Last week, a trial court in Panchkula acquitted all the accused in the 2007 Samjhauta Express train blast case, for want of evidence. Among the accused was former RSS member Naba Kumar Sarkar aka Aseemanand, said to have been the mastermind and ideological guide behind a number of cases that allegedly involved radical Hindu groups. Among six such cases that investigators had linked to former RSS members, this is the second (after the 2007 blasts at Mecca Masjid of Hyderabad) in which all the accused have been acquitted by trial courts. The NIA has challenged neither any of the acquittals, nor any order granting bail to an accused. A look at how these cases have progressed:
Ajmer Dargah blast
On October 11, 2007 a bomb ripped Ajmer Sharif Dargah in Rajasthan killing three people and injuring 17. The case was investigated by Rajasthan ATS until 2011, then transferred to the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The Rajasthan ATS arrested and chargesheeted three people in 2010. The NIA arrested six. All the accused were either directly connected with the RSS or with organisations linked to the Sangh Parivar. From April 2011 onwards, the NIA filed three chargesheets identifying 13 accused.
The accused: These were Aseemanand, Devendra Gupta, Chandrashekhar Leve, Lokesh Sharma, Mukesh Vasani, Bharat Mohan Lal Ratishwar, Sandeep Dange, Ramchandra aka Ramji Kalsangra, Sunil Joshi, Bhavesh Bhai Patel, Suresh Nair, Harshad Solanki and Mehul aka Mafat Bhai aka Maheshbhai Gohil. Nair, Dange and Kalsangra were declared absconding; Joshi is dead.
According to NIA chargesheets, the accused, under the ideological tutelage of Aseemanand and operational leadership of Joshi, decided to avenge attacks on Hindu temples by targeting Muslim-dominated places in bomb attacks. They allegedly chose Delhi’s Jama Masjid, Ajmer Dargah, Samjhauta Express train, Malegaon and Mecca Masjid in a meeting held in 2006 in Valsad, Gujarat.
According to the chargesheets, Dange and Kalsangra procured explosives and fabricated two bombs, only one of which exploded; Gupta arranged for SIM cards and mobile phones that were used as timer devices; and Lokesh Sharma ferried the explosives. Leve allegedly played a role in hiding the mobiles while Ratishwar gave financial support and provided shelter to the others. The rest were charged with various roles from fabrication of the bombs to their planting.
According to the chargesheet, most of these accused were also involved in the Mecca Masjid blast and the bombs at the two sites were of the same make.
Status: This was the first among these cases in which trial was completed. The trial began in June 2014. On March 8, 2017, a special court in Jaipur convicted RSS pracharaks Gupta and Patel — the only one among these cases in which the prosecution secured a conviction — and later sentenced them to life imprisonment. The court acquitted Aseemanand as well as Harshad Solanki, Leve, Vasani, Lokesh, Mehul and Ratishwar, giving them the benefit of the doubt. The case saw 26 of 149 witnesses turning hostile. While the trial was on, NIA’s special public prosecutor Ashwani Sharma said in an interview that the NIA was not protecting its witnesses the way the CBI does.
Mecca Masjid blasts
On May 18, 2007, during Friday afternoon prayers, a bomb exploded inside the mosque, killing nine people and injuring 58. During the probe, two more bombs, unexploded, were recovered. Initially, Hyderabad police detained several Muslim men on suspicion of a jihadi terror group being involved but did not make any no arrests. The case was later handed over to the CBI which, in December 2010, filed a chargesheet against two people in Nampally court in Hyderabad. In April 2011, the case was handed over to the NIA, which has filed three chargesheets since, identifying 10 accused, including those chargesheeted by the CBI.
The accused: These were Aseemanand, Devendra Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Ratishwar, Dange, Kalsangra, Sunil Joshi, Rajendhar Chowdary, Tejram Parmar and Amith Chowhan. According to the NIA, during meetings from 1999 to 2006, all the accused had entered into a criminal conspiracy to respond to attacks on Hindu temples. These meetings were allegedly held at Kumbh Mela, Ujjain, in 2004, Shabari Dham during 2005-06 and Takur Garh, Valsad. Aseemanand allegedly insisted that “Bomb ka jawab bomb se dena hain”.
In the meeting at Valsad, Joshi said he had procured SIM cards and mobile phones with the help of Gupta for using them in IEDs as timers and also for using the same for their mutual communication, according to the chargesheet. At the end of 2006, Kalsangra allegedly collected customised shells from a transport office while coming from Bhopal to Dewas. The bombs, allegedly prepared at Manvata Nagar, Indore, were triggered by using mobile phones with SIM cards as timers.
Status: On February 13, 2014, the NIA special court in Namapally framed charges against the accused and summons were issued to 72 witnesses. The trial began only in 2016. On April 16, 2018, a special court in Hyderabad acquitted all the accused. Gupta, who was among those acquitted, had been convicted in the Ajmer case based on the same evidence. He had allegedly bought the SIM cards used in the IEDs; SIM cards from the same set were used in the two blasts.
Of the 266 witnesses listed, 66 did not support the prosecution case. Among them was Lt Col Prasad Purohit, an accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case and alleged to be part of the group of conspirators in these cases.
The other 3 cases
Of the other three cases allegedly involving radical Hindu groups, the NIA closed the Modasa blast case in May 2015, while trial in the other two — the two Malegaon blast cases — is yet to begin. In both the 2006 and the 2008 Malegaon blast cases, multiple chargesheets have been filed by the Maharashtra ATS, CBI and NIA. The accused include Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Lt Col Purohit and Aseemanand.
The 2008 blast case hit a controversial note when the NIA exonerated Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur of all charges in its chargesheet. This was months after special public prosecutor Rohini Salian told The Indian Express in an interview that the NIA had put pressure on her to go slow in the case. The court, however, rejected the NIA’s views on Thakur and arraigned her as an accused under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
In the 2006 Malegaon blast, where the Maharashtra ATS and CBI chargesheeted nine Muslim men, the NIA blamed a group led by Sunil Joshi as being behind the blast.