Ever since the Malegaon blast of 2008, investigative agencies have been furiously working to learn more about the origin of the extremist Hindutva outfit Abhinav Bharat, whose members are accused of being behind this act of terror. But despite the investigations, there’s still little we know about this shadowy organisation.
There’s considerable confusion regarding how the organisation was formed and who actually formed it. While one version says Sameer Kulkarni, an accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast, started it, another version says that its founder was Lt Col Shrikant Purohit, another key accused in the same blast case.
Down the rabbit hole
The Kulkarni-as-founder theory was made by Himani Savarkar, the president of the Abhinav Bharat, in an interview to Outlook magazine in November 2008, two months after the blast.
The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad named Kulkarni as one of those who provided logistic support for the blast that took place on September 29, 2008.
Savarkar told Outlook that Sameer Kulkarni, who was “a part of the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh]”, started the Abhinav Bharat. “When he [Kulkarni] decided to start Abhinav Bharat, he approached me to become its president and I accepted,” she said.
Savarkar, who died last October, was the daughter of Gopal Godse (the brother of Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi) and married into the family of Hindutva ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.
While being interrogated by the anti-terrorism squad in connection with the blast, Savarkar said that she was elected president of the Abhinav Bharat in April 2008, and that Kulkarni concentrated on developing the organisation in Madhya Pradesh.
The real founder?
However, other testimonies fail to support Savarkar’s claims.
According to the investigations carried out by the anti-terrorism squad, Lt Col Shrikant Purohit, a key accused in the Malegaon blast case, was the real architect of Abhinav Bharat.
According to the chargesheet filed by the anti-terrorism squad, Purohit initiated the outfit in June 2006 when he led over a dozen people to Maratha ruler Shivaji’s fort in Raigad where “they took the blessings of Shivaji Maharaj’s throne and decided to name the trust Abhinav Bharat and prayed for its success”.
A few months later, in February 2007, the organisation was registered as a trust with its official address being that of its treasurer Ajay Rahirkar, a resident of Pune, who is also an accused in the Malegaon blast case.
Such is the confusion over the origin of the Abhinav Bharat that despite heading the organisation for so many years, Savarkar seemed unaware of its many aspects. She might, however, just have chosen (and in that case quite successfully) to reveal only as much as was needed to heighten the confusion over the organisation’s origins.
Last year, in a long interview to this reporter around two months after Savarkar’s death, Milind Joshirao, a close associate of Purohit’s who worked as the outfit’s spokesperson when Savarkar was president, said: “To blame her for being unaware of many aspects of Abhinav Bharat would be unfair. She joined the organisation late, and so she might just not be knowing everything about its origins.”
Joshirao, who now calls himself the president of the Abhinav Bharat, was detained for nearly two weeks after the Malegaon blast and was released thereafter.
He said that Savarkar had never been formally appointed president.
“It was during that period of confusion [caused by arrests in the wake of the Malegaon blast] when Himani Savarkar came forward to speak to the media on our behalf,” said Joshirao. “There was no formal meeting to make her the president of the organisation, and that is why you won’t find anything to that effect in the papers of Abhinav Bharat.”
Joshirao added: “She became so [its president] because she claimed so, and we all respected her decision because she represented the great families of Savarkar and Godse.”
The 1905 Abhinav Bharat
The Abhinav Bharat has had a previous avatar too.
Inspired by Italian revolutionary Mazzini’s political movement called Young Italy, VD Savarkar formed an organisation in 1905 that he christened Abhinav Bharat.
The old Abhinav Bharat, however, wasn’t very active as Savarkar, who was a student of Pune’s Fergusson College at that time, left the country abruptly in 1906 once he got a scholarship for higher education in England. His outfit was dormant for long, and in 1952, Savarkar officially disbanded it.
Though its revival in India over a century after it was first formed was a mysterious, inscrutable affair, the link its members have with the Sangh Parivar is striking.
During her interrogation on December 26, 2008, Savarkar told the ATS: “I met [Sameer] Kulkarni one and a half years ago when he was working as a full-time member of the RSS. Since my house is next to [VD] Savarkar’s, he would come often and I came to know him very well. Then he told me he would be in Madhya Pradesh to work for Abhinav Bharat.”
Retired Major Ramesh Upadhyay, a prominent Abhinav Bharat leader and an accused in the Malegaon case, was, before joining this outfit, the president of the Mumbai unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ex-servicemen cell.
Equally significant is the track record of another Abhinav Bharat leader, BL Sharma. He won the Lok Sabha election twice on a BJP ticket from East Delhi during the 1990s. An RSS worker since 1940, Sharma had largely worked with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad before switching to the Abhinav Bharat.
Though Pragya Singh Thakur, a leader of the RSS’ student wing, was not directly associated with the Abhinav Bharat, she is alleged to have worked in tandem with the members of this organisation to cause the Malegaon blast in 2008.
Thakur was a leader of the RSS-affiliated right-wing student body, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, in Ujjain and Indore until 1997. She then became a member of its national executive before taking sanyas.
Purohit, who is most likely the main architect of Abhinav Bharat, was in constant touch with Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Pravin Togadia before the blast. According to the anti-terrorism squad’s findings, the last time the duo met was at a Mumbai hotel in August 2008, over a month before the Malegaon blast.
Purohit is believed to have had great expectations from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which he considered a recruitment ground for the Abhinav Bharat.
As per his chargesheet, Purohit even told Abhinav Bharat leaders about his expectations: “If and when [VHP leader Ashok] Singhalji will be removed from the VHP, it would become a headless chicken. A body without a head will remain and this is what BJP wants. This wing should become ours. Do not oppose me on this. This will be our main weapon.”
Clearly, the overlaps between these various Hindutva groups are striking, and are not restricted to sharing a common ideology alone. If anything, the complexities of the disjointed existence of the RSS and Abhinav Bharat confirm the hydra-like structure of Hindutva politics.