puranik revealed in his recorded statements to the police and the ATS between April and June 2006 that he had been attending RSS camps since 2000. Puranik, a well-educated man, was fully aware of the terrorist designs of Himanshu Panse, Naresh Rajkondwar, Rahul Pande and others. He nonetheless provided logistical support for their criminal activities for a number of years. He financed and helped the accused persons both before and after the Nanded incident. Fearing an arrest, Puranik filed an anticipatory bail application before the sessions court, Nanded. The court readily granted him anticipatory bail!

  • Also implicated by the ATS was Shrikar Shivsambh Sonwale, a Nanded resident. In a recorded statement to the ATS in May 2006 Sonwale admitted to a close friendship with several of the main accused in the Nanded incident. He stated that while they were drinking together one evening Maroti Wagh had told him in great detail how Himanshu Panse and he had detonated a bomb in a Parbhani mosque (November 2003). This showed that Sonwale knew about Wagh and Panse’s involvement in a terrorist act. But he withheld this vital information from the police. Had he informed the police at that point in time Panse and gang could have been apprehended and the explosions that followed at other places could have been prevented.

  • The search operation at Panse’s house unearthed items of disguise – an artificial beard, shervani, etc – used in order to assume the appearance of a Muslim. The police and the ATS collected sufficient evidence against all the accused to establish that they were perpetrators and masterminds of the blasts carried out at regular intervals in different districts of Maharashtra. The obvious conclusion drawn was that it was the intention of Bajrang Dal activists and their sangh parivar affiliates to target Muslims with terrorist acts and make it appear that Muslim extremists were involved in targeting fellow Muslims. This would help advance the sangh parivar’s agenda of spreading hatred against Indian Muslims, projecting them as the perpetrators of every blast in city after city in India.

The first charge sheet filed by the ATS on August 24, 2006 named seven accused – Rahul Pande, Laxman G. Rajkondwar, Sanjay Choudhary, Ramdas Mulange, Dr Umesh Deshpande, Himanshu Panse (deceased) and Naresh Rajkondwar (deceased). (Maroti Wagh, Yogesh D. Vidulkar and Gururaj Jairam Tuptewar, who were all present at the bomb-making site, were absent from the first list of accused).

To its credit, the ATS did a reasonable job at the level of investigation. It appears from what follows that at some point in the course of proceedings the ATS took a sudden U-turn. A public outcry then forced the government to transfer the case from the ATS to the CBI. But the CBI’s conduct was questionable in the extreme; doing little to follow up on the many leads provided by the ATS, it only served to weaken the case.

They were charged under Sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 286 (negligent conduct), 338 (grievous hurt), 201(destroying evidence), 202 (withholding information on a crime), 203 (providing false information), 212 (harbouring an offender), 120B (criminal conspiracy), 34 (common intent) and 109 (abetment) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC); along with Sections 3 (causing an explosion likely to endanger life, person or property), 4 (attempting to cause or making or keeping explosives likely to endanger life or damage property), 5 (making explosives under suspicious circumstances) and 6 (abetment) of the Explosive Substances Act 1908; Sections 3, 25 and 35 (unlawful possession of arms) of the Arms Act 1959; and Sections 18 (attempting to commit or abetting a terrorist act) and 23 (unauthorised possession of bombs, etc with intent to aid terrorist act) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 (as amended in 2004).

The most serious charges against the accused, and for which the most stringent punishments are provided, are the ones that fall within the purview of the Unlawful Activities Act and Section 304 of the IPC. (See box for punishments provided under the former.)

After conducting further investigations the ATS filed a supplementary charge sheet on November 11, 2006 naming four more accused – Maroti Wagh, Yogesh D. Vidulkar, Gururaj Jairam Tuptewar and Milind Ektate. They too were slapped with identical charges. However, none of the abetters or masterminds behind the conspiracy, Mithun Chakraborty or Bajrang Dal leaders, were incriminated.

To its credit, the ATS did a reasonable job at the level of investigation, uncovering a hitherto unknown terrorist network in Maharashtra of Hindu extremists linked to the sangh parivar. Given the seriousness of the case, evident through its own findings, one would have expected the ATS to proceed with both promptitude and determination to ensure that all those who were guilty were brought to book and the terrorist network was exposed. The two charge sheets filed by the ATS do not however reflect the very gravity of its findings. It appears from what follows that at some point in the course of proceedings the ATS took a sudden U-turn. A public outcry then forced the government to transfer the case from the ATS to the CBI. But the CBI’s conduct was questionable in the extreme; doing little to follow up on the many leads provided by the ATS, it only served to weaken the case.

The investigating agencies themselves warrant investigation and this is CC’s "charge sheet" against them.

State police: inefficient or biased?

What is the explanation for the Maharashtra police’s earlier failure in identifying and booking the real perpetrators of the bomb blasts at the Parbhani, Jalna and Purna mosques which took place in 2003 and 2004, two years before the blasts in Nanded? A lack of professionalism in intelligence-gathering and in conducting investigations? A sanghi mind-set that believes only members of a certain community would commit terrorist acts? Or intentionally shielding the guilty, acting either of its own volition or under political pressure?

ATS: Half measures?

  • On July 29, 2006 the ATS sought permission from the district collector, Nanded, to file its charge sheet against 21 accused persons. To make such a plea the ATS must have been confident that it had sufficient evidence to prove that all 21 persons were party to the crime. But inexplicably, barely three weeks later it wrote to the additional chief secretary of Maharashtra, seeking sanction for the prosecution of only seven persons from its own list of 21 accused, dropping all charges against 11 others and seeking permission to bring forth evidence against the remaining two – Advocate Milind Ektate and the elusive Mithun Chakraborty – only one of whom was ultimately charged. (As mentioned earlier, a supplementary charge sheet added four more persons, including Ektate but not Chakraborty, to the list of accused.) Mithun Chakraborty was mysteriously excluded from the scope of further investigation even after the CBI took over the case. In fact, the CBI has not explored any leads on the training and finance provided to the terrorist network, leaving gaping holes in the bureau’s charge sheet.

