ON 18 DECEMBER 2010, a team of CBI sleuths escorted an elderly Bengali man Naba Kumar Sarkar, 59 — popularly known as Swami Aseemanand — from Tihar jail to the Tis Hazari court in Delhi, where he was produced before metropolitan magistrate Deepak Dabas. Aseemanand is the key accused in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast that killed nine people. This was his second court appearance in a span of little over 48 hours. On 16 December, Aseemanand had requested the magistrate to record his confession about his involvement in a string of terror attacks. He stated that he was making the confession without any fear, force, coercion or inducement.
In accordance with the law, the magistrate asked Aseemanand to reflect over his decision and sent him to judicial custody for two days — away from any police interference or influence.
On 18 December, Aseemanand returned, resolute. The magistrate asked everybody except his stenographer to leave his chamber. “I know I can be sentenced to the death penalty but I still want to make the confession,” Aseemanand said.
Over the next five hours, in an unprecedented move, Aseemanand laid bare an explosive story about the involvement of a few Hindutva leaders, including himself, in planning and executing a series of gruesome terror attacks. Over the past few years, several pieces of the Hindutva terror puzzle have slowly been falling into place — each piece corroborating and validating what has gone before. First, the arrest of Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, Dayanand Pandey, Lt Col Shrikant Purohit and others in 2008. The seizure of 37 audio tapes from Pandey’s laptop that featured all these people discussing their terror activities. And most recently, the Rajasthan ATS’ chargesheet on the 2007 Ajmer Sharif blast. Aseemanand’s confession, however, is likely to prove one of the most crucial pieces for investigative agencies.
Unlike police interrogation reports or confessions, under clause 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), confessions before a magistrate are considered legally admissible evidence. Aseemanand’s statement, therefore, is extremely crucial and will have serious ramifications.
HINDUTVA’S DEADLY PLATOON
The men who allegedly vowed to match Islamist terror with Hindutva terror: bomb for bomb
INDRESH KUMAR, a member of the RSS Central Committee. Three accused, Swami Aseemanand, Lokesh Sharma and Shivam Dhakad, and one witness, Bharat Riteshwar, have stated before the CBI that Indresh had mentored and financed the RSS pracharaks behind Malegaon, Samjhauta Express, Ajmer and Mecca Masjid terror strikes.
SWAMI ASEEMANAND, the head of the RSS-affiliated Van Vasi Kalyan Ashram, Shabri Dham in Dangs, Gujarat. He has confessed to playing the role of an ideologue to the terrorists. Besides presiding over terror meetings held in Dangs and Valsad in Gujarat, he also selected Malgeaon, Ajmer Sharif and Hyderabad as terror targets.
SUNIL JOSHI, a former RSS pracharak of Mhow district. He was expelled from the RSS after being accused in the murder of two Congress activists in Madhya Pradesh in 2006. Along with a few RSS pracharaks and Hindu radicals from Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jammu and Jharkhand, he formed an inter-state terror infrastructure.
SANDEEP DANGE, a senior RSS pracharak from Shajapur district near Indore. Along with Joshi and Ramchandra Kalsangra, he was a key figure in the longrunning conspiracy to bomb Muslim places of worship and Muslim neigbourhoods. He is currently absconding.
RAM CHANDRA KALSANGRA ALIAS RAMJI, an RSS pracharak from Madhya Pradesh. He carried out terror strikes in different places between December 2002 and 29 September 2008 (when bombs went off simultaneously in Malegaon and Modasa. He has been absconding since October 2008.
SHIVAM DHAKHAD, an RSS activist and associate of accused Joshi and Ramji Kalsangra. Along with other RSS pracharaks, he allegedly took training in bomb-making in 2005. He also did a reconnaissance of Aligarh Muslim University and residence of Justice UC Banerjee (chairman of the Godhra commission) for terror strikes.
LT COL SHRIKANT PUROHIT, a founding member of terror outfit Abhinav Bharat. He was posted with the military intelligence unit at Nashik. He allegedly tried to draft in other army officers in his terror outfit. He is accused of supplying RDX for the 2008 Malegaon blasts.
DEVENDRA GUPTA, the RSS vibhag pracharak of Muzaffarnagar, Bihar. He provided logistics to Joshi, Kalsangra and Dange for terror strikes. He also harboured Kalsangra and Dange in RSS offices while they were on the run.
LOKESH SHARMA, an RSS worker and close associate of Joshi, Dange and Kalsangra. He purchased the two Nokia handsets that were used to trigger the bombs at Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif.
BHARAT RATESWAR ALIAS BHARATBHAI, the head of Sri Vivekananda Kendra Sansthan in Valsad district, Gujarat. As a close associate of Aseemanand, he participated in several terror meetings held at his residence and also at Shabri Dham ashram. He also travelled with Joshi to Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh providing logistics for the blasts.
YOGI ADITYANATH, BJP MP from Gorakhpur. He was contacted by Aseemanand to provide funds for terrorist activities. Joshi held a hush-hush meeting with him at his Gorakhpur residence in 2006, at the time when the conspiracy to carry out multiple blasts was underway. According to Aseemanand, he didn’t give much support. But he continues to be under suspicion.
DR ASHOK VARSHNAY, RSS prant pracharak of Kanpur. He sheltered key terror accused and RSS pracharak Devendra Gupta at Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and Vishwa Mangal Gau Gram Yatra in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh, while Gupta was on the run. Varshnay has told investigators that he had shielded Gupta at the behest of Indresh Kumar.
RAJESH MISHRA, an RSS activist and owner of a foundry in Pithampura, near Mhow. He gave 15 cast iron shells in 2001 to Joshi, who used them during failed bomb blasts at Ijtema (a Muslim gathering) in Bhopal in 2002. He was also a co-accused along with Joshi in the murder of local Congress workers.
SUDHAKAR DHAR DWIVEDI ALIAS DAYANAND PANDEY, he ran an ashram named Shardapeeth in Jammu. He played the role of an ideologue to those involved in the 2008 Malegaon blasts. He was in the habit of recording the meetings he would have with Abhinav Bharat members on his laptop.
For years, since the first horrific blasts in Mumbai in 1992, there has been an automatic and damaging perception amongst most Indians that there is a Muslim hand behind every terror blast. To some degree, this bias was shared by the police and intelligence agencies. Every time there was a blast, under intense pressure from both media and government to show results, instead of going in for painstaking and meticulous investigations to catch the real culprits, the security agencies would routinely round up Muslim boys linked with radical organisations and declare them to be terror masterminds. A frenzied media would swallow the story whole. Though a dangerous cocktail of anger, despair and frustration grew within the Muslim community, few Indians — except members of civil society and media organisations like TEHELKA — dared to take stands and question the status quo. The arrest of Sadhvi Pragya and Lt Col Purohit dented this perception slightly, but they were mostly written off as a small and lunatic fringe. Now, Aseemanand’s confession tears much deeper through this prejudice.
‘I know I can be sentenced with the death penalty but I still want to make this confession,’ Swami Aseemanand told the magistrate
According to him, it was not Muslim boys but a team of RSS pracharaks who exploded bombs in Malegaon in 2006 and 2008, on the Samjhauta Express in 2007, in Ajmer Sharif in 2007 and Mecca Masjid in 2007. Apart from the tragic loss of innocent lives in these blasts, what makes this admission doubly disturbing is that, in keeping with their habitual practice, scores of Muslim boys were wrongly picked up by the Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra Police, in collusion with sections of the Intelligence Bureau, and tortured and jailed for these blasts — accentuating the shrill paranoia about a vast and homegrown Islamist terror network. Many of these boys were acquitted after years in jail; some are still languishing inside, their youth and future destroyed, their families reduced to penury.
