By Rana Ayyub
Bajrang Dal. VHP. Abhinav Bharat. The names of ultra right-wing outfits are increasingly cropping up as investigators wake up to a new form of terror. Rana Ayyub tracks the dangerous trend
The terror alert had been sounded two years ago. Investigations into the killing of two persons in Nanded, who had blown themselves up while trying to assemble bombs in the house of a RSS worker, had pointed squarely in the face of a new kind of terror. Terror, which was not being exported from across the borders, but being packaged indigenously. Terror that was being spurred by religion as its incendiary trigger. The accused had revealed it all; they had conceived a new tit for tat terrorism because, according to them, “bomb attacks outside mosques was the only way of safeguarding Hindutva.”Because otherwise, they would be, “treated like hijras.” Counter-attacks, according to them, are the only way of aven - ging terror attacks. The accused were no self-styled novices. They specifically named Maharashtrabased members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal as being their motivators.
The recent arrests of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and her associates in connection with the September 29 Malegaon blasts has once again focussed attention on the ugly face of right-wing fundamentalist terror modules which have been expanding their network across the country. The blast, which occurred outside a mosque on the eve of Id and killed four people, has revealed links to various extremist outfits of the Hindu right that have been planning systematic attacks on Muslims, a revelation first made by TEHELKA in an investigative report in 2006 (vol. 3, issue 51), naming Hindu organisations like the Bajrang Dal, the Vishwa Hindu Parisahad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as the chief perpetrators. The TEHELKA story, which was based on the reports of the narco-analysis tests conducted on the 2006 Nanded blast accused as well as the chargesheet the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) filed in the same case, had revealed similar facts as have been discovered during the investigations into this September’s Malegaon attack.
The 2006 investigation had thrown up the names of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, and in an indication of the fact that the new face of terror is expanding its ideology of violence, the 2008 probe has thrown up names like the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the BJP’s student wing, the Hindu Jagran Manch and the Abhinav Bharat. Thirty-seven-yearold Pragya Thakur — an influential figure in saffron circles and a member since the mid-1990s of various right-wing organisations — who is now in judicial custody, is speaking a language not very different from the Nanded accused who avenged counter attacks. The prime accused Sadhvi — according to the ATS which has a taped conversation between her and another accused in the blast case, Ramji Kalsagre, who is still absconding — is supposed to have said, “Meri gaadi se blast kiya to itne kam log kaise mare? Gaadi bheed mein kyun nahi lagayi (if my vehicle was used for the blast, how come so few people died, why didn’t you park it in a crowd)?” Kalsagre has been quoted as replying: “Bheed mein khadi karne nahi diya (they didn’t let me park it in a crowd).”
The names of people arrested are a clear indication that terrorism perhaps has a new face, a dangerous face in fact, because the new Molotov cocktail is shaken and stirred with religion as its main combustion and revenge as its trigger. Amongst those arrested recently are Abhinav Bharat member Sameer Kulkarni and a Pune-based retired Major Ramesh Upadhyay, who is alleged to have helped in procuring RDX. The others arrested — Shyam Sahu, Shiv Narayan Kalsangra, Jagdish Mhatre, Rakesh Dattaram Dhonde, Ajay Rahirkar — are all members of various ultra rightwing fundamentalist outfits from different parts of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. All those arrested were also suspected to have been behind the blasts at Modasa in Gujarat that occurred the same day as the one at Malegaon.
The Nanded blast of April 6, 2006, was the first to open up a glimpse into the activities of the country’s saffron terror modules. It took place at the residence of RSS worker Lakshman Rajkondwar, a retired irrigation department engineer, and was apparently an accident, occurring during the preparation of bombs meant to be placed outside a mosque in Aurangabad after Friday prayers. The accident had, importantly, been fuelled by a need to uphold ‘Hindu’ honour. The aim, then, was to avenge the 2005 blasts in Delhi and the 2006 blast in Varanasi, by engineering explosions in Muslim-dominated areas in central Maharashtra and killing at least 300 to 400 Muslims in each incident. This was also the intention of the blasts at Parbhani, Jalna and Purna, all of which occurred outside mosques between 1.30 and 2 in the afternoon, to ensure as many casualties as possible.
