To be read in coninuation of my article of January 8, 2011
The investigation into the February 18,2007, explosions on board the Samjhauta Express to Pakistan that killed 68 persons 43 of them Pakistanis returning home after visiting India is becoming messier and messier, thereby further discrediting Indian investigating agencies.
Initial investigation pointed the needle of suspicion to Jihadi terrorists belonging to Pakistani organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET). A finding by the US Department of Treasury, which is responsible for stopping flow of funds to terrorists, also blamed the LET and Al Qaeda.
Subsequently, Indian investigation agencies claimed that further investigation made by them showed that the act of terrorism on board the train was actually the work of some Hindu extremists, who had association with some Hindutva organisations in the past.They went to town with a confession reportedly made before a magistrate by Swami Assemanand with alleged past links to some Hindutva elements. In his confessional statement, which mysteriously found its way into the hands of a journalist of the Tehelka magazine, he had confessed his role not only in the incident on board the train, but also in the terrorist attacks against members of the Muslim community at Ajmer Sharif,Malegaon and the Mecca mosque at Hyderabad.
While his confessional statement, which was prematurely leaked through the Tehelka, was under verification, he is reported to have retracted it. In its issue of March 31,2011, the Times of India has reported as follows:
"In a major twist, Swami Assemanand has turned hostile and has accused investigative agencies, including the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), of pressurising him to make confessions".
The TOI has quoted him as having told an Ajmer court on March 29,2011, as follows:
"I have been pressurised mentally and physically by the investigating agencies to confess that I was behind these blasts."
He is also reported to have told the court that he was threatened and pressurised to become a government witness in this case.
The retraction of his confession came a day before the meeting between Prime Ministers Dr Manmohan Singh and Mr Yousef Raza Gilani at Mohali during the India-Pakistan World Cup cricket semi-final. It coincided with the meeting of the Home/Interior Secretaries of the governments of India and Pakistan held on March 28 and 29. The Indian delegation to the talks was reported to have shared with the Pakistani delegation some details of the confessional statement on March 29. The same issue of the TOI has reported as follows quoting an unidentified member of the Indian delegation to the talks:
"Pakistan was given this information with the promise that the updated information will be shared with it once the NIA, which is probing the case since July last year, filed its charge-sheet in the court."
Assemanand's denial of the confession does not absolve him of responsibility for his involvement in the train blast. He can even now be successfully prosecuted provided other suspects who were arrested during the investigation--either on the basis of his confession or through other independent evidence--stick to their respective statements and testify against him in the court. If they do not do so, the entire case regarding the involvement of some members of the Hindu community in the train blast could fail.
The leakage of the details of the confessional statement to the media before the statement had been verified in all material particulars was apparently an attempt by the government to use its investigation agencies to score political gains against the Hindutva organisations. This partisan political game seems to have boomeranged as a result of the retraction of the confession.
Whether jihadi terrorists or some Hindu elements were involved, the forensic evidence collected such as the nature of the improvised explosive devices would be the same. On the basis of the same forensic evidence, jihadi terrorists were initially blamed. Then after the confessional statement, some Hindus were blamed. Now with the confessional statement most probably losing its value because of the retraction, who are the real perpetrators of the crime?
The investigating agencies could find themselves in a very embarrassing situation in answering this question. This is what happens when investigating agencies deviate from the path of professionalism and let themselves be used in partisan political games.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies