All four persons accused in the high-profile 2007 Samjhauta Express blast case were acquitted by a trial court last week. The court said the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had failed to prove the conspiracy charges and gave the benefit of doubt to the accused — among them former RSS activist Naba Kumar Sarkar alias Aseemanand. The failure of the prosecution to secure convictions in a terror case which claimed the lives of at least 68 persons including 43 Pakistani nationals, shows the agency, set up primarily to probe acts of terrorism, in poor light.
But the acquittals in the Samjhauta Express case are not exceptional. There seems to be a pattern in these terror cases, where the prosecution has been found wanting in securing convictions. Investigators have held that the Samjhauta Express blast was part of a string of six cases, in which Hindutva groups and activists allegedly conspired to target Muslims and their places of worship. The terror strikes included bomb blasts in the Ajmer Dargah and Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad in 2007 and Malegaon in 2006 and 2008, and among the accused were Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Shrikant Prasad Purohit, a lieutenant colonel in the Indian Army. Twelve years since the incidents took place, the prosecution has managed to secure convictions only in the Ajmer case — a special court sentenced two RSS pracharaks to life while Aseemanand was acquitted. Last year, a special court acquitted all the accused in the Mecca Masjid blasts case, in which nine persons had been killed. In all these cases, a large number of witnesses turned hostile during the long-winded trial. In the Malegaon case, NIA special prosecutor, Rohini Salian, had told this newspaper that she was under pressure from the agency to go slow. In fact, the NIA had dropped all charges against Pragya Thakur in the Malegaon blasts case in 2017. It was left to a special court to reinstate charges against her and Purohit under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, a year later.
Since the regime change at the Centre in 2014, there appears to be a marked difference in the approach of the NIA to the cases in which Hindutva activists have been chargesheeted. The prosecution has seemed lenient towards bail pleas filed by the chargesheeted and unperturbed about its failure to secure convictions: In the Samjhauta Express case, Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said there would not be an appeal against the acquittals. The government must desist from politicising these cases and ensure that the law takes its course. The NIA and the prosecution cannot let these cases fall apart at the trial stage, for that only weakens India’s battle against terrorism. Moreover, it’s not just the credibility of the NIA that is at stake, but the government’s resolve to ensure justice — independent of the religion of the victims or the ideology of the accused.