BOOK EXCERPT

How records linked Lt Col Shrikant Purohit (and Abhinav Bharat) with the Malegaon blast of 2008

‘We will fight the Constitution, will fight the nation; this Constitution is not ours. [...] The only way is to knock it down.’

The origins of the Abhinav Bharat are shrouded in mystery. It is named after, and said to be inspired by, the secret society of students that Savarkar started in 1905 while he was studying at Fergusson College in Pune. That society believed in revolutionary violence, in turn drawing its name and inspiration from the Young Italy movement of the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini.

But when Savarkar got a scholarship for higher education in England in early 1906, he left India. The Abhinav Bharat remained inactive for decades and in 1952, five years after Independence, the Hindu Mahasabha leader disbanded it.

Who revived it and how is not quite clear. In an interview given to Outlook magazine in November 2008, Himani [Savarkar] claimed that the Abhinav Bharat in its new form was started by Sameer Kulkarni, who was “a part of the RSS”. The Maharashtra ATS has named Kulkarni among those who provided logistical support for the Malegaon blast of 29 September 2008 that left six dead and scores injured. It is believed to be the handiwork of the Abhinav Bharat. (There had also been a blast in Malegaon in 2006 but the case involving the Abhinav Bharat relates to the blast of 2008.)

When she was interrogated in connection with the Malegaon case, Himani told the police that she was elected president of the Abhinav Bharat in April 2008 during a meeting in Bhopal. She also said that Sameer Kulkarni was working on the organisation’s growth in Madhya Pradesh.

Other testimonies as well as the FIR drafted by the then Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare suggest that Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Purohit – who allegedly played a key role in the 2008 Malegaon blast – was the real architect of the Abhinav Bharat. According to some of the interrogations led by the Maharashtra ATS, Purohit started the Abhinav Bharat in June 2006 when he led over a dozen people to the medieval Maratha king Shivaji’s fort in Raigad.

“We took the blessings of Shivaji Maharaj’s throne and decided to name the trust Abhinav Bharat and prayed for its success,” a participant in that trip told the police. Later, in February 2007, the group decided to register the organisation in the form of a trust, and the official address given for the purpose of registration was that of Ajay Rahirkar, a resident of Pune who became the treasurer of the new body. He too is one of the accused in the Malegaon blast case.

Malegaon blast scene | Image credit: Reuters
Malegaon blast scene | Image credit: Reuters

The Abhinav Bharat would have remained mired in obscurity had it not been for the bomb blast on 29 September 2008 in the Muslim-dominated powerloom town of Malegaon in Maharashtra.

The probe into this incident dramatically changed the terror trail in India. It was led by Hemant Karkare, who was subsequently killed in the Mumbai terror attack on 26 November 2008. The investigation unravelled for the first time a conspiracy by right-wing Hindu groups – in particular, the Abhinav Bharat – to spread terror in the country.

Although the Abhinav Bharat was a small, Maharashtra-centric outfit, the blast it allegedly engineered was a truly pan-Indian operation. According to the findings of the Maharashtra ATS, the plot was supposedly drawn up and fine-tuned over five meetings, with Lieutenant Colonel Purohit playing a key role in hatching the entire conspiracy.

The first meeting was held at Faridabad during 25-27 January 2008. Apart from Purohit, it was attended by a number of his accomplices, most of them members of the Abhinav Bharat. Some important individuals who were present and who were also named in the charge sheet along with Purohit include retired Major Ramesh Upadhyay, Sameer Kulkarni, Sudhakar Chaturvedi and Amritananda Dev Tirth (who is also known under the names of Sudhakar Dwivedi, Sudhakar Dhar and Dayanand Pandey).

These people met for a second time over 11-12 April 2008 at Bhopal. This time, as per the Maharashtra ATS, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, a former activist of the ABVP, was also in attendance. The participants “conspired together to take revenge against Muslims in Malegaon by exploding a bomb [in a] thickly populated area. Accused [Shrikant] Purohit took the responsibility of providing explosives. Accused Pragya Singh Thakur took the responsibility of providing men for the explosion. In this meeting, all the participants agreed and consented to commit the explosion at Malegaon.”

The third meeting was held in the Circuit House at Indore on 11 June 2008. According to the charge sheet led by the Maharashtra ATS, it was at this time that Sadhvi Pragya Singh introduced Ramchandra Kalasangra and Sandip Dange to Amritananda Dev Tirth as two reliable individuals who would plant the bomb at Malegaon. A fourth meeting was held in the first week of July 2008 in Pune, where the Sadhvi asked Amritananda Dev Tirith “to direct” Purohit “to give explosives” to Kalasangra and Dange.

