Three Ananda Margis and an advocate were on Thursday sentenced to life imprisonment for the killing of former Railway Minister L N Mishra nearly 40 years ago with a Delhi Court holding that the terror act was aimed at pressurising the Indira Gandhi government to release the group's jailed chief.
District Judge Vinod Goel, who held three Ananda Margis -- Santoshanand, Sudevanand and Gopalji -- and advocate Ranjan Dwivedi guilty of murdering Mishra and two others, also directed the Bihar Government to pay Rs five lakh each to the legal heirs of Mishra and two other victims who had died in a blast at Bihar's Samastipur Railway station on January 2, 1975, just few months before the proclamation of Emergency.
It also asked the state government to pay a compensation of Rs 1.5 lakh each to the family members of seven persons who had sustained grievous injuries and Rs 50,000 each to the kin of 20 others who had received simple injuries in the incident.
"I am awarding life imprisonment to Ranjan Dwivedi, Santoshanand, Sudevanand and Gopalji," the judge said and also imposed a fine of varied amount of Rs 25,000 and Rs 20,000 on them.
The court, in its 1,123-page judgement, said when Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar alias Anand Murti, who was accused in a murder case and later acquitted, could not secure his enlargement on bail, his followers had resorted to ‘revolutionary methods’ by taking law into their own hands with arms and ammunitions.
"They (followers) were guided by the passion and also became blindfolded to achieve the misunderstood targets. They entertained an idea that by causing a big jolt in the establishment by the acts of terror, the Government would buckle under their pressure to release their Guru/cult head.
"Under such indoctrination, they chose the important personalities in the establishment as the obstacles to be removed. With these false ideas, the convicts have resorted to the misadventure," the judge said.
While Mishra was second in the list of enemies of Ananda Margas, the then Bihar Chief Minister Abdul Gaffoor was the next target and an approver in the murder case lodged against Anand Murti topped the sequence of those to be eliminated.
The court held that the conspiracy to eliminate the targets was hatched in a meeting in 1973 at a village in Bihar's Bhagalpur district, attended by six Ananda Margas.
The four convicts, Santoshanand, 75, Sudevanand, 79, Dwivedi, 66 and Gopalji, 73, were out on bail during the trial and were taken into custody on December 8 after conviction.
The court did not award death penalty to the convicts saying it was not a ‘cold blooded’ murder and they do not bear trace of any personal animosity with the victims. They do not appear to be "menace to the society", it said.
"Instead of following our father of nation, who was inspired by the eternal saying Ahinsa Paramo Dharma and Satyamev Jayate, the convicts had chosen different attribute namely violence which is not the dharma," the court said.
The judge added the crime was committed by them during prime of their youth about 40 years ago and now they are elderly figures and this is a period of self introspection.
"There is every possibility of their reformation. Therefore, this is not a rarest of the rare case where the capital punishment is invited," the court said. Apart from them, accused Ram Nagina Prasad and Ram Rup were discharged by the court in January 1981 and Arteshanand Avadhoot died in 2004 during the pendency of the case.
Two others, Visheshwaranand and Vikram were granted pardon after they turned approvers. The court said the case was based on the statements of the two approvers and the circumstantial evidence.
"This court is of the firm opinion that the prosecution successfully proved its case beyond reasonable doubt that in October 1973, a conspiracy was hatched at the terrace of the house of Ram Kumar at Trimohan (in Bhagalpur), which was attended by prosecution witness 1 (Visheshwaranand), Vinayanand (PO), Arteshanand, Sudevanand, Santoshanand and Ram Kumar and others.
"In the said meeting, it was agreed to secure release of Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar by resorting to violent acts, by procuring arms and ammunition and to commit murder of Madhavanand, L N Mishra, Abdul Gaffoor, Central Bureau of Investigation officers Puri and Hingorani, jail doctor and civil surgeon, Patna," it said.
It added that Gopalji subsequently joined this conspiracy, when he consented to hold meetings of the co-conspirators at his house and farmhouse and started storing arms, ammunition and hand grenades to accomplish the common design.