In a curious twist, however, in one of those inexplicable human experiences that no one can account for, according to Aseemanand, it was an encounter with one of these jailed Muslim boys that triggered a momentous emotional transformation in him, forcing him to confront his conscience and make amends. This is what Aseemanand told the judge: “Sir, when I was lodged in Chanchalguda district jail in Hyderabad, one of my co-inmates was Kaleem. During my interaction with Kaleem I learnt that he was previously arrested in the Mecca Masjid bomb blast case and he had to spend about oneand- a-half years in prison. During my stay in jail, Kaleem helped me a lot and used to serve me by bringing water, food, etc for me. I was very moved by Kaleem’s good conduct and my conscience asked me to doprayschit (penance) by making a confessional statement so that real culprits can be punished and no innocent has to suffer.”
At this point, the magistrate asked his stenographer to leave so the confession could continue without restraint.
Tell-all evidence? A photocopy of Swami Aseemanand’s 42-page confession before the magistrate
In a signed statement written in Hindi that runs into 42 pages — and which is in TEHELKA’s possession — Aseemanand then proceeded to unravel the inner workings of the Hindutva terror network. According to him, it was not just a rump group like the ultra-right wing organisation Abhinav Bharat that engineered blasts but, shockingly, RSS national executive member Indresh Kumar who allegedly handpicked and financed some RSS pracharaks to carry out terror attacks.
“Indreshji met me at Shabri Dham (Aseemanand’s ashram in the Dangs district of Gujarat) sometime in 2005,” Aseemanand told the magistrate. “He was accompanied by many top RSS functionaries. He told me that exploding bombs was not my job and instead told me to focus on the tribal welfare work assigned to me by the RSS. He said he had deputed Sunil Joshi for this job (terror attacks) and he would extend Joshi whatever help was required.” Aseemanand further narrated how Indresh financed Joshi for his terror activities and provided him men to plant bombs. Aseemanand also confessed to his own role in the terror plots and how he had motivated a bunch of RSS pracharaks and other Hindu radicals to carry out terror strikes at Malegaon, Hyderabad and Ajmer. (TEHELKA tried contacting Indresh several times for his side of the story. He said he would call back but didn’t.)
While evidence of the involvement of RSS pracharaks in the Mecca Masjid and Ajmer blasts has been growing with every new arrest, Aseemanand’s confession is the first direct evidence of the involvement of Hindutva extremists in the 2006 Malegaon blasts and the Samjhauta Express blast. The evidence — both, direct and indirect — pieced together by the CBI shows that the broad terror conspiracy to target Muslims and their places of religious worship was hatched around 2001.
Three RSS pracharaks from Madhya Pradesh — Sunil Joshi, Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange — were apparently at the core of this conspiracy. As the three became more audacious in their terror ambitions they started inducting like-minded Hindutva radicals from other states, mainly Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. While the new entrants were mostly from the RSS, Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, some members of fringe saffron groups like Abhinav Bharat, Jai Vande Matram and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram also joined the fray.
However, Joshi, Kalsangra and Dange took the precaution of not sharing too many details with members outside the core group. Joshi strictly followed the doctrine of division of work on a ‘need-tok-now’ basis, with each member knowing only his part of the job.
Aseemanand, who ran a Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in Dang, first came in contact with Sunil Joshi in 2003 but it was only in March 2006 that he became actively involved in the terror plot.
It was the spirited investigation into the 2008 Malegaon blast by Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare that first blew the lid off this broad Hindutva terror conspiracy. Karkare arrested 11 Hindutva radicals, including Lt Col Purohit, who was attached with the military intelligence unit at Nashik; Dayanand Pandey, a self-styled religious guru who ran an ashram named Sharda Peeth in Jammu and Sadhvi Pragya, an ABVP leader turned into an ascetic, for their role in the 2008 Malegaon blast.
But Karkare’s sudden and ironic killing at the hands of Islamist jihadis in the Mumbai 26/11 attack derailed the saffron terror investigation. The Maharashtra ATS under its new chief KP Raghuvanshi failed to arrest Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange and instead passed them off as minor players in the chargesheet.
The investigation picked up pace again in May 2010 with the arrest of two RSS pracharaks — Devendra Gupta and Lokesh Sharma — by the Rajasthan ATS which was probing the Ajmer blast case. Gupta was the RSS Vibagh Pracharak of Muzaffarnagar, Bihar. He provided logistical support to Joshi, Kalsangra and Dange and harboured the latter two in RSS offices while they were on the run from agencies.
Lokesh Sharma was a RSS worker close to Joshi. He purchased the two Nokia phones that were used to trigger bombs at Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif. It is Sharma’s interrogation that revealed for the first time that RSS national executive member Indresh Kumar was a key figure in the terror conspiracy. The joint investigation of the Rajasthan ATS and CBI, in fact, went on to reveal that, except Pragya Singh Thakur, all those who were arrested by the Maharashtra ATS in 2008 were actually fringe players while the core group comprising Indresh Kumar, Kalsangra and Dange allegedly held the key to the full terror plot.
In June 2010, the CBI examined a witness named Bharat Riteshwar, a resident of district Valsad in Gujarat and a close associate of Swami Aseemanand. Riteshwar told the CBI that Sunil Joshi was a protégé of Indresh and had his approval and logistical support for carrying out terror attacks.
On 19 November 2010 the CBI cracked down on a hideout in Haridwar and arrested Swami Aseemanand, who had been a fugitive for over two years since Sadhvi Pragya’s arrest in October 2008. His arrest unlocked many more pieces.
NABA KUMAR — alias Swami Aseemanand — was originally from Kamaarpukar village in Hooghly district in West Bengal — the birthplace of Ramakrishna Paramhansa. In 1971, after completing his BSc (honours) from Hooghly, Naba Kumar went to Bardman district to pursue a master’s degree in science. Though he was involved with RSS activities from school, it was during his post-graduation years that Naba Kumar became an active RSS member. In 1977, he started working full-time with the RSS-run Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in Purulia and Bankura districts. In 1981, his guru Swami Parmanand rechristened him as Swami Aseemanand.
From 1988 to 1993, he served with the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram at Andaman and Nicobar islands. Between 1993 and 1997, he toured across India to deliver sermons on Hindu religion among the tribals. In 1997, he settled down in the Dangs district in Gujarat and started a tribal welfare organisation called Shabri Dham. Aseemanand was known in the area for his rabid anti-minority speeches and his relentless campaign against Christian missionaries.
Aseemanand is seen as being close to the RSS leadership. In the past, leaders like Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, former RSS chief KS Sudarshan and current chief Mohan Bhagwat have attended religious functions organised by him at Shabri Dham.
While Aseemanand was known for his vitriolic anti-minority positions, according to his confession, it was the heinous massacre of Hindu devotees at Akshardham temple by Islamist suicide bombers in 2002 that was the first real kindle for their retaliatory terror attacks.
“The Muslim terrorists started attacking Hindu temples in 2002,” Aseemanand said. “This caused great concern and anger in me. I used to share my concerns about the growing menace of Islamic terrorism with Bharat Riteshwar of Valsad.”
In 2003, Aseemanand came in contact with Sunil Joshi and Pragya Singh Thakur. He would often discuss Islamist terrorism with them as well. Finally, according to him, it was the terror attack on Sankatmochan temple in Varanasi in March 2006 which was the real flashpoint for them.
“In March 2006, Pragya Thakur, Sunil Joshi, Bharat Riteshwar and I decided to give a befitting reply to the Sankatmochan blasts,” Aseemanand told the magistrate.
Aseemanand gave Rs. 25,000 to Joshi to arrange the necessary logistics for the blasts. He also sent Joshi and Riteshwar to Gorakhpur to seek assistance from firebrand BJP MP Yogi Adityanath. In April 2006, Joshi apparently held a hush-hush meeting with the Adityanath, infamous for his rabid anti-Muslim speeches. But Aseemanand says, “Joshi came back and told me that Adityanath was not of much help.”
However, this did not deter Aseemanand. He went ahead with his plans.
In June 2006, Aseemanand, Riteshwar, Sadhvi Pragya and Joshi again met at Riteshwar’s house in Valsad. It proved to be a chilling one, with far-reaching consequences. Joshi, for the first time, brought four associates with him — Dange, Kalsangra, Lokesh Sharma and Ashok alias Amit.
“I told everybody that bomb ka jawab bomb se dena chahiye, (I told everyone we should answer bombs with bombs),” says Aseemanand. “At that meeting I realised Joshi and his group were already doing something on the subject,” he adds.
“After the combined meeting,” Aseemanand says, “Joshi, Pragya, Riteshwar and I huddled together for a separate meeting. I suggested that 80 percent of the people of Malegaon were Muslims and we should explode the first bomb in Malegaon itself. I also said that during the Partition, the Nizam of Hyderabad had wanted to go with Pakistan so Hyderabad was also a fair target. Then I said that since Hindus also throng the Ajmer Sharif Dargah in large numbers we should also explode a bomb in Ajmer which would deter the Hindus from going there. I also suggested the Aligarh Muslim University as a terror target.”
According to Aseemanand everybody agreed to target these places.
“In the meeting,” Aseemanand continues, “Joshi suggested that it was basically Pakistanis who travel on the Samjhauta Express train that runs between India and Pakistan and therefore we should attack the train as well. Joshi took the responsibility of targeting Samjhauta himself and said that the chemicals required for the blasts would be arranged by Dange.”
Aseemanand’s confession goes on in grave detail. “Joshi said three teams would be constituted to execute the blasts. One team would arrange finance and logistics. The second team would arrange for the explosives. And the third team would plant the bombs. He also said that the members of one team should not know members from the other two teams. So even if one gets arrested the others would remain safe,” Aseemanand told the magistrate.
Hate and anger had slipped off the edge into mayhem.
‘Since Hindus throng the Ajmer Sharif Dargah we thought a bomb blast in Ajmer would deter Hindus from going there,’ the Swami said
ON 8 SEPTEMBER 2006, at 1.30 pm, four bombs exploded in the communally tense town of Malegaon in Maharashtra. Besides being a Friday, the Muslim festival Shab-e-barat was being observed. Three bombs went off in the compound of the Hamidiya Masjid and Bada Kabrastan. A fourth bomb exploded at Mushawart Chowk.
Out of three bombs, one was placed at the entrance gate of Hamidiya Masjid and Bada Kabrastan, the second on a bicycle parked in the parking lot situated inside the compound and the third was hung on the wall of the power supply room situated in front of Vaju Khana, inside the compound. The fourth bomb went off in the crowded junction of Mushawart Chowk, which was placed on a bicycle, near an electric pole. The attack was meticulously planned; the bombs exploded in quick succession. Thirty one Muslims were killed; over 312 were injured.
In a suspiciously swift investigation, the Maharashtra ATS arraigned nine Malegaon Muslims within 90 days. Eight of these were members of the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), the outlawed radical Muslim outfit. Another three Malegaon Muslims were shown absconding. Stringent provisions of the draconian Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) were invoked.
On 21 December 2006, the same day that the ATS filed the chargesheet against the nine Malegaon Muslims, the Maharashtra government asked the CBI to take over the probe. In effect, the CBI was presented with a fait accompli: the case had already been so-called solved and the accused had been chargesheeted.
A year ago, the CBI filed a supplementary chargesheet but failed to produce any material evidence. For over four years, these nine Malegaon Muslims have been languishing in prison. Aseemanand’s confession now seems proof that the boys were innocent and had been arrested merely to deflect criticism and create a false sense of security among Indian citizens that the blast cases were being “solved”. The real mastermind, according to Aseemanand, was Sunil Joshi. And it was Aseemanand himself who had persuaded Joshi to explode bombs in Malegaon.
This is what he told the magistrate. “Joshi came to see me at Shabri Dham on Diwali in 2006. The Malegaon blasts had already happened. Sunil told me the blasts were carried out by our men. I said the newspaper reports had mentioned that Muslims were behind the blasts and a few Muslims had also been arrested. Sunil assured me the blasts were carried out by him but he refused to reveal the identity of our men who had executed the blasts.”
