THE MAHARASHTRA Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) had cited the arrest of Pragya Singh Thakur as a breakthrough in the September 2008 Malegaon blast case. The ‘breakthrough’ was a golden-coloured LML Freedom motorcycle (registration GJ 05 BR 1920) on which the bomb had been strapped. In October, the ATS traced the 2003-manufactured bike to Siddhi Agencies in Surat — it had been sold to Thakur. Thakur was arrested on October 23 that year by the Maharashtra ATS, then headed by Hemant Karkare, the officer killed on November 26 the same year in the Mumbai terror attack.
Eleven people were subsequently arrested. These include Lt Col Shrikant Purohit, self-proclaimed godman Dayanand Pandey, and Major Ramesh Upadhyay (retired). According to the ATS, the blast was the handiwork of a new right-wing outfit, Abhinav Bharat, floated by Purohit. The ATS held that Thakur was one of the blast masterminds, and its chargesheet filed in 2009 said she had given her bike to accused Ramchandra Kalsangra, who allegedly planted the bomb and placed the vehicle at the blast site.
To support its case, the ATS attached statements of co-accused and witnesses — Dharmendra Bairagi, Dilip Patidar, Himani Savarkar, Yashpal Badana, and R P Singh. Bairagi, an associate of Kalsangra, had told a magistrate while recording his statement that he had overheard a conversation between Thakur and Kalsangra in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, on October 8. He said the two were purportedly discussing the blast in which Kalsangra admitted to his complicity, and that Thakur expressed displeasure at the low number of casualties.
In its chargesheet filed in 2016, the NIA said Bairagi had complained to a judicial magistrate in Indore on November 26, 2008 that he had been tortured by ATS to make a statement. The ATS chargesheet also said Thakur was present at two conspiracy meetings — in Faridabad on January 25, 2008, and in Bhopal on April 11. This was supported by statements by Badana, a Haryana farmer; R P Singh, a former endocrinologist at Delhi’s AIIMS; and Himani Savarkar, daughter-in-law of Veer Savarkar’s brother Narayan and an Abhinav Bharat member who died in 2015. Badana, a disciple of accused Sudhakar Dwivedi, was present at two meetings, according to ATS.
He said he overheard Thakur saying she could provide men needed to carry out the attack. “I overheard Purohit say…Malegaon has a lot of Muslims. If blasts takes place there, it’s like taking revenge for Hindu killings,” Badana’s original statement read.
R P Singh and Savarkar echoed Badana, saying the latter served tea in Faridabad but was not present in Bhopal. The NIA re-recorded the statements of the three witnesses. In his fresh statement, R P Singh reiterated that the Bhopal meeting saw discussions on growing jihadi activities in Aurangabad, Nashik, Mumbai and Malegaon. But he said he had not earlier told the ATS or a Mumbai court anything about Thakur showing her readiness to provide men for a blast.