Twelve years after a blast ripped apart two coaches of the Samjhauta Express, killing 68, no one has been found guilty of the crime. On March 20, all the accused who faced trial were acquitted by a special court. That includes accused number one, Swami Aseemanand, who had already been acquitted in the Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif blast cases and who now walks free.
Handing out the verdict, the special court said the National Investigation Agency had failed to establish the guilt of the accused. It is a charge that is frequently levelled at the investigating agency when it comes to Hindutva terror cases.
Walking out, Aseemanand said he had been “falsely implicated”. The case against him is said to have rested at least partly on confessions made to courts in December 2010 and January 2011. Over the years, Aseemanand’s story has changed several times. A few months after the confessions, he claimed they had been extracted under torture.
Later, speaking to a journalist for the newsmagazine Caravan , he denied being tortured and proudly admitted to various acts of violence. In the same Caravan story, he had claimed that the plot to bomb Muslim targets across the country was blessed by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leaders Mohan Bhagwat and Indresh Kumar.
Malegaon, 2006; Samjhauta Express, 2007; Mecca Masjid, 2007; Ajmer Sharif, 2007; Malegaon, 2008 – together these cases revealed a trajectory of saffron terror and militant Hindutva networks. The Haryana police officer who headed the special investigating team which looked into the Samjhauta Express case in the first three years still maintains there was compelling evidence linking the blast to these networks.
But since 2011, when the National Investigation Agency took over the cases, most of them have either fallen apart or remain in limbo, resulting in acquittals, bail and no convictions.
Of those who became the faces of Hindutva terror over the last decade, Sadhvi Pragya and Lieutenant Colonel Purohit, charged in the 2008 Malegaon case, are out on bail, and Indresh Kumar is now a national executive member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Purohit was also cleared by the National Investigation Agency in the Samjhauta blast case.
At least two public prosecutors have questioned the role of the agency. Rohini Salian, public prosecutor in the 2008 Malegaon case, claimed that since the National Democratic Alliance came to power in 2014, members of the agency had told her to “go soft” on cases of saffron terror.
Given the agency’s record in investigating such cases, Aseemanand’s acquittal leaves room for doubt. There have been two casualties in the long process of investigation, trial and acquittal.
First, it has struck another blow at the idea that terror is not attached to any one religion. Ever since the term “Hindutva terror” first entered the public lexicon, there has been political resistance to it. While the Congress was uneasy with it, the Bharatiya Janata Party actively set out to debunk it, perhaps because many of the suspects had links to the sangh parivar.
Second, it could help erode the National Investigation Agency’s credibility even further. That is not good news, either for the agency primarily responsible for probing terror cases or for public faith in the institutions that are meant to safeguard law and order and national security.