ON 18 February 2007, on the eve of the then Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri’s visit to India to carry forward the peace dialogue, two powerful bombs went off around midnight in two coaches of the cross-border Samjhauta Express, running between Delhi and Lahore. The train had reached Diwana near Panipat, 80 km north of Delhi. The coaches turned into an inferno. The third bomb placed in another coach failed to detonate. Sixty eight people were killed. Dozens were injured. The peace dialogue received a big setback.
Investigation revealed that three suitcases filled with detonators, timers, iron pipes containing explosives and bottles filled with petrol and kerosene had been smuggled into the three coaches.
The needle of suspicion veered immediately to Pakistani extremists. Depending upon which investigating agency you were speaking to, Pakistan-based terror outfits mainly Harkat-ul-Jihad Islami (HUJI) and Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT)were blamed for the blasts. Even the US State Department called the terror attack a joint operation of the LeT and HUJI. The Haryana Police tracked down some of the material used in the blasts as being procured from a market in Indore but the trail soon went cold.
In November 2008, the Maharashtra ATS told a court in Nashik that Lt Col Purohit had procured 60 kg of RDX from Jammu & Kashmir in 2006 and a part of it was suspected to have been used in the Samjhauta Express blasts. But the ATS subsequently failed to back its claims with any evidence and was forced to retract. The Haryana cops travelled to Mumbai and interrogated Purohit and other Malegaon accused but could not find any evidence that could link them to the Samjhauta blasts.
In July 2010, the Samjhauta blast probe was handed over to the National Investigating Agency (NIA). Though it still leaves some questions and loose ends, Aseemanand’s confession now joins many other dots in relation to the Samjhauta Express.
“In February 2007,” Aseemanand told the magistrate, “Riteshwar and Joshi came on a motorbike to a Lord Shiva temple in a place called Balpur. As we had fixed this place for our meeting, I was already there, waiting for the two. Joshi told me in the next two days there would be a piece of good news and I should keep a tab on the newspapers. After the meeting I came back to Shabri Dham and Joshi and Riteshwar went their way. After a couple of days I went to meet Riteshwar at his Valsad residence. Joshi and Pragya were already present there. The Samjhauta Express blasts had happened. I asked Joshi how he was present there while Samjhauta had already happened in Haryana. Joshi replied that the blasts were done by his men.”
“In the same meeting,” Aseemanand continues, “Joshi took Rs. 40,000 from me to carry out the blasts in Hyderabad. A few months later, Joshi telephoned me and told me to keep a tab on the newspapers as some good news was in the offing. In a few days the news of the Mecca Masjid blast appeared in the papers. After 7-8 days, Joshi came to Shabri Dham and brought a Telegu newspaper with him. It had a picture of the blast. I told Joshi that in the papers it had appeared that some Muslim boys had been rounded up for the blast. But Joshi replied it was done by our people.”
LIKE IN the case of the 2006 Malegaon blast, 17 May 2007 was a Friday. At 1.30 pm, as over 4,000 Muslims assembled to offer their Friday prayers at the iconic Mecca Masjid, situated near the Charminar in the old city of Hyderabad, a bomb went off near the Wazu Khana (fountain) meant for doing wazu (ablution before prayers) inside the mosque.
Another IED contained in a blue rexine bag was found hanging near the door-way at the northern end of the mosque. Miraculously, this bomb had not exploded. With no substantive clue emerging from the blast investigation, in a cynical move, the Hyderabad police launched a mop-up operation against local Muslim boys, who were associated with Ahle Hadess, the doggedly fundamentalist sect among Sunni Muslims. Friends and family members of some known local Muslim extremists like Shahid Bilal, who had fled to Pakistan, were also rounded up. In a span of two weeks, over three dozen boys from Malakpet and Saidabaad were picked up and tortured. However, when the police failed to link them to the Mecca Masjid case, they registered three separate bogus cases and implicated the detainees in these cases.
On 9 June 2007, the CBI took over the investigation into the Mecca Masjid case.