THE ROLE in these attacks of the Nagpur-based Bhonsla Military School was exposed after Upadhyay’s arrest last month, but, as this magazine reported, it had also come up during the 2006 Nanded probe. The narco-analysis test on a Nanded accused had revealed that the VHP workers had received explosives training from one Mithun Chakraborty in Sinhagad in Pune. The group, it was learnt, had also been addressed on at least one occasion by VHP leader Pravin Togadia. ATS officials do not, however, have any leads on Chakraborty, apart from a suspicion that he is also an ex-army man. The ATS chargesheet also mentioned a statement by one of the school’s teachers, Sanatkumar Raghuvittal Bhate, describing a training session it held in May 2000 that was attended by 100 to 115 people from all over the country. Instructions were imparted, Bhate said, in karate, navigating obstacle courses, and the use of gelatin sticks and weapons; ex-army men and a retired intelligence officer gave training in firearms.
AREPORT BY ACP Anil J Tamaychekar, then with the ATS, clearly states that the Nanded accused were influenced by Sangh Parivar ideology and would use festivals like Gudi Padwa, Vijaydashmi, Ganeshotsav and Ram Navami to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment. Sanjay and Himanshu Panse were joint owners of a gym called Power, which was used as an explosives storehouse and a meeting point for young men being recruited for the terror cause. The report also gave insights into the fact that the accused were prepared with their defence in advance. Tamaychekar’s report stated, “They were aware of the danger involved and had a firecracker theory read. The accused had illegally stockpiled a large quantity of firecrackers. They had prepared two IEDs from the explosives at their disposal, which were to be used for terrorist activities to inflict maximum casualties.”
However, no action was ultimately taken against anyone from the rightwing fundamentalist parties implicated in the Nanded explosion. The case faded from public memory and would have been forgotten had it not been for the arrests made in last month’s Malegaon blast. KPS Raghuvanshi, who was the ATS chief during the Nanded investigation, said the agency had done its work but the CBI, which had taken up the case, did not press any further action on its findings (see interview). The CBI, in fact, dropped cases against some of the accused, among them Lakshman Rajkondwar, who owned the house where the bombs were being made. In the end, the ATS also dropped cases against 11 accused, citing lack of evidence. “The charges against them were not proved,” Raghuvanshi said, “and we could not arrest someone just because their residence had been used.” His statement, however, contrasts sharply with the way the police have been detaining people in other blasts cases. Former Bombay High Court judge BG Kolse- Patil, who is also a member of the factfinding committee that brought the Nanded blast case to the public eye, said he was disappointed with the way the police had handled not just the Nanded case but also the current Malegaon case. “I have a problem not only with the police but also with the media. In previous cases, whenever a blast happened, the ATS held press conferences and every possible detail of the accused’s life was given out in a day. What’s happening now? On other occasions, the media would also announce the hand of Muslim militant outfits right after an attack, whether there was any truth in it or not. Why are they silent over this case?” he asks. Kolse-Patil also has questions about a powerful explosion that took place at a bakery — again in Nanded — in 2007, killing two people, one of whom was a Sena Vibhaag Pramukh.
case arrests have come in the wake of a concerted effort by intelligence
agencies and ATS officials, who have been identifying right-wing organisations
for their role in terror activities. A couple of months ago, the Mumbai
ATS arrested members of the Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Jagran Manch
for their role in blasts at Thane and Panvel. The arrests have, predictably,
angered VHP and Bajrang Dal workers across the country. The Sanatan
Sanstha is not the only organisation under surveillance, though. According
to a state intelligence officer, many small-time right-wing outfits
have come up over the past two years in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh
and Rajasthan, with backing from mainstream political parties. This
year’s riots in Orissa’s Kandhamal and Maharashtra’s
Dhule and Burhanpur are manifes-tations of these outfits’ growing
presence. According to intelligence officials, most of the new parties
that are coming into prominence for their role in terror attacks are
formed by hardliners from across the right-wing spectrum, looking
to forge a new identity. These outfits have quickly become popular
and have been carefully expanding their base, attracting cadres in
the name of combating a perceived threat to Hinduism. Among the Hindu
fundamentalist groups whose role has emerged as instigators of terror
and rioting are: the Durga Vahini, the Bajrang Dal’s womens
wing; the Hindu Raksha Samiti, which played a key role in instigating
the Dhule riots and is known to be affiliated with the Shiv Sena;
the Rashtriya Jaagran Manch, an offshoot of the RSS, believed to be
behind the Modasa blasts, and the Abhinav Bharat, to which most of
those arrested in connection with this year’s Malegaon attack
are affiliated. Abhinav Bharat is headed by Himani Savarkar, the niece
of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, and is married
to the nephew of his mentor, Veer Savarkar. Himani also came out in
support of Thakur and, in a show of solidarity, stood outside the
Nashik court where she had a hearing this week.