The ATS, despite evidence gathered through investigations and supplemented by narco analysis test reports, was similarly reluctant to probe the role of institutions like the Bhonsala Military School in Nagpur or the Akanksha Resort in Sinhgad, Pune, in the possible training of terror groups.

"During the course of investigation, no sufficient evidence is found against the below-mentioned arrested accused persons hence they are discharged from the case vide Section 169 CrPC," said the ATS missive addressed to the additional chief secretary. The ATS then proceeded to file its charge sheet on August 24, 2006 along with a request to discharge 11 accused, absolving them of any links to the crime.

The accused persons whom the ATS wanted to discharge were: Vinod Venkatrao Mahalkar, Santosh Prakash Parlikar, Nimesh Sudhakar Limaye, Janardhan Yashwantrao Wakodikar, Santosh Keshavrao Wagh, Keshavrao P. Wagh, Jairam D. Tuptewar, Deviprasad Jairam Tuptewar, Raju Vithalrao Choudhary, Ravindra Ramrao Vidulkar and Mukul Ramesh Pande. From their names it appears that some of these men are relatives of some of the accused.

Was the ATS acting under political pressure, prompting it to make a U-turn at the last minute only to shield many of the accused?

  • The ATS had earlier charged all 21 accused with seven crimes, three of which related to the bomb blasts at Parbhani, Purna and Jalna. What stopped the ATS from booking them under the draconian Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) which the ATS freely applied in the 7/11 blasts, the Malegaon blasts and the Aurangabad RDX haul?

(CC agrees with other human rights activists and groups who argue that given the right professional orientation and training, the existing laws of the land are more than adequate for the police to deal with even the worst kinds of crime. Conferring greater powers on an inept, unprofessional and highly politicised police force through draconian laws like MCOCA will only result in the misuse of these powers even against innocent citizens. But given that an act like MCOCA does exist, why is it being selectively used? Do our investigating agencies also discriminate between "good terrorists" and "bad terrorists"?).

 

CBI: Operation Cover-up?

Considering the circumstances in which the CBI was brought into the picture, one would have expected the country’s premier investigating agency to conduct nothing less than a thorough, free, fair and transparent investigation so that the real culprits and masterminds of the crime could be identified, caught and punished. Instead, the CBI chose to function behind a veil of secrecy, refusing to brief the public at all about the investigations and thus raising suspicions about its unprofessional conduct.

Although the CBI submitted its charge sheet in the case more than five months ago, CC had to make repeated applications under the Right to Information Act before we were allowed to access the charge sheet and the accompanying records. And the reason why the authorities were so reluctant to part with these documents becomes evident from a perusal of the charge sheet. Far from rising to the occasion, the CBI has proved unwilling or incapable of pursuing the leads provided to it by the ATS investigations. Far worse, it has ended up diluting the ATS case. Presented below are some of the obvious lacunae in the CBI’s charge sheet, examples of the bureau’s acts of commission and omission:

Acts of commission

The two ATS charge sheets accuse 11 persons of being part of a criminal conspiracy involving terrorist acts: a very serious charge against all of them. But the CBI did not even consider the possibility of such a conspiracy. In glaring contrast to the ATS approach, it simply refused to explore the forward or backward linkages to the accidental explosion at Laxman Rajkondwar’s house in April 2006 except to the very limited extent of naming those who sheltered the injured fugitive, Rahul Pande, from the police or gave him surreptitious medical help. The CBI divided the 11 accused into three categories and then proceeded to completely dilute the charges against 10 of them. The one remaining accused was absolved of all charges.

The CBI holds the six accused who were present at the explosion spot (and who died or were seriously injured in the incident) as collectively responsible only for the following offences: for causing the explosion with the full knowledge that such an explosion can claim lives (Sec. 304, IPC: culpable homicide not amounting to murder), for negligent conduct (Sec. 286, IPC), for causing grievous injury (Sec. 338, IPC), for possession and control of explosive substances (Sec. 4b and 5, Explosives Substances Act) and for unauthorised possession of 10 live cartridges (Sec. 25 of the Arms Act).


Villainous conspiracy

As for the other four co-accused – Sanjay Choudhary, Ramdas Mulange, Dr Umesh Deshpande and Milind Arvind Ektate – the charges against them are limited to: culpable homicide not amounting to murder (Sec. 304, IPC), negligent conduct with respect to explosives (Sec. 286, IPC), grievous hurt to others (Sec. 338, IPC), intentional omission to give information of an offence (Sec. 202, IPC), harbouring an offender (Sec. 212, IPC), and abetment of an assault (Sec. 134, IPC).

Laxman G. Rajkondwar, the owner of house where the explosion took place, who, according to the ATS charge sheet, was as involved in the crime as his deceased son, has been let off the hook.

In short, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 (as amended in 2004) was conspicuously not applied against any of the accused. Similarly, Section 120B of the IPC, for criminal conspiracy, has not been applied against anyone.

 

Acts of omission

The CBI’s acts of omission are as serious, if not more so, than its acts of commission:

  • For the ATS the accidental explosion in Nanded turns out to be only one episode in a diabolical terrorist plot involving a nefarious network of Bajrang Dal activists functioning with covert support from other wings of the sangh parivar. But for the CBI the sole concern appears to be to treat the Nanded incident as an isolated case so that the trial, which is conducted on the basis of the charge sheet, does not even examine the possible existence of a terrorist network in Maharashtra. A network that is engaged in hate-mongering, is linked to institutions where former intelligence officials and army men train cadres in the handling of arms and explosives, and which collects funds and provides other logistical support.

  • Why did the ATS not apply the provisions of MCOCA to the accused when according to its own findings the accused were implicated in terrorist acts? This is a question that the CBI should have probed. But it did not even raise the subject. Why not?

  • Contrary to the findings of the ATS, the CBI does not utter a word about the links that the accused persons had with the RSS, the Bajrang Dal and the VHP. Why?