A few months later, on 11 October 2007, during the month of Ramzan, at 6.15 pm, as Muslim devotees had begun their iftaar at Ajmer Sharif dargah, a powerful bomb went off near a tree in the compound, killing three people and injuring over a dozen. Investigators found one more unexploded IED at the site.
Swami says, ‘Joshi told me to keep a tab on the papers as some good news was in the offing. Soon after, news of the Mecca Masjid blast appeared’
According to Aseemanand, this blast had been executed by Muslim boys provided by Indresh Kumar. “A couple of days after the Ajmer blast Joshi came to see me. He was accompanied by two men named Raj and Mehul who had also visited Shabri Dham on previous occasions. Joshi claimed his men had perpetrated the blast and he was also present at Ajmer Dargah at the time of the blast. He said that Indresh had provided him two Muslim boys to plant the bomb. I told Joshi that if the Muslim boys get caught, Indresh would get exposed. I also told Joshi that Indresh might get him killed and told him to stay at Shabri Dham. Joshi then told me that Raj and Mehul were wanted in the Baroda Best Bakery case (12 Muslims were killed by rioters in Best Bakery in Gujarat 2002). I told Joshi not to keep Raj and Mehul at the ashram as it would not be safe for them to stay in Gujarat. Joshi, along with the two men, left for Dewas the next day,” said Aseemanand.
Barely two months later, on 29 December 2007, in a sudden twist, Aseemanand’s fears came true. Sunil Joshi was mysteriously murdered outside his house in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh. His family claimed he had been murdered by his own organisation. After her arrest, Sadhvi Pragya Thakur also suggested this. But the Madhya Pradesh Police failed to solve the case and filed a closure report in the court.
At the end of December 2010 though, acting on fresh leads, the Madhya Pradesh police finally accepted that Joshi had been murdered by his own friends in the RSS. They charged Mayank, Harshad Solanki, Mehul and Mohan from Gujarat, Anand Raj Katare from Indore and Vasudev Parmar from Dewas with Joshi’s murder. While Mehul and Mohan are still on the run, Solanki was brought before the Dewas court where he confessed to the murder. However, even these arrests don’t join all the dots. The police claim internal rivalry as the motive for the murder. The CBI, though, believes the real motive behind Joshi’s murder was to silence him. Joshi knew too much about the terror conspiracy and his masters were perhaps wary that they might get exposed.
ABDUL KALEEM, 21
The innocent Muslim boy who triggered an unlikely conversion in jail
Kaleem, a cell phone seller, was arrested and tortured in 2007 for a blast at Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad. He spent a year-and-half in jail before being acquitted. Soon after, he was back in jail on another charge, when he met Swami Aseemanand. The Swami was struck by the boy’s kindness. When he heard that Kaleem was blamed for a blast that he and his comrades had done, he was profoundly affected and decided to confess as an act of penance.
Sunil Joshi’s murder leaves many unanswered questions. If he was one of the key figures in the terror conspiracy, as many of those arrested testify that he was, why would his comrades want to bump him off? If he was a protégé of Indresh Kumar, acting on his orders and with his sanction, why would his mentor want him dead? What could have created a rift or fallout between all of them? The murder suggests a murky and inexplicable factionalism within the sinister grouping.
With Joshi dead and much of Aseemanand’s confession based on things Joshi had told him about the blasts, it might seem that Aseemanand’s confession runs thin in certain portions and is, therefore, of uneven consequence. But Joshi was not the only piece in the puzzle. Aseemanand’s confession is powerful because it implicates himself at every juncture and points to a network of Hindutva pracharaks, who not only participated in the terror plots but were moved around and sheltered by sections of the organisation while they were on the run. Investigators believe that the arrests of Kalsangra and Dange would provide the missing pieces of the puzzle.
Joshi’s death didn’t mean the end of the horrific blasts — at least from the ultra-Hindutva side. The terror infrastructure he had created along with a few other RSS men continued to function.
