Unfinished stories, goes an old idiom in Ajmer, find their denouement in Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti’s shrine. Perhaps, unfinished investigations do too. Two-and-a-half years after low-intensity blasts ripped apart the courtyard of the centuries-old shrine, the Rajasthan police arrested three men—Devendra Gupta, Vishnu Prasad and Chandrashekhar Patidar. Gupta, an RSS worker, was suspected to have bought the mobile phone and SIM card that triggered off the October 2007 blast in which three were killed. Till their arrest on April 30 this year, the story narrated by the investigators, lapped up by the establishment and reiterated in large sections of the media was that the Ajmer blast was the handiwork of jehadi terrorists.
The SIM-mobile phone-detonated bombs are similar in Ajmer and Mecca Masjid blasts, with RDX-TNT mix in proportion used by the Indian army.
The one troubling question—would jehadis target Muslim devout at a dargah?—can have complicated answers, as the body count at Lahore’s Data Ganj Baksh would testify. But in India, the question wasn’t even deemed worthy of being asked as a reasonable line of inquiry. The needle of suspicion remained firmly and automatically fixed on Islamic terrorists—young men from the community were detained at various stages of the investigation and interrogated at length—until the trail finally led to Gupta and pointed to radical Hindu nationalist groups instead. Says Rajasthan Anti-Terrorist Squad chief Kapil Garg: “We have arrested some people of that religion (Hinduism) and we’re dead sure we’re on the right track.”
May 18, 2007 Doom Friday Mecca Masjid was rocked by a pipe bomb
In Hyderabad too, the CBI team believes it is on the right track, finally, in the Mecca Masjid bomb blasts case. Four men belonging to radical Hindu groups were arrested this May for triggering a high-intensity bomb that went off in the masjid complex in May 2007, killing 14 and injuring some 50. At that time, the Hyderabad police had said it was most likely the work of the Harkat-ul-Jehad-e-Islami (HuJI), backed by local logistical support; some 26 Muslim men were picked up, interrogated, forced to confess and detained for up to six months.
The terror trail in India changed after the Maharashtra ATS’s investigations into the 2008 Malegaon blasts, which alerted them to Abhinav Bharat.
The story followed this script till the CBI found evidence to the contrary: the SIM card-and-mobile phone-detonated explosives packed in metal tubes were strikingly similar to the Ajmer blasts contraption. Tellingly, both bombs are believed to have contained a deadly mix of RDX and TNT, in proportions often used by the Indian army. CBI director Ashwani Kumar told the media that an activist named Sunil Joshi “played a key role in orchestrating the Ajmer blast... and a set of mobile SIM cards that had been used in activation of the bomb-triggers in the Mecca Masjid blast was used again in the Ajmer blast”.
Around the same time, officers of the National Investigating Agency (NIA) filed a chargesheet in a Panjim court accusing 11 people, all Hindus and members of the ultra-right-wing Sanathan Sanstha, of masterminding and executing the October 2009 Margao blasts that killed the two people ferrying the explosives to a local festival. Investigation in Pune’s German Bakery blast this February has run aground after the initial suspicion, detaining and interrogation of suspected Muslim men, some believed to be members of “sleeper cells of jehadi groups” or the Indian Mujahideen (IM). When Abdul Samad was arrested last month, the Maharashtra ATS actively encouraged the understanding that he was the man caught on CCTV cameras in the bakery that night. However, Samad was never charged with the blast and subsequently let off in other cases too.
Malegaon Blasts II: September 29, 2008
Deadly Bike The bomb here was mounted on a Hero Honda (Reuters, From Outlook July 19, 2010 Issue)
September 8, 2006
- Initial arrests: Arrested include Salman Farsi, Farooq Iqbal Makhdoomi, Raees Ahmed, Noorul Huda Samsudoha and Shabbir Batterywala.
- Later revelation: Suspicion now rests on Hindu terrorists because of the 2008 blasts.
