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The Rediff Special/ Prasanna Zore & Hitesh Harisinghani in Nashik

'You can't plan an operation like Malegaon blast in a day'

November 13, 2008

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"Indian Army [Images] is the only secular institution in India and we don't have to beat drums to prove our credentials like the politicians do," said Colonel (retired) Shailesh Raikar.

Raikar was recently questioned by Mumbai's Anti-Terrorism Squad about his links with Lt Col Prasad Srikant Purohit, a serving officer of the Indian Army who was arrested for being the alleged mastermind behind the September 29 Malegaon blasts that killed six people and injured several others.

Responding to charges that Lt Col Purohit's alleged involvement in the Malegaon blasts and his links with right-wing Hindu radicals had dented the secular ethos of the Indian Army, Raikar told rediff.com: "I am hearing words like caste and religion more often in the last seven months than I have ever heard in my 21-year stint in the Indian Army."

The retired officer said during his posting in Manipur his right-hand man was a Muslim. He had worked with Sikh and Christian officers as well.

"I told the ATS that I know Lt Col Purohit since 2005 when he was posted at Deolali near Nashik and I was posted in Pune at Military Intelligence. Lt Col Purohit is a good friend of mine," Raikar said.

However, he categorically denied that the alleged key conspirators Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Lt Col Purohit, Major (retired) Ramesh Upadhyay, Ramji Kalsangra and Sameer Kulkarni ever met in September on the 165-acre premises of the Bhonsala Military School in Nashik where Raikar was serving as the commandant since last seven months.

"It is not possible for a motley group to plan an operation like this (the Malegaon blast) in one day. more so an operation that involves triggering a bomb in an unknown locality. Even when we plan an operation or exercise in the Indian Army, we spend several days weighing the pros and cons of it. Even then we make mistakes during our drills. Do you think 7-8 people can plan such a meticulous operation? If it is possible, then such people should be in the Indian Army," Raikar said, responding to why he didn't think the operation was not conceived on the BMS premises.

According to him, even an institution like the Indian Army needs nine months to train a soldier and 2-4 years to train an officer.

"Do you think these people (the alleged conspirators behind the Malegaon blast) could have been trained for such an operation in a couple of months?"

Raikar joined the BMS in early 2008 after he resigned from the Indian Army, which he had joined in June 1987. On November 11, 2008, he resigned as commandant and will be taking a month-long vacation with his family to Kolhapur, in Maharashtra, and Goa [Images].

"The ATS knows about my plans and I had assured them of full co-operation in their investigation," he added.

Speaking about his friendship with Lt Col Purohit, who was seven years junior to him, Raikar said they had last met in September when Purohit visited him at BMS along with his family.

"He congratulated me on my decision to take a less remunerative job at the BMS after resigning from a well-paying job with the Indian Army."

Raikar's designation puts him in the Class I gazetted officer's grade, the highest paying job for any public servant.

He resigned from the Indian Army for personal reasons. "I wanted stability for my children (Raikar has two children -- the son studies in class VII, and a three-year-old daughter). Army job entails frequent transfers and this had an impact on my son's education," he said.

Raikar, however, has a grouse against media-persons. He believes the media is largely responsible for defaming him and involving his name in the Malegaon blast case. In fact, as the rediff.com photographer took out his camera, the retired officer retorted, "Just because I called you to my house to talk to you does not mean that I have given you permission to shoot pictures. If you are going to take that camera out of your bag you may leave my premise at once."

Refusing to pose for a picture, he said his son was very disturbed by the turn of events and he would not like his son to be harassed in school.

"Everybody reads newspapers and watches TV. The ATS has never mentioned that I was involved with this group. It is the media that is making use of innuendos to link me up with them. I have nothing at all to do with them except the fact that I know Lt Col Purohit as a friend. I have nothing to do with them," he said.

Raikar, who graduated in BSc Statistics from Mumbai University and MSc in defence studies from Defence Services Staff College, Madras University, said he will soon be looking out for a job in human resources, training or project implementation anywhere in India after coming back from his vacation.

"Any job that will pay me well and help support my family."

As this correspondent got ready to leave, Raikar said, "I will flatly refuse we ever met at my house at the BMS. You may write whatever you want to."


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