ASEEMANAND CONFESSED coming into contact with the shadowy saffron terror outfit Abhinav Bharat in January 2007. Col Purohit was one of the founder members of the outfit. Aseemanand has confessed to proposing more terror strikes in a meeting of Abhinav Bharat held at Bhopal in April 2008. Sadhvi Pragya, Bharat Riteshwar, Col Purohit and Dayanand Pandey were also present in the meeting. “I participated in many Abhinav Bharat meetings and proposed to carry out more terror strikes,” Aseemanand told the magistrate.
On 29 September 2008, horror struck again. During Islam’s holy month of Ramzan, an IED went off at Bhikku Chowk, a Muslim neighbourhood in Malegaon. The bomb was concealed in a motorcycle parked in front of a locked office of SIMI. Given the paranoia that had grown around Islamist terror, it had become an accepted maxim that members of SIMI were behind every blast. No proof was ever required. Placing a bomb in front of their office, therefore, was an act of deadly symbolism for the Hindutva outfits.
A similar bomb blast was triggered almost simultaneously hundreds of miles away in a small town called Modasa in Gujarat. Like in Malegaon, the blast took place in a Muslim colony named Sukka Bazaar, outside a mosque when special Ramzan prayers were being offered. Like in Malegaon, the bomb was again concealed in a motorcycle. The two blasts were separated by a gap of five minutes.
The Malgeaon blast killed seven Muslims, including a three-year-old boy. The Modasa blast resulted in the death of a 15-year-old boy. Several others were injured.
‘I told my comrades that since the Nizam had wanted to opt for Pakistan during Partition, Hyderabad was also a fair target for us,’ the Swami said
It is a measure of the deep-seated bias that had crept into the Indian justice system that even when deadly blasts went off in the midst of Muslim neighbourhoods and mosques, Muslim boys were still automatically blamed for them. It was beyond anyone’s imagination that Hindutva groups could be behind the inhuman acts.
But as Aseemanand says, “Sometime in October 2008, Dange phoned me and said he wanted to come to Shabri Dham and stay there for a few days. I told him that since I was setting out for Nadiad (Gujarat), it would not be a good idea for him to stay there in my absence. Then Dange requested me to pick him up from a place called Vyara and drop him to Baroda which was on the way to Nadiad. I picked up Dange from Vyara bus stop in my Santro car. He was accompanied by Ramji Kalsangra. Both were carrying two or three bags stuffed with some heavy objects. They told me they were coming from Maharashtra. I dropped them at Rajpipla junction at Baroda. I later realised that it was just a day after the Malegaon blast,” said Aseemanand, before concluding his statement. His confession further corroborates the evidence put together by Karkare.
After the Maharashtra ATS arrested Sadhvi Pragya in connection with the 2008 Malegaon blast, Aseemanand went absconding. He was finally arrested by the CBI from Haridwar on 19 November 2010.
THE EMERGENCE of Hindutva terror does not leach away the horror of Islamist terror attacks on places like the Akshardham temple, Sankatmochan mandir and German Bakery in Pune, amongst others. But Aseemanand’s confession will raise many uncomfortable questions for the RSS. It is no one’s case that the actions of a few tars an entire organisation. But there are urgent questions the RSS needs to confront within itself. And answer to the nation.
Given the growing evidence about the involvement of RSS pracharaks in a series of terror blasts, how will the RSS leadership respond?
Many of these terror blasts display a high degree of sophistication in the planning and devices used, with RDX and complex bomb designs being deployed in several of them. Given that most of the foot-soldiers accused for these blasts are of very humble backgrounds, is it possible that they could execute these blasts without support and sanction from the top? Given the strictly hierarchical and disciplined nature of the organisation, is it possible that they were acting without the knowledge of their superiors? Most crucially, given the gathering evidence about the involvement of several RSS pracharaks and other affiliates in this series of terror blasts, how will the RSS leadership respond? If it is true that some members of their organisation have turned rogue, will they seek the most stringent punishment for them? The Hindutva worldview may be politically opposed to minority rights, but will it go far enough to watch some of its members drag the country further down the suicidal course of competitive terrorism between Islamist and Hindutva extremists? Or will it opt for the saner option of a cleansing within.