  • The ATS investigation clearly establishes the existence of a terrorist nexus operating under the wider sangh parivar umbrella. The CBI should have followed this up after it took charge of the case. What is the real agenda of the Bhonsala Military School in Nagpur? Who owns and runs the Akanksha Resort in Pune? Is it linked in some way with the Bajrang Dal/VHP/RSS? Who among the RSS/VHP were involved and where in Goa were the Bajrang Dal activists trained? Who are the financiers, trainers (Mithun Chakraborty and Sanatkumar Ragvithal Bhate) and other individuals who actively participated, either directly or indirectly, in perpetrating terror attacks? Who are the retired officers of the military and intelligence services who provided martial arts and military training to Bajrang Dal activists? Why have officers who during their professional careers swore to serve secular-democratic India now chosen to place themselves at the service of Hindu extremists? For reasons best known to itself the CBI has not followed up on the leads that the ATS investigation provided.

  • The ATS named Laxman Rajkondwar, the owner of the house in which the blast occurred, among the prime accused. But the CBI charge sheet absolves him of all charges. Investigators found that firecrackers worth Rs 1,20,000 had been illegally stored at the site. Such a large quantity of highly combustible material would undoubtedly have blown up in the blast. Thus the only inference one can make is that the stock of fireworks was put in place after the blasts, as a subterfuge. From where was such a large stock of firecrackers procured at such short notice? This is a question that does not seem to concern the CBI. How did the CBI allow Laxman Rajkondwar to go scot-free?

  • The CBI not only chose to completely disregard the information gathered by the ATS through narco tests conducted on four of the accused (see box), but also gave little credence to the incriminating material seized during house searches and the admissions of some of the accused during interrogation. If the CBI had acted as it should, it would have applied for the earlier cases of bomb blasts by several of those accused in the Nanded blasts (in mosques in Parbhani, Jalna and Purna in 2003 and 2004) to be clubbed together and prosecuted as part of a wider conspiracy. Had it done so it could also have set into motion the many stringent provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act: Section 16 (committing a terrorist act), Section 17 (punishment for funding a terrorist act), Section 18 (being part of a terrorist conspiracy), Section 19 (punishment for harbouring a terrorist) and most importantly, Section 20 (punishment for being a member of a terrorist gang). The findings of the ATS leave little room for doubt that the Bajrang Dal falls well within the act’s definition of a "terrorist gang". To pursue this line of investigation the CBI would no doubt have needed to follow up on the leads provided by the ATS. But, as mentioned earlier, it was disinclined to even consider the option.

 

Conclusion

Through its creditworthy investigation of the accidental blast in Nanded, the ATS uncovered a dangerous terrorist network. Its investigations revealed that the bomb blasts at Parbhani, Jalna, Purna and Nanded were no ordinary crimes with simple motives. Involved in each of them were activists of the Bajrang Dal who had sought and received systematic training from experts in bomb-making and bomb explosion. Their insidious acts of terror at mosques include not just planting the bombs but also disguising themselves as Muslims while committing the crimes.

The ATS investigations further revealed that it was not just a handful but as many as three dozen Bajrang Dalis from all over Maharashtra who received training in Pune where more than a hundred of them from all over India were similarly trained at the Bhonsala Military School in Nagpur. While the Pune camp was organised by the Bajrang Dal, the Nagpur one was organised by its parent body, the RSS. And while those directly involved in lobbing the bombs were Bajrang Dal members, there are clear indications that the RSS and the VHP also form part of the nexus. The men who imparted this training to the Dal’s cadres included retired officers of the country’s military and intelligence services.

According to the admissions of several of the accused, their agenda was to challenge what they regarded as "Muslim bombs" with "Hindu bombs". At the same time it was clearly part of the Hindu extremist strategy to make their malevolent actions appear as if they were the work of Muslim extremists.

All of this is truly sinister and raises several very disturbing questions:

  • Is "Hindu terrorism" now an integral part of the sangh parivar’s "Hate Muslims" agenda, at least for the Bajrang Dal, acting with the covert blessing of and logistical support from sections within the VHP and even the RSS?

  • How do we know that the Bajrang Dal and others have not been conducting similar bomb training camps in states other than Maharashtra? (After all, but for the bomb blowing up accidentally in Nanded the Maharashtra police might still be clueless about the people involved in the local terror plot. The way investigations have been conducted into the second accidental blast in Nanded in 2007 – see accompanying story – raises other serious issues.)

  • as communal violence now donned a terrorist garb on both sides of the communal divide?

  • If as part of their strategy Hindu extremists disguise themselves as Muslims and then engage in terrorist activity, could they also be responsible for sending out emails claiming responsibility for blasts under assumed Muslim names and using an Islamic vocabulary?

  • How then can we know who is responsible for the series of blasts that have ripped through a succession of Indian cities?

  • What then of national security, public peace and communal harmony?

  • Are our investigating and intelligence agencies also handicapped by their ideological blinkers insomuch as they are blind to or soft on acts of "Hindu terrorism"?

The spate of blasts in Panvel and Thane in May-June 2008 where once again some Hindu extremist outfits have been implicated lends an added urgency to these questions. Given the CBI’s miserable failure in taking the ATS investigations forward, only an open and in depth inquiry carried out by a high court judge will help trace the tentacles of this hitherto unsuspected monster that threatens national security, public peace and harmony.


Archived from Communalism Combat, July-August 2008. Year 15, No.133, Maharashtra, Cover Story 1

 

Blast after Blast


 

Who is responsible?

The news in April 2006 that a bomb had accidentally exploded in the house of an RSS man in Nanded in Maharashtra, killing two persons and injuring four others – all Bajrang Dal activists – created a national sensation. Initially, the first information report (FIR) on the incident registered by a local police officer unquestioningly recorded the injured activists’ claim that the unfortunate incident was the result of an accidental ignition of firecrackers stored at the site. But within days the police investigation itself revealed that the incident was in fact the result of an unintended explosion of bombs that were being assembled by Hindu extremists with the clear intention of targeting mosques and terrorising Muslims.

There have been past instances elsewhere in the country also linking Hindu extremists to bombs. But in the numerous blasts that have rocked city after city in India with frightening regularity in recent years the intelligence agencies and the police have invariably pointed their fingers at Muslim extremist outfits, either indigenous or from across the border.