Samjhauta Express Blasts
February 18, 2007
68 dead, mostly Pakistanis
- Initial suspicion: LeT and JeM were blamed. Those arrested included Pakistani national Azmat Ali.
- Later revelation: Police have seen the evidence trail lead to right-wing Hindu activists. Investigators claim the triggering mechanism for the Mecca masjid blast three months later was similar to the one used here. Police are looking for RSS pracharaks Sandeep Dange and Ramji.
Mecca Masjid Blast
May 18, 2007
- Initial arrests: Around 80 Muslims detained for questioning and 25 arrested. Several have now been acquitted, including Ibrahim Junaid, Shoaib Jagirdar, Imran Khan and Mohammed Adul Kaleem.
- Later revelation: In June 2010 the CBI announced a cash reward of Rs 10 lakh for information on the two accused, Sandeep Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra. Lokesh Sharma arrested.
Ajmer Sharif Blast
October 11, 2007
- Initial arrests: HuJI, LeT blamed. Those arrested include Abdul Hafiz Shamim, Khushibur Rahman, Imran Ali.
- Later revelation: In 2010, Rajasthan ATS arrests Devendra Gupta, Chandrashekhar and Vishnu Prasad Patidar. Accused Sunil Joshi, who was killed weeks before the blast, is believed to have been a key planner.
Thane Cinema Blast
June 4, 2008
- Affiliated to Hindu Janjagruti Samiti and Sanathan Sanstha, Ramesh Hanumant Gadkari and Mangesh Dinkar Nikam arrested. Blast planned to oppose the screening of Jodhaa Akbar.
Kanpur And Nanded Bomb Mishaps
- Two members of Bajrang Dal—Rajiv Mishra and Bhupinder Singh—were killed while assembling bombs in Kanpur. In April 2006, N. Rajkondwar and H. Panse from the same outfit died under similar circumstances in a bomb-making workshop in Nanded.
Malegaon Blasts II
September 29, 2008
- Initial suspicion: Groups like Indian Mujahideen involved
- Later revelation: Abhinav Bharat and Rashtriya Jagaran Manch accused of involvement. Arrested include Pragya Singh Thakur, Lt Col Srikant Purohit and Swami Amritanand Dev Tirth, also known as Dayanand Pandey.
October 16, 2009
- 2 dead Both accused are members of the Sanathan Sanstha. Malgonda Patil and Yogesh Naik were riding a scooter laden with explosives, which accidentally went off.
Terror trails in India dramatically changed with the Malegaon blasts investigation in September-October 2008. Led by then Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare, who was subsequently killed on the night of 26/11, the investigation pointed to Abhinav Bharat (AB), an ultra-right-wing Pune-based organisation established in 2005-06, and its members or affiliates. What Karkare’s teams managed to uncover is part of recent history and should have become the basis of examining and monitoring the new phenomenon of Hindutva terror but didn’t.
“For a decade, stories of Hindu terror have been trickling in. Instead of a systematic investigation, it’s been an event-to-event probe so far.”
The Hindutva links to Mecca Masjid, Ajmer and other low-intensity blasts have been in the public domain for close to two years; the signs were visible since 2002-03 when an ied found at the Bhopal railway station was traced back to local Hindutva activists Ramnarayan Kalsangra and Sunil Joshi. They were questioned, but no evidence was found. Yet, it prompted Congress leader Digvijay Singh to declare a Bajrang Dal hand. Later in 2006, there were explosions in the houses of Hindutva activists in Nanded and Kanpur, where ieds were being prepared. Through that year, mosques in several towns in Maharashtra—Purna, Parbhani, Jalna—were rocked by low-intensity blasts; the Nanded one was meant for a mosque in Aurangabad. Recovered with a map of Aurangabad were false beards and Muslim male outfits. That should have been warning enough.
