The Big Story: Acquitting Aseemanand
On Wednesday, a special court of the National Investigation Agency acquitted Swami Aseemanand and six others in the 2007 Ajmer shrine blast case, giving them the “benefit of doubt”. In 2011, the former activist of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had confessed to planning and helping execute bomb blasts targeted at minorities “to avenge attacks on Hindu temples”. Aseemanand still stands accused in two other blast cases. But this acquittal dilutes the case against saffron terror.
Aseemanand was alleged to be part of a terror network that carried out a series of bomb blasts in the last decade, including Ajmer 2007, Mecca Masjid 2007, Samjhauta Express 2007, Malegaon 2006 and 2008. Many of those accused in these cases were part of a shadowy extremist Hindutva outfit called Abhinav Bharat, or they had ties with the RSS.
But over the last decade, the big names associated with this terror network been struck off the list of the accused in most cases. Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, once a member of the Akhil Bharti Vidyarthi Parishad, was recently cleared of charges that she was involved in the murder of Sunil Joshi, a former RSS pracharak who was killed in 2007. However, the Mumbai High Court has reserved her bail order in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case. Indresh Kumar, now a national executive member of the RSS and convenor of its Muslim Rashtriya Manch, was named in the Ajmer blasts case but never even called for questioning. The case against Colonel Purohit, the army man who became part of Abhinav Bharat and an accused in Malegaon 2008, also seems to be collapsing.
A constant theme over the last few years, has been the accusation that the guilty got away because of institutional complicity. Most damning were the charges against the National Investigation Agency, which took over a raft of saffron terror cases in 2011. These charges came out into the open after Rohini Salian, special public prosecutor in the Malegaon 2008 case, alleged that after the National Democratic Alliance government came to power in 2014, she had been told by the investigating agency to “go soft” on cases of saffron terror. They were echoed to a certain extent by Ashwini Sharma, public prosecutor in the Ajmer blast case, who felt the agency had not done enough to build a case against Aseemanand, and who now feels mystified that the swami should be acquitted in spite of his confession. As witness after witness turned hostile and charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act were dropped, suspicions mounted that the dilution of these cases was politically motivated. The accused, it has been pointed out, often belonged to organisations that are close to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
With the collapsing of these cases, a larger battle will be lost. In 2008, they spawned the term Hindutva terror. It marked a radical shift away from the way terror is understood, that it is not restricted to followers of any one religion or extremism. The term stuck, in spite of institutional resistance and public denial. But now, with the charges against the accused rapidly melting away, Hindutva terror will be restored to myth once more.
The Big Scroll
Supriya Sharma reports on how public prosecutor Ashwini Sharma was unhappy with the National Investigation Agency’s role in building a case againt Aseemanand and others.
Vipin Pubby on how the National Investigation Agency had to respond to charges of complicity after the National Democratic Alliance came into power.
Menaka Rao reports on the so-called political moves that led to the dropping of charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act.
Rakesh Dixit and Ipsita Chakravarty on the acquittal of Sadhvi Pragya.
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Damayantee Dhar reports on two villages in Gujarat which are boycotting Dalits for refusing to pick up animal carcasses:
“’The incident happened in October and since then, the Darbars of the village have methodically boycotted the Dalits socially,’ said Narendra Parmar, a Dalit activist in the area. ‘Shops in and around the village refused to sell them grocery, vegetables or milk.’
He added, ‘Many Dalits of this village are labourers and they depend on the work they find in the village from these Darbars. The Darbars decided the Dalits of the village shall no longer be hired for any work.’
For two months after that, the Dalits managed to procure food, milk and other essentials from nearby villages. But eventually, unable to manage anymore in the face of the economic boycott, 74 community members left Par in December, moving into the homes of relatives and in-laws in the neighbouring areas.”