Indian Muslims have repeatedly complained that almost immediately after every blast only Muslim names crop up among the accused and only Muslim organisations are named as suspect but the charges are rarely, if ever, proved in court. There is consequently a widespread feeling that terrorist acts by unidentified individuals are being used to demonise the entire Muslim community.

It is against this backdrop that the Nanded incident attracted considerable attention from secular activists and Muslim organisations. A close watch was kept on the investigating agencies to ensure that in a case where Hindu extremists had clearly been caught red-handed there would be proper investigation and prosecution. As a result of this sustained public vigilance the case was handed over from the police to the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) and then from the ATS to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Communalism Combat has been closely monitoring the Nanded case from the start. CC’s sustained investigation unravels a story of police bias, half measures by the ATS and, worst of all, an all too apparent bid, ‘Operation Cover-up’, by the CBI. Much was expected from the CBI by way of a thorough and non-partisan investigation but its conduct has been the most shocking. This raises the obvious question: is the apex investigation agency in the country communally tainted?

 

On the night of April 5-6, 2006 a bomb exploded in the house of Laxman Gundayya Rajkondwar, a retired executive engineer at the PWD, Nanded. Two persons – Naresh Rajkondwar and Himanshu Panse – died on the spot while four of their accomplices – Maroti Keshav Wagh, Yogesh Deshpande (alias Vidulkar), Gururaj Jairam Tuptewar and Rahul Manohar Pande – were seriously injured.

On hearing of the incident, an assistant police inspector (API) from the local Bhagyanagar police station, Ravindra Purushottam Dahedkar, who was on patrol duty, registered the first complaint. On the say-so of the surviving injured, he registered an FIR. The FIR said Naresh Rajkondwar was running a firecracker business from his home. The blast occurred because Rajkondwar and Wagh were smoking too close to where the firecrackers were stored. In short, it was an unfortunate accident.

Was Dahedkar just lazy, naïve, or were his actions influenced by the popular assumption that only people of a certain community engaged in the creation of bombs and bomb blasts?

It must have been a matter of some embarrassment, in retrospect, for the then district superintendent of police, Fatehsingh Patil, and the district collector of Nanded, Radheshyam Mopalwar. Relying presumably on Dahedkar’s FIR, both of them repeated the firecrackers-did-it story to the media.

Within days however the inspector general of police, Nanded range, Dr Suryaprakash Gupta, set the record straight, telling the media that the incident involved a bomb blast. During examination the police (Dahedkar himself) found "splinters" on the bodies of the deceased and the injured. A live pipe bomb was also found at the explosion site. It was thus obvious that the firecracker story was a deliberate fabrication in order to mislead the police.

Further investigations revealed that the deceased and wounded persons were all active workers of the Bajrang Dal who had been assembling bombs to target Muslim places of worship, camouflaging their entire operation to resemble a terror operation run by Muslims. Laxman Gundayya Rajkondwar, in whose house the bombs were being manufactured and whose son Naresh died in the explosion, is an RSS man. Diaries, important documents, suspicious maps and mobile telephone numbers that were unearthed from the houses of the accused incriminated them further. In a manner of speaking, members of the sangh parivar were literally caught red-handed with bombs in their basement.

A frantic effort was made to somehow divert attention from the facts. A large quantity of firecrackers, valued at Rs 1,20,000, was later found on the site of the explosion. These had obviously been brought in after the event; despite the occurrence of a high intensity blast the firecrackers remained intact! Where did this large stock of firecrackers come from? Why was it stored in a home illegally, without licence? The victims were now the accused.

In the first few days following the blasts the police arrested 16 persons who were then remanded to police custody. The remand application highlighted two points. One, the accused persons knowingly provided the police false information on the day of the crime, saying the blast was caused by firecrackers when in fact it was a bomb blast. Two, investigations had revealed that the accused persons possessed diagrams, maps and other documentary material related to the manufacture and storage of bombs and the identification of target areas for the purpose of creating terror in the country.

Further investigations revealed that the deceased and wounded persons were all active workers of the Bajrang Dal who had been assembling bombs to target Muslim places of worship, camouflaging their entire operation to resemble a terror operation run by Muslims

Named among the accused were a practising advocate at the Nanded district court, Milind Arvind Ektate, and a medical practitioner, Dr Umesh Dinkarrao Deshpande. One of the accused men, Rahul Manohar Pande, had sustained serious injuries in the blast but had escaped from the scene and sought surreptitious medical attention. Advocate Ektate was among those who helped Pande go into hiding while Dr Deshpande provided medical care without notifying the police. Curiously, neither of the two men had any difficulty in obtaining anticipatory bail from the district court. Ektate applied for and was granted anticipatory bail through an ad interim bail application on April 10 while Dr Umesh Dinkarrao Deshpande made a similar application on April 13. He was also granted ad interim bail the same day following an oral "no objection" from the assistant public prosecutor, AJ Kurtadikar.

As of today, all the accused, apart from the absconding Rahul Manohar Pande, are out on bail.

Heinous deeds by Hindu extremists

On May 4, 2006 the case was transferred to the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Maharashtra police. By the time the ATS filed its first charge sheet on August 24, 2006, it had already amassed a mountain of damning evidence against a whole network of Bajrang Dal and other sangh parivar workers engaged in terrorist activities. Reproduced below are some highlights and excerpts from the ATS charge sheet:

 

Highlights

  •  The accused persons involved in assembling the bomb(s) at Nanded were also responsible for three earlier bomb blasts in neighbouring districts: at the Mohammadiya Masjid in Parbhani (November 2003), at the Quadriya Masjid in Jalna (August 2004) and at the Meraj-ul-Uloom Madrassa/Masjid in Purna in Parbhani district (August 2004). (So far state police efforts to track down the perpetrators of these blasts had drawn a blank.)

  • Four of the six prime accused in the case under investigation – Sanjay Choudhary, Himanshu Panse, Maroti Keshav Wagh and Yogesh Ravindra Deshpande – had planted bombs at the Parbhani mosque on November 21, 2003.