However, till May-June this year, the establishment did not either see these warning signals or chose to ignore them—except for a brief two-month period in 2008 when Karkare led the Malegaon probe. Now, it may be difficult to sustain the denial. “For the last 10 years, stories about Hindu right-wing violence have been trickling out. Instead of a systematic investigation, there has been an event-to-event investigation. The larger story has remained underinvestigated and under-reported,” says Mumbai advocate and human rights campaigner Mihir Desai. The CBI is only now seeking directions from the Union home ministry to see the Ajmer, Mecca Masjid, Malegaon and other blasts in conjunction after there has been no conclusive evidence of the involvement of Islamic groups.
Purohit had provided a link between Malegaon and Mecca Masjid blasts. But the police was chasing HuJI.
Malegaon 2008 provided the much-needed aperture to review the role of Hindutva groups. In September that year, eight people were killed and many injured in a low-intensity blast. The ATS investigation led to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, whose motorcycle was used to explode the bomb, and then to 13 others, including self-styled guru Dayanand Pandey and Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit, the first-ever serving officer to be charged. During interrogation, he had disclosed to ATS investigators that he had provided the RDX in the Mecca Masjid blasts too but the ATS was reportedly asked not to make it public as the Hyderabad police had detained HuJI suspects. The similarity with the Ajmer Sharif blasts was evident too.
Malegaon I - September 8, 2006 two bombs attached to cycles went off in a cemetery
The 4,528-page chargesheet filed in the Malegaon case offers insight into the grand design of the Abhinav Bharat and its affiliates. Purohit, the Sadhvi and others had spoken to one another “to avenge bomb attacks on Hindu shrines” and had engineered a series of blasts with the larger ambition to establish a “separate Hindu rashtra”. Abhinav Bharat—whose original avatar was started by Veer Savarkar, later disbanded, and restarted by Himani Savarkar—was set up to achieve this ambition. “This organised crime syndicate,” states the chargesheet, “wanted to adopt a national flag, that is, a solo-themed saffron flag with a golden border...with an ancient golden torch.”
The one crucial missing link, who has been named by all accused in custody as “the man”, is Ramnarayan Kalsangra, an expert at assembling bombs.
Malegaon honoured Karkare by naming a chowk after him—the tribute of a relieved town to a man they believed would have led them to the truth about the September 2006 blasts too. Three bombs had gone off that Friday afternoon near a mosque and cemetery, killing 37 and injuring 100. Typically, Muslim men alleged to be members of the proscribed SIMI were picked up, interrogated and forced to confess. But the chargesheet had several loopholes—main accused Mohammed Zahid, though a SIMI activist, was leading prayers in a village 700 km from Malegaon that day; conspirator Shabbir Masiuallah had been in police custody a month before the blasts, police sketches made on the basis of eyewitness accounts showed clean-shaven men while all accused had kept beards for years.
The Rajasthan ATS now believes that Devendra Gupta, linked to the Ajmer blasts, was in touch with AB members through RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi. Providing the other end of the link, the Maharashtra ATS says the Sadhvi, enraged when Joshi was killed by suspected SIMI activists in September 2007, ordered the 2008 Malegaon blast. Joshi has also been linked to the Samjhauta Express blasts which killed 68 people, all Pakistanis. The evidence has come from Purohit’s reported phone conversation as narrated by an unnamed witness.
Unholy deed A bomb in a schoolbag exploded during iftaar at the Ajmer Sharif
October 11, 2007
Yet, the story has several loose ends, most critical among them being fugitives Ramnarayan Kalsangra, Swami Aseemanand and others. Kalsangra, investigators in Maharashtra and Rajasthan say, was introduced to Devendra Gupta by the Sadhvi and is believed to be an expert at assembling bombs. Finding Kalsangra is crucial since all accused in custody have named him as “the man”. Ajmer, Mecca Masjid, Malegaon, Samjhauta Express and several other blasts are clearly part of a larger story. Only when the CBI puts all the pieces together will the entire Hindutva terror picture emerge, if at all.
By Smruti Koppikar with Debarshi Dasgupta and Snigdha Hasan