Mecca Masjid verdict: NIA incompetence, or well thought-out strategy?

File photo of Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad

Many questions are being raised, both on the NIA investigation in the Mecca Masjid blast case and the decision of the special court to acquit all five accused

On Monday, April 16, 2018, a National Investigating Agency court hearing the Mecca Masjid blast case in Hyderabad acquitted all five accused—Naba Kumar Sarkar alias Swami Aseemanand, Devendra Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Bharath Mohan Lal Rateshwar and Rajendra Choundary. Many questions are being raised since, both on the NIA investigation in the Mecca Masjid blast case and the decision of the special court. Nine people were killed and about 60 people were severely injured in the blasts, which took place on May 18, 2007.

Shortly after the verdict came the news that the NIA judge Ravinder Reddy, who passed the verdict, had resigned from his post. While the resignation is being linked to his decision in the Mecca Masjid blast case, the judge said that he has resigned for 'personal reasons'. However, an article in The Print attributed Reddy’s resignation to accusations of corruption against him.

Questions are also being raised because the NIA official investigating the case, Pratibha Ambedkar, was abruptly removed from the case two weeks ago.

Even before this decision, questions have been raised about the NIA going soft on the role of Hindutva organisations and their affiliates in the Malegaon, Ajmer and Samjhauta Express blasts. Rohini Salian, NIA advocate in the Malegaon blast case, had even said that an NIA official had asked her to take a soft approach to the case. Later, Salian had filed an affidavit in court saying the same, and also named NIA officer Suhas Varke.

NIA did not oppose Aseemanand's bail in the Samjhauta Express case in 2014. Apart from this, the agency also dropped charges against Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and Indresh Kumar in the Ajmer Dargah blasts case. In most of the cases involving Hindutva organisations, the NIA has not only changed its old position, but also changed its attitude. Most of the accused in these bomb blasts are either acquitted or released on bail.

In an interview to The Caravan magazine in 2014, Aseemanand had conferred his role in the bombings. However, later he refused to acknowledge this confession. Executive editor of The Caravan Vinod Jose tweeted that he had a 9-hour-long tape recording of the confession of Aseemanand, which was recorded in Ambala jail. The NIA had contacted The Caravan to say that they would take the tape, but they have not done so till date, said Jose.

According to the website The Wire, the Gujarat High Court, in the case of the murder of former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya, had reprimanded the NIA's current chief YC Modi, saying that "injustice is being done as a result of NIA's incompetence.'

However, it remains to be seen whether the accused getting away in one case after another is due to NIA's incompetence, or a well thought-out strategy.

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