  • Two of the six accused – Sanjay Choudhary and Gururaj Jairam Tuptewar – admitted to planting bombs at the Purna mosque on August 27, 2004.

  • One of the six accused – Maroti Keshav Wagh – was charged with planting bombs at the Quadriya Masjid, Jalna, also on August 27, 2004.

  • Five of the main accused in the Nanded blasts were involved in throwing acid on a Muslim teacher, Shaikh Yousuf Shaikh Gafoor Sahab, in Nanded on April 8, 2001.

  • The target of the bombs which blew up in their faces on April 5-6, 2006 was a mosque in Aurangabad. Both Himanshu Panse and Maroti Wagh had visited and taken a close look at the Aurangabad mosque and its surroundings in May 2004.

  • Police raids on the houses and other establishments of the accused persons and subsequent search operations uncovered materials in the possession of the accused which establish that they were all active members of outfits like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal.

  • Evidence against Maroti Wagh includes a register and an identity card that clearly links him to the RSS. Papers linking him to the RSS were confiscated by the ATS.

  • A house search of the accused, Gururaj Jairam Tuptewar, revealed that Himanshu Venkatesh Panse, Naresh Laxman Rajkondwar, Maroti Keshav Wagh, Yogesh Ravindra Vidulkar (Deshpande), Gururaj Jairam Tuptewar, Rahul Manohar Pande, Sanjay Choudhary, Ramdas Ananda Mulange (an employee of one of the accused) and Laxman Gundayya Rajkondwar were/are hardcore activists of the RSS and the Bajrang Dal.

  • Ten live 7.65 mm cartridges were found at the site during investigations and seized by the police. Laxman Rajkondwar kept the live cartridges in his home illegally. This was one reason why the ATS included Laxman Rajkondwar among the prime accused in the crime.
     

‘Panse and Wagh underwent 40 days’ training at Bhonsala Military School at Nagpur. After returning from Pune in the year 2003 (they) exploded bombs at the Gousiya Masjid, Parbhani’
 

Excerpts

  • "Propaganda by these organisations made them propagate that innocent Hindus were being attacked by the extremist Muslim organisations day in and day out and hence the accused Himanshu Panse, Rahul Manohar Pande, started a gymnasium to mobilise youth."

  • "The gymnasium, named Power Zone, was set up in order to unite youths and draw them towards their version of Hinduism. Panse and Wagh started a branch of Sangh at Nanded, Bajrang Nagar, opposite MGM College. Accused Yogesh Vidulkar has also started (a) hostel for orphans at his residential house."

  • "They have created an anti-Muslim atmosphere by organising seminars and giving speeches aimed at emphasising how the Muslims commit injustice to Hindus and motivating the Hindus for doing something for Hinduism; they have organised religious ceremonies on the occasions of Hindu New Year Day, the birth anniversary of Ram, Vijayadashmi, Ganesh festival, Durga festival and various other Hindu festivals through the organisations RSS and Bajrang Dal in Nanded city and Nanded district."

  • "In order that the aim of revenge is effectively fulfilled, accused Wagh, Panse, Choudhary and Vidulkar (injured) went to ‘Akanksha Resort’ at the foot of the Fort Sinhgad near Pune in 2003 and got training (in) making pipe bombs from a man named Mithun Chakraborty. They got themselves trained for making three types of bombs, such as timer bombs (IEDs). After demonstrating (to) them how to explode these bombs, the explosives were handed over to Panse by Chakraborty. Panse (also) underwent training by the VHP and Bajrang Dal at Goa for two years."

  • "Panse and Wagh underwent 40 days’ training at Bhonsala Military School at Nagpur… After returning from Pune in the year 2003 (they) exploded bombs at the Gousiya Masjid, Parbhani, for which crime No. 61/03 has been registered at the Nanal Peth police station."

  • "The accused Laxman Rajkondwar allowed his house to be used for the making of bombs even though he was aware of the consequences of the bomb blasts and possibility of damage to life and property.

  • "The said bombs were to be used at some place for terrorist and anti-national activities and they were well aware that these bombs could kill many persons and they themselves could lose their life while handling the said bombs. They (father and son) had purposefully kept (a) huge quantity of firecrackers at their house with intentions to make people believe that it was an accident involving firecrackers and not bomb blasts if any such untoward incident took place. It has been informed, in writing, by the honourable collector, Nanded, that there was no legal permission for such accumulation of firecrackers."

  • "From the ‘Ramdas Raznishi’ and pocket diary confiscated during the house search of Wagh, and the map found in the pocket diary, it is revealed that while he was staying at Aurangabad for (a) BPEd diploma along with his friend in the year 2004 Panse visited the place in May 2004 and at that time witness Shrikar Shivsamb Sonawale and three others went round Aurangabad city and Panse inspected the masjid carefully."

  • "From the false beard and moustache confiscated during the house search of Himanshu Venkatesh Panse and the conversation on mobile No. 9822297494 of witness Atul Vinod Kamtikar, it was revealed that Wagh was to visit Aurangabad on April 5, 2006… and hence (a) motorcycle was kept ready on April 4, 2004 at Dhoot Motors, of Sachin Suresh Kadam, for carrying out some work at Aurangabad."

  • "All these facts reveal that these accused had preplanned a bomb explosion at some mosque for the purpose of creating unrest among Hindus and Muslims."


Terror squads

Highlights

  • Based on its findings, the ATS included Sanatkumar Ragvithal Bhate, a Pune resident, in the list of witnesses. In his statements given to the ATS on April 20 and May 18, 2006 Bhate revealed that he had been with the RSS since 1996 and was formerly a member of the Indian navy. Bhate confessed that in March or April 2000 he received a telephone call from the office of the Bajrang Dal situated behind the Saraswati Mandir School, Pune. Dal leader Milind Parade requested Bhate to train his activists, due to arrive in Pune for a camp, in the use of "short sticks" (gelatine sticks). He admitted to attending the camp to carry out the requested training. Around 40-50 state-level activists attended the camp at which one of the accused, Himanshu Panse, was the group leader. Bhate said he met Panse at the camp. Parade then requested Bhate to also participate in an upcoming national-level camp of activists at the Bhonsala Military School, Nagpur. Parade and three of his disciples from Pune carried 300 sticks with them for this camp, said Bhate. Why was Bhate not named among the accused by the investigating agencies, not even by the ATS?