WHILE THE facts regarding the growing network of these organisations are alarming, what is also equally alarming is the access they have to sophisticated equipment and explosive material such as RDX and ammonium nitrate. This is where the involvement of defence personnel becomes critical. Major (retd) Ramesh Upadhyay, who is alleged to have trained Thakur and her associates, worked as a military intelligence officer and was living in Pune. Access to RDX would not have been a problem for him. The Bhonsla Military School, believed to be the conspirators’ training ground, is run by ex-army officers. Its website provides a summary of its philosophical foundation with a translation of a shloka on its homepage: “A person having four vedas (knowledge) in front (to guide him), a bow and arrows (power) at his back (to back him), has a combination of Brahmyam and Kshatram and hence he is capable of defeating the enemies either by Shap (Power of Knowledge) or Shar (Knowledge of Power).”
by TEHELKA, a key school official who is not in the country at present
and is reportedly under the police scanner, said, “I have no
clue about the training you are talking about. It’s a military
school and we impart the training that we should be giving to our
students.” Various key right-wing party members have been known
to give training at the Bhonsla Military School. A Bajrang Dal state
head said he was a regular there, and had taught selfdefence techniques,
in which, he said, there was nothing wrong.
THE INCREASING cluster of smalltime extremist Hindutva outfits has put parties like the Shiv Sena and the BJP in a dilemma. The
BJP’s association with Pragya Singh Thakur landed it in considerable embarrassment after it first distanced itself from her and was then compelled to come out in her support. Speaking of her detention, party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “the investigation lacked fairness and transparency and may suffer the tag of a sponsored investigation”.
The Shiv Sena and other parties have also come out in Thakur’s support and have offered her legal help. Bajrang Dal leaders in the state are, however, incensed over the Sena’s show of support and say they don’t want the party to look at the case in terms of political gains. The VHP and the Bajrang Dal have not been very vocal, though, on Thakur’s behalf and have kept publicly a safe distance from her; VHP workers claim, on condition of anonymity, that they are doing everything possible to help her behind the scenes. A delegation of top Sangh Parivar leaders has also met to discuss the issue. Pamphlets and newsletters, copies of which are with TEHELKA, have been distributed, calling the media biased. In an effort to provide an appearance of credibility, fake details have been provided of various news organisations alleged to be receiving funds from foreign agencies, most of them Saudi Arabian.
With elections around the corner, not just the BJP, but the Congress too is trying to play it safe. Minority groups are already deeply mistrustful after the way the Nanded blasts were handled. A clean chit in this year’s Malegaon case could do the Congress great electoral damage. As Justice Kolse-Patil pointed out, “We have seen the way investigations happen in this country and the biases attached to them. It just seems to be a gimmick for the Congress before the elections to get minority votes. For all you know, the accused will all be exonerated, on the claim that there was a lack of evidence.
For now though, going by the way the investigations are proceeding, it looks like the law enforcement agencies have finally woken up to a new form of terror which, if not nipped now, could assume dangerous proportions. What is also required at this point is a thorough reinvestigation with an unbiased approach of other blasts that have happened in the country. Unlike BJP President Rajnath Singh, who has coined the phrase ‘cultural nationalism’ to defend the Sadhvi, the party’s prime minister designate, LK Advani, is walking the straight line saying, ‘take action against those found guilty.’ The Malegaon investigation will test both, the new face and the politics that now so surrounds violence.