The claim by a terror-suspect that Lt Colonel Shrikant Purohit was an an infiltrator on a military intelligence operation has given a new twist to investigations into the alleged right-wing terror cases. Vicky Nanjappa reports.
The Lt Colonel Shrikant Purohit case has taken an interesting turn. The claim of the suspected mastermind of 2007 Samjhauta Express bombing and other terror cases that he was not one of the terrorists but an infiltrator on a military intelligence operation has certainly raised eyebrows.
Subhash Gatade, the author of the controversial book Godse's Children -- Hindutva Terror In India, tells rediff.com that there is a need to probe more and the time has come to go beyond Purohit. He says that there is enough documentary evidence to show that Purohit was not acting as a mole but was the man who was leading the operation.
Gatade points out that it is clear that the manner in which a section of the military intelligence has behaved in this case goes to show that they were also complicit at some levels in the criminal acts of Purohit. By providing a fig leaf to him to 'protect himself' they just want to ensure that the ambit of investigations does not move beyond the 'rogue' officer.
There is an urgent need to probe this case beyond Purohit. His military career does not look very remarkable. Also, Lt Col Purohit's participation in the counter-terrorism operations in Jammu and Kashmir in 2002 was not something that can be spoken of in great length.
His posting in the military intelligence cell, which is meant for developing and maintaining links between army as well as the people, must have helped him a lot. It facilitated renewal of his contacts with the Hindutva activists, where Col S S Raikar, school commandant of Bhonsala Military School in Nashik, played a key role, which later germinated in the form of Abhinav Bharat. He is reported to have even organised training camps in which dozens of people took part and were taught to handle arms. He also took initiative in organising camps in Pune, but most of these camps took place in the campus of Bhonsla Military School.
Further, one must also read into the Malegaon case chargesheet which has the testimonies of a few military personnel too.
These people knew Purohit and he had tried to rope them in for his grand project of 'Aryavarta Hindurashtra'. One gentleman -- a colleague in the military -- who was from Army Education Corps 'had experience to raise and run new schools at different places' who had purchased a land in an underdeveloped area.
The recordings of the meetings which were done by Swami Dayanand Pandey also provides details about the contacts the team had tried to establish with Israel and the king of Nepal who had promised them arms as well as training.
Another recording tells us about Delhi Hindu Mahasabha chief Ayodhya Prasad Tripathi's loud claims about his links with an anti-Islamic group based in the UK headed by a 'dreaded anti-communist and anti-Islamic' David Gaus whose units 'are growing rapidly in France, Germany, England and America'.
On the tapes Purohit is heard talking about starting a military school in every state, where recruits would be given rifle training during the summer. According to him these schools could be used to hide people in case of "any police action."
One must also read into the inquiry into the Nanded blast where retired naval officer S R Bhate says that in March-April 2000 he had been asked by the local Bajrang Dal leader "to train his activists in the use of gelatine sticks at a camp in the city" and then at a larger one in the BMS (Nashik).
Bhate told the Anti Terrorism Squad that the camp had been organised by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and about 115 activists from across the country were trained in karate, ground obstacles and firing of revolvers.
Apart from the direct involvement of Ramesh Upadhyaya, a retired army major, in the operations, one also gets to know from newspaper reports that the Maharashtra ATS under Hemant Karkare had also interrogated Raikar, commandant of the Bhonsla Military School, for his knowledge of the whole conspiracy and the manner in which the premises of the school were freely given to others.
In fact, Purohit had served with the new commandant of the school, Col S S Raikar, who also worked with military intelligence earlier, and had even requested him to let the Abhinav Bharat hold its meeting in the school.
Purohit had shown interest in his project and invited him to a meeting in Faridabad where he had promised that he would be able to meet some other people who would be helpful in his venture. It was a meeting of 'Abhinav Bharat' which was attended by many of those who are at presently behind bars. Of course, it did not take much time for the enthusiastic gentleman to realise that Purohit had other plans and would not be of much use in the proposed school.
Gatade points out that if one were to believe for a moment that Lt Col Purohit had kept his officers in the loop about his 'infiltration of Abhinav Bharat' then the immediate question arises why did the army hand him over to the Anti Terrorist Squad?
Contrary to army court's inquiry -- whose extracts have rather created a confusion -- an independent probe by the army makes it clear that Purohit was never authorised to infiltrate the right wing group Abhinav Bharat.
Investigators also suspect that a report by Purohit after the Malegaon blast naming Sadhvi Pragya and others -- which is being cited in his defence that he kept his seniors in the loop -- was a ploy to cover his tracks as he feared being linked to the blast after the Maharashtra ATS identified Pragya as a suspect.
Question naturally arises about the extent and depth of right wing Hindutva penetration in the army. It appears that there has never been an investigation into the phenomenon. One still remembers the hurried manner in which Union Defence Minister A K Antony categorically stated after the arrest of Purohit, a serving army officer, the first of its kind in independent India, that he was the "sole exception to the otherwise secular and democratic character of the army".
A witness in the Malegaon case said that a 'Colonel Dhar' (later identified as Lt Col Bappaditya Dhar) was present in an Abhinav Bharat meeting. Purohit had also named several officers.
"There are many respected men who are not there today," Purohit is learnt to have said, adding, "There is a Col Raikar, Col Shailesh Raikar, a Major Nitin Joshi, and a Col Hasmukh Patel."
The ATS is learnt to have interrogated Raikar and Dhar extensively but could not move against them as it did not have a watertight case.
Perhaps it would be opportune here to listen to what Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, former naval chief, who was sacked by the Bharatiya Janata Party government, has to say on this issue.
When the investigations into 2008 Malegaon blast case were going on he had shared his long experience of working with the military. "There's a clear majoritarian view in the military. The RSS has always had an agenda to infiltrate the armed forces, the intelligence services and the bureaucracy."
One is surprised over the enthusiasm being expressed by the RSS over terror mastermind Purohit's feverish attempts to wriggle himself out of the terror tag and save his skin and letting his other accomplices in the 'mission' face the music.
RSS must be thinking that Purohit's defence would help it as well in the long run as it finds itself on the defensive on this issue. With a number of RSS pracharaks behind the bars for their alleged role in Hindutva terror acts and many others absconding, and with names of many senior leaders of the 'Parivar' doing rounds in the NIA for their role in this conspiracy, it is also desperately looking for straws to save itself.