  • Bhate stated that on arriving at the Bhonsala Military School he learnt that the camp had been organised by the RSS to give karate, ground obstacles and revolver firing training to participants. Two retired ex-servicemen who were present at the camp trained participants in revolver handling. Also attending was a senior retired officer from the Intelligence Bureau (IB). In all there were 115 participants from all over India at the camp.

  • Govind Nagacharya Puranik, a BSNL employee at the Nanded telephone exchange, also played a key role in the nefarious activities. A member of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh trade union affiliated to the RSS, Puranik revealed in his recorded statements to the police and the ATS between April and June 2006 that he had been attending RSS camps since 2000. Puranik, a well-educated man, was fully aware of the terrorist designs of Himanshu Panse, Naresh Rajkondwar, Rahul Pande and others. He nonetheless provided logistical support for their criminal activities for a number of years. He financed and helped the accused persons both before and after the Nanded incident. Fearing an arrest, Puranik filed an anticipatory bail application before the sessions court, Nanded. The court readily granted him anticipatory bail!

  • Also implicated by the ATS was Shrikar Shivsambh Sonwale, a Nanded resident. In a recorded statement to the ATS in May 2006 Sonwale admitted to a close friendship with several of the main accused in the Nanded incident. He stated that while they were drinking together one evening Maroti Wagh had told him in great detail how Himanshu Panse and he had detonated a bomb in a Parbhani mosque (November 2003). This showed that Sonwale knew about Wagh and Panse’s involvement in a terrorist act. But he withheld this vital information from the police. Had he informed the police at that point in time Panse and gang could have been apprehended and the explosions that followed at other places could have been prevented.

  • The search operation at Panse’s house unearthed items of disguise – an artificial beard, shervani, etc – used in order to assume the appearance of a Muslim. The police and the ATS collected sufficient evidence against all the accused to establish that they were perpetrators and masterminds of the blasts carried out at regular intervals in different districts of Maharashtra. The obvious conclusion drawn was that it was the intention of Bajrang Dal activists and their sangh parivar affiliates to target Muslims with terrorist acts and make it appear that Muslim extremists were involved in targeting fellow Muslims. This would help advance the sangh parivar’s agenda of spreading hatred against Indian Muslims, projecting them as the perpetrators of every blast in city after city in India.

The first charge sheet filed by the ATS on August 24, 2006 named seven accused – Rahul Pande, Laxman G. Rajkondwar, Sanjay Choudhary, Ramdas Mulange, Dr Umesh Deshpande, Himanshu Panse (deceased) and Naresh Rajkondwar (deceased). (Maroti Wagh, Yogesh D. Vidulkar and Gururaj Jairam Tuptewar, who were all present at the bomb-making site, were absent from the first list of accused).

To its credit, the ATS did a reasonable job at the level of investigation. It appears from what follows that at some point in the course of proceedings the ATS took a sudden U-turn. A public outcry then forced the government to transfer the case from the ATS to the CBI. But the CBI’s conduct was questionable in the extreme; doing little to follow up on the many leads provided by the ATS, it only served to weaken the case.

They were charged under Sections 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 286 (negligent conduct), 338 (grievous hurt), 201(destroying evidence), 202 (withholding information on a crime), 203 (providing false information), 212 (harbouring an offender), 120B (criminal conspiracy), 34 (common intent) and 109 (abetment) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC); along with Sections 3 (causing an explosion likely to endanger life, person or property), 4 (attempting to cause or making or keeping explosives likely to endanger life or damage property), 5 (making explosives under suspicious circumstances) and 6 (abetment) of the Explosive Substances Act 1908; Sections 3, 25 and 35 (unlawful possession of arms) of the Arms Act 1959; and Sections 18 (attempting to commit or abetting a terrorist act) and 23 (unauthorised possession of bombs, etc with intent to aid terrorist act) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 (as amended in 2004).

The most serious charges against the accused, and for which the most stringent punishments are provided, are the ones that fall within the purview of the Unlawful Activities Act and Section 304 of the IPC. (See box for punishments provided under the former.)

After conducting further investigations the ATS filed a supplementary charge sheet on November 11, 2006 naming four more accused – Maroti Wagh, Yogesh D. Vidulkar, Gururaj Jairam Tuptewar and Milind Ektate. They too were slapped with identical charges. However, none of the abetters or masterminds behind the conspiracy, Mithun Chakraborty or Bajrang Dal leaders, were incriminated.

To its credit, the ATS did a reasonable job at the level of investigation, uncovering a hitherto unknown terrorist network in Maharashtra of Hindu extremists linked to the sangh parivar. Given the seriousness of the case, evident through its own findings, one would have expected the ATS to proceed with both promptitude and determination to ensure that all those who were guilty were brought to book and the terrorist network was exposed. The two charge sheets filed by the ATS do not however reflect the very gravity of its findings. It appears from what follows that at some point in the course of proceedings the ATS took a sudden U-turn. A public outcry then forced the government to transfer the case from the ATS to the CBI. But the CBI’s conduct was questionable in the extreme; doing little to follow up on the many leads provided by the ATS, it only served to weaken the case.

The investigating agencies themselves warrant investigation and this is CC’s "charge sheet" against them.

State police: inefficient or biased?

What is the explanation for the Maharashtra police’s earlier failure in identifying and booking the real perpetrators of the bomb blasts at the Parbhani, Jalna and Purna mosques which took place in 2003 and 2004, two years before the blasts in Nanded? A lack of professionalism in intelligence-gathering and in conducting investigations? A sanghi mind-set that believes only members of a certain community would commit terrorist acts? Or intentionally shielding the guilty, acting either of its own volition or under political pressure?

ATS: Half measures?