Finally, in the fifth meeting, held on 3 August 2008 at the Dharamshala of the Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain, Purohit was “given the responsibility to procure the RDX” for Kalasangra and Dange. He, in turn, authorised Rakesh Dhawade, “a trained expert in committing explosions and assembling Improvised Explosive Devices”, to provide explosives to the duo at Pune, where they met on 9-10 August.


In early 2011, the Malegaon blast case of 2008 along with other investigations into Hindutva terror activities were handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

The NIA was held up for a few years by a series of petitions led by the lawyers of the accused. Later, especially after the formation of the BJP-led government at the centre, the investigative agency faced allegations that it was not moving fast enough because of pressure from above.

In June 2015, Rohini Salian, the special public prosecutor working on the 2008 Malegaon blast case, stunned everyone with her accusation of the NIA – the agency had asked her to be lenient with the accused, most of whom were members of the Abhinav Bharat. In a detailed interview given to The Indian Express, she said “over the past one year”, since “the new government came to power”, she had been under pressure from the NIA to go “soft” in the case.

She sounded extremely pessimistic about how she saw the case proceeding in the changed environment. “Maybe they [the NIA and the government] want to loosen it [Malegaon 2008 blast case] and ultimately lose the case because they cannot withdraw it.”

Salian’s revelation is significant not only because she has built a formidable reputation over three decades of legal practice, handling a number of cases as Maharashtra’s chief public prosecutor, but also because she was among the few with whom ATS chief Hemant Karkare discussed his findings in detail.

Even though the outcome of the investigation hangs in the balance, its nature and scope were unprecedented. The transcript of the set of meetings held by the members of the Abhinav Bharat over 2007 and 2008 is explosive. The proceedings were recorded by one of the participants (Sudhakar Dwivedi alias Amritananda Dev Tirth) on his laptop, and they provide us a glimpse of the Hindu Rashtra that is the ultimate goal of the Abhinav Bharat.

The conversations, which are part of the charge sheet of the 2008 Malegaon blast case, delve into various issues ranging from a new Constitution and a new flag for the proposed Hindu Rashtra, to the justification of bomb blasts and the Abhinav Bharat’s cordial relations with the RSS and the BJP.

Here is an excerpt from one of them:

“LIEUTENANT COLONEL PUROHIT: We will fight the Constitution, will fight the nation; this Constitution is not ours. [...] The only way is to knock it down [...]

SUDHAKAR DWIVEDI: On the first page of the Constitution it is written that the People of India have adopted this Constitution. How did this happen? On what basis could people adopt the Constitution? Was there any referendum? No. Was there any debate on it? No. How could then it be passed? How was this written on behalf of the people and who wrote it? [...]

PUROHIT: Swami ji, if this is so then we have to fight the Constitution; we have to fight for our independence.

SUDHAKAR DWIVEDI: We have an ancient science of administration. Our Smritis are the Constitution of our society. At present there are as many as 14 Smritis in this country. Collect them together [...]

PUROHIT: In this country we want to have Hindu Dharma or Vedic Dharma based on the Principles of Vedas.

MAJ (RETD) RAMESH UPADHYAY: This Constitution is not applicable to us, will not be acceptable to us; another Constitution will come into place; then Hindu Rashtra is established.”

But a new Constitution based on the smritis was not considered sufficient for the new Hindu Rashtra.

The key architect of the Abhinav Bharat also proposed a redesign of the tricolour: “The flag shall be solo tamed saffron flag having a golden border and an ancient golden torch. Length of the flag [shall] be twice its width [...] There will be four flames in four directions on that saffron flag representing [four] Vedas.”

In order to establish the Abhinav Bharat as the conscience-keeper of the new nation, the transcript shows Purohit arguing that “wherever Abhinav Bharat is started, there should be a temple, the temple of Bharat Mata [...] That would give sanctity to the idea of nationhood.”

Such language reveals utter contempt for the institutions of the Indian state and the laws of the land. At one point, some of the participants in the conversation, including retired Major Ramesh Upadhyay and Lieutenant Colonel Purohit, own up to the responsibility of having carried out some of the earlier bomb blasts that had been seen as “the handiwork of the ISI”. At another point, Purohit makes it clear that anybody who came in the way of the establishment of the Hindu Rashtra would not only be “politically excommunicated” but he would be “killed”.

Sources

  • Verinder Grover (ed), VD Savarkar, Deep & Deep Publications, New Delhi, 1993, p 428.
  • Christophe Jaffrelot, “Abhinav Bharat, the Malegaon Blast and Hindu Nationalism: Resisting and Emulating Islamic Terrorism”, Economic and Political Weekly, 4 September 2010, p 52.
  • “Chargesheet of Malegaon 2008 blast case”, ATS Maharashtra CR No. 18/2008.

Excerpted with permission from Shadow Armies: Fringe Organizations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva, Dhirendra K Jha.

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