Not a surprise, legally wrong, calculated move. These were just some of the words that echoed in Malegaon on Friday after the National Investigation Agency (NIA) dropped the names of six accused, including Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, from its chargesheet in the 2008 blasts case.
Outrage was the overriding emotion in this power-loom hub, among families of those killed in the blasts, politicians, lawyers and those discharged by a court last month in the 2006 blasts case. The NIA move also triggered protests by local units of the Congress and Samajwadi Party.
The twin blasts occurred in the congested Bhikku Chowk on September 29, 2008, on the night of Shab-E-Qadr as residents were out shopping for Eid.
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“Why is the NIA so keen to give Sadhvi and others a clean chit? You see the way we were treated despite the investigating agency not having a shred of evidence and now you see these people getting a soft treatment from the same agency and the government. But this hasn’t come as a surprise at all, this was expected,” said Raees Ahmad, who was among those discharged by a Mumbai court last month in the 2006 blasts case.
Nisar Shah, 35, whose father 65-year-old Harun Shah died in the blast, said the accused deserved punishment.
“My father had gone out for tea after offering namaz. He was badly injured in the blasts and died the next day. We don’t know much about the case, but I remember a woman in saffron clothes being arrested. If she has done it, she should be punished,” said Shah, a father of four who works as a labourer in a power loom.
“It’s a calculated move by the BJP government and we knew it was coming,” said Aseef Shaikh, the Congress MLA who represents the region in the Maharashtra assembly.
Freelance journalist Mubasshir Mushtaq questioned the NIA’s contention that the motorcycle on which the bombs were planted was linked to Sadhvi Pragya but she had not used it for the two years leading up to the blasts.
“She can’t be absolved of all charges at the investigation level itself,” said Mushtaq.
“This is similar to the argument adopted by Rubina Menon in the 1993 serial blasts of Mumbai. The elderly woman is behind bars for life for owning the Maruti van which was found abandoned at Worli with AK-56 rifles and hand grenades. She had also argued that she wasn’t using the car and didn’t know to drive,” said Mubasshir.
Lawyer Irfana Hamdani, who had defended some of the 2006 blasts accused, argued that the evidence against all accused in the 2008 case was stronger than that against the nine Muslim men who were discharged in the earlier case.
“There are at least a dozen CDs containing audio and video evidence which sheds light on the conspiracy and the role played by Sadhvi. There are also a number of documents, apart from the ownership of the bike which was used to plant the bombs. The law says that material and documentary evidence should weigh over the oral testimony of witnesses. If the NIA is giving her a clean chit, saying there are testimonies which support her innocence, then it’s legally wrong,” said Hamdani, who stays about 100 metres from the blast site.