  • On July 29, 2006 the ATS sought permission from the district collector, Nanded, to file its charge sheet against 21 accused persons. To make such a plea the ATS must have been confident that it had sufficient evidence to prove that all 21 persons were party to the crime. But inexplicably, barely three weeks later it wrote to the additional chief secretary of Maharashtra, seeking sanction for the prosecution of only seven persons from its own list of 21 accused, dropping all charges against 11 others and seeking permission to bring forth evidence against the remaining two – Advocate Milind Ektate and the elusive Mithun Chakraborty – only one of whom was ultimately charged. (As mentioned earlier, a supplementary charge sheet added four more persons, including Ektate but not Chakraborty, to the list of accused.) Mithun Chakraborty was mysteriously excluded from the scope of further investigation even after the CBI took over the case. In fact, the CBI has not explored any leads on the training and finance provided to the terrorist network, leaving gaping holes in the bureau’s charge sheet.

The ATS, despite evidence gathered through investigations and supplemented by narco analysis test reports, was similarly reluctant to probe the role of institutions like the Bhonsala Military School in Nagpur or the Akanksha Resort in Sinhgad, Pune, in the possible training of terror groups.

"During the course of investigation, no sufficient evidence is found against the below-mentioned arrested accused persons hence they are discharged from the case vide Section 169 CrPC," said the ATS missive addressed to the additional chief secretary. The ATS then proceeded to file its charge sheet on August 24, 2006 along with a request to discharge 11 accused, absolving them of any links to the crime.

The accused persons whom the ATS wanted to discharge were: Vinod Venkatrao Mahalkar, Santosh Prakash Parlikar, Nimesh Sudhakar Limaye, Janardhan Yashwantrao Wakodikar, Santosh Keshavrao Wagh, Keshavrao P. Wagh, Jairam D. Tuptewar, Deviprasad Jairam Tuptewar, Raju Vithalrao Choudhary, Ravindra Ramrao Vidulkar and Mukul Ramesh Pande. From their names it appears that some of these men are relatives of some of the accused.

Was the ATS acting under political pressure, prompting it to make a U-turn at the last minute only to shield many of the accused?

  • The ATS had earlier charged all 21 accused with seven crimes, three of which related to the bomb blasts at Parbhani, Purna and Jalna. What stopped the ATS from booking them under the draconian Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) which the ATS freely applied in the 7/11 blasts, the Malegaon blasts and the Aurangabad RDX haul?

(CC agrees with other human rights activists and groups who argue that given the right professional orientation and training, the existing laws of the land are more than adequate for the police to deal with even the worst kinds of crime. Conferring greater powers on an inept, unprofessional and highly politicised police force through draconian laws like MCOCA will only result in the misuse of these powers even against innocent citizens. But given that an act like MCOCA does exist, why is it being selectively used? Do our investigating agencies also discriminate between "good terrorists" and "bad terrorists"?).

 

CBI: Operation Cover-up?

Considering the circumstances in which the CBI was brought into the picture, one would have expected the country’s premier investigating agency to conduct nothing less than a thorough, free, fair and transparent investigation so that the real culprits and masterminds of the crime could be identified, caught and punished. Instead, the CBI chose to function behind a veil of secrecy, refusing to brief the public at all about the investigations and thus raising suspicions about its unprofessional conduct.

Although the CBI submitted its charge sheet in the case more than five months ago, CC had to make repeated applications under the Right to Information Act before we were allowed to access the charge sheet and the accompanying records. And the reason why the authorities were so reluctant to part with these documents becomes evident from a perusal of the charge sheet. Far from rising to the occasion, the CBI has proved unwilling or incapable of pursuing the leads provided to it by the ATS investigations. Far worse, it has ended up diluting the ATS case. Presented below are some of the obvious lacunae in the CBI’s charge sheet, examples of the bureau’s acts of commission and omission:

Acts of commission

The two ATS charge sheets accuse 11 persons of being part of a criminal conspiracy involving terrorist acts: a very serious charge against all of them. But the CBI did not even consider the possibility of such a conspiracy. In glaring contrast to the ATS approach, it simply refused to explore the forward or backward linkages to the accidental explosion at Laxman Rajkondwar’s house in April 2006 except to the very limited extent of naming those who sheltered the injured fugitive, Rahul Pande, from the police or gave him surreptitious medical help. The CBI divided the 11 accused into three categories and then proceeded to completely dilute the charges against 10 of them. The one remaining accused was absolved of all charges.

The CBI holds the six accused who were present at the explosion spot (and who died or were seriously injured in the incident) as collectively responsible only for the following offences: for causing the explosion with the full knowledge that such an explosion can claim lives (Sec. 304, IPC: culpable homicide not amounting to murder), for negligent conduct (Sec. 286, IPC), for causing grievous injury (Sec. 338, IPC), for possession and control of explosive substances (Sec. 4b and 5, Explosives Substances Act) and for unauthorised possession of 10 live cartridges (Sec. 25 of the Arms Act).


Villainous conspiracy

As for the other four co-accused – Sanjay Choudhary, Ramdas Mulange, Dr Umesh Deshpande and Milind Arvind Ektate – the charges against them are limited to: culpable homicide not amounting to murder (Sec. 304, IPC), negligent conduct with respect to explosives (Sec. 286, IPC), grievous hurt to others (Sec. 338, IPC), intentional omission to give information of an offence (Sec. 202, IPC), harbouring an offender (Sec. 212, IPC), and abetment of an assault (Sec. 134, IPC).

Laxman G. Rajkondwar, the owner of house where the explosion took place, who, according to the ATS charge sheet, was as involved in the crime as his deceased son, has been let off the hook.

In short, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 (as amended in 2004) was conspicuously not applied against any of the accused. Similarly, Section 120B of the IPC, for criminal conspiracy, has not been applied against anyone.

 

Acts of omission

The CBI’s acts of omission are as serious, if not more so, than its acts of commission:

  • For the ATS the accidental explosion in Nanded turns out to be only one episode in a diabolical terrorist plot involving a nefarious network of Bajrang Dal activists functioning with covert support from other wings of the sangh parivar. But for the CBI the sole concern appears to be to treat the Nanded incident as an isolated case so that the trial, which is conducted on the basis of the charge sheet, does not even examine the possible existence of a terrorist network in Maharashtra. A network that is engaged in hate-mongering, is linked to institutions where former intelligence officials and army men train cadres in the handling of arms and explosives, and which collects funds and provides other logistical support.

  • Why did the ATS not apply the provisions of MCOCA to the accused when according to its own findings the accused were implicated in terrorist acts? This is a question that the CBI should have probed. But it did not even raise the subject. Why not?

  • Contrary to the findings of the ATS, the CBI does not utter a word about the links that the accused persons had with the RSS, the Bajrang Dal and the VHP. Why?

  • The ATS investigation clearly establishes the existence of a terrorist nexus operating under the wider sangh parivar umbrella. The CBI should have followed this up after it took charge of the case. What is the real agenda of the Bhonsala Military School in Nagpur? Who owns and runs the Akanksha Resort in Pune? Is it linked in some way with the Bajrang Dal/VHP/RSS? Who among the RSS/VHP were involved and where in Goa were the Bajrang Dal activists trained? Who are the financiers, trainers (Mithun Chakraborty and Sanatkumar Ragvithal Bhate) and other individuals who actively participated, either directly or indirectly, in perpetrating terror attacks? Who are the retired officers of the military and intelligence services who provided martial arts and military training to Bajrang Dal activists? Why have officers who during their professional careers swore to serve secular-democratic India now chosen to place themselves at the service of Hindu extremists? For reasons best known to itself the CBI has not followed up on the leads that the ATS investigation provided.

  • The ATS named Laxman Rajkondwar, the owner of the house in which the blast occurred, among the prime accused. But the CBI charge sheet absolves him of all charges. Investigators found that firecrackers worth Rs 1,20,000 had been illegally stored at the site. Such a large quantity of highly combustible material would undoubtedly have blown up in the blast. Thus the only inference one can make is that the stock of fireworks was put in place after the blasts, as a subterfuge. From where was such a large stock of firecrackers procured at such short notice? This is a question that does not seem to concern the CBI. How did the CBI allow Laxman Rajkondwar to go scot-free?

  • The CBI not only chose to completely disregard the information gathered by the ATS through narco tests conducted on four of the accused (see box), but also gave little credence to the incriminating material seized during house searches and the admissions of some of the accused during interrogation. If the CBI had acted as it should, it would have applied for the earlier cases of bomb blasts by several of those accused in the Nanded blasts (in mosques in Parbhani, Jalna and Purna in 2003 and 2004) to be clubbed together and prosecuted as part of a wider conspiracy. Had it done so it could also have set into motion the many stringent provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act: Section 16 (committing a terrorist act), Section 17 (punishment for funding a terrorist act), Section 18 (being part of a terrorist conspiracy), Section 19 (punishment for harbouring a terrorist) and most importantly, Section 20 (punishment for being a member of a terrorist gang). The findings of the ATS leave little room for doubt that the Bajrang Dal falls well within the act’s definition of a "terrorist gang". To pursue this line of investigation the CBI would no doubt have needed to follow up on the leads provided by the ATS. But, as mentioned earlier, it was disinclined to even consider the option.

 

Conclusion

Through its creditworthy investigation of the accidental blast in Nanded, the ATS uncovered a dangerous terrorist network. Its investigations revealed that the bomb blasts at Parbhani, Jalna, Purna and Nanded were no ordinary crimes with simple motives. Involved in each of them were activists of the Bajrang Dal who had sought and received systematic training from experts in bomb-making and bomb explosion. Their insidious acts of terror at mosques include not just planting the bombs but also disguising themselves as Muslims while committing the crimes.

The ATS investigations further revealed that it was not just a handful but as many as three dozen Bajrang Dalis from all over Maharashtra who received training in Pune where more than a hundred of them from all over India were similarly trained at the Bhonsala Military School in Nagpur. While the Pune camp was organised by the Bajrang Dal, the Nagpur one was organised by its parent body, the RSS. And while those directly involved in lobbing the bombs were Bajrang Dal members, there are clear indications that the RSS and the VHP also form part of the nexus. The men who imparted this training to the Dal’s cadres included retired officers of the country’s military and intelligence services.

According to the admissions of several of the accused, their agenda was to challenge what they regarded as "Muslim bombs" with "Hindu bombs". At the same time it was clearly part of the Hindu extremist strategy to make their malevolent actions appear as if they were the work of Muslim extremists.

All of this is truly sinister and raises several very disturbing questions:

  • Is "Hindu terrorism" now an integral part of the sangh parivar’s "Hate Muslims" agenda, at least for the Bajrang Dal, acting with the covert blessing of and logistical support from sections within the VHP and even the RSS?

  • How do we know that the Bajrang Dal and others have not been conducting similar bomb training camps in states other than Maharashtra? (After all, but for the bomb blowing up accidentally in Nanded the Maharashtra police might still be clueless about the people involved in the local terror plot. The way investigations have been conducted into the second accidental blast in Nanded in 2007 – see accompanying story – raises other serious issues.)

  • as communal violence now donned a terrorist garb on both sides of the communal divide?

  • If as part of their strategy Hindu extremists disguise themselves as Muslims and then engage in terrorist activity, could they also be responsible for sending out emails claiming responsibility for blasts under assumed Muslim names and using an Islamic vocabulary?

  • How then can we know who is responsible for the series of blasts that have ripped through a succession of Indian cities?

  • What then of national security, public peace and communal harmony?

  • Are our investigating and intelligence agencies also handicapped by their ideological blinkers insomuch as they are blind to or soft on acts of "Hindu terrorism"?

The spate of blasts in Panvel and Thane in May-June 2008 where once again some Hindu extremist outfits have been implicated lends an added urgency to these questions. Given the CBI’s miserable failure in taking the ATS investigations forward, only an open and in depth inquiry carried out by a high court judge will help trace the tentacles of this hitherto unsuspected monster that threatens national security, public peace and harmony.


Archived from Communalism Combat, July-August 2008. Year 15, No.133, Maharashtra, Cover Story 1

 

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