Skeletons in Hindutva's closet: The fringe or the core?
The RSS has always distanced itself from bomb blasts and disowned the perpetrators whenever they were linked to it or any of its offshoots. But Yashwant’s affidavit shines a new light on those denials
The RSS has always distanced itself from bomb blasts and disowned the perpetrators whenever they were linked to the Hindu supremacist body or any of its offshoots. But RSS ‘pracharak’ Yashwant Shinde’s affidavit shines a new light on those denials and plausible realities.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had raised eyebrows in 2018 when he said the Sangh could mobilise an army within three days while the Indian Army would take six months to do so. He did offer the caveat that RSS workers would be ready to make the supreme sacrifice only if the Constitution permitted. That was possibly the closest he came to admitting that the Sangh had raised a militia.
Reports have surfaced now and then linking RSS workers to bomb blasts. RSS workers Swami Aseemanand and Pragya Singh Thakur were even arrested. But this is possibly the first time a self-confessed RSS ‘pracharak’ has accused the organisation of engineering bomb blasts as a matter of practice. It is a part of the Sangh playbook, Shinde would have us believe.
The day before the 26/11 attack on Mumbai in 2008, Hemant Karkare, who headed the ATS (Anti-Terror Squad) of Maharashtra Police, was restless, recalled both Rohini Salian, former Special Prosecutor in the Malegaon Bomb Blast case, and former Mumbai Police Commissioner Julio Ribeiro. Karkare, who had investigated the case and arrested among others Pragya Singh Thakur, was being pilloried for arresting ‘nationalist Hindus’ on false terror charges. RSS and BJP leaders were vocal in denouncing him, which depressed him greatly.
A media report quoted Rohini Salian saying that she had met Karkare that day. “He was under pressure. I told him he was a good Hindu and should do his job as his dharma. I told him she (Sadhvi Pragya) was doing her dharma and he should do his,” she recalled telling him.
Ribeiro was even more forthright. Writing in The Wire in 2019, the former police commissioner recalled that the day before 26/11, Karkare had called on him in his office “in search of a shoulder to lean on”. He was troubled because members of his own family, some of them active BJP sympathisers, were upset over his investigation and findings, which troubled him.
'Hemant was also bothered because LK Advani had come out openly in support of Pragya Thakur and had issued a public statement condemning the Maharashtra ATS and its chief. Hemant wanted me to study the papers and convince myself that he was doing nothing wrong or unethical,' Ribeiro wrote.
What provoked Ribeiro to recall that meeting was the BJP's decision to field Pragya Singh Thakur as its candidate in the 2019 Lok Sabha election. She was shrill in her condemnation of Karkare and during the election campaign claimed that it was her curse that had brought about his death.
On November 26, 2008, a day after meeting Ribeiro, Karkare's call of duty took him to fight the terrorists who had attacked Mumbai. Karkare and all his core team members fell to the bullets of the terrorists.
It also remains an enduring mystery why the then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi descended on Mumbai the very next day, addressed the media in front of the Taj Hotel, where the operation against the terrorists was still on, and announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 1 crore to Hemant Karkare’s widow. The offer was politely declined. Was it a sense of guilt, a gesture to make up for the abuse showered on the late police officer or simply a politically astute move to extend an olive branch to the 'Marathi manoos'? We will never know.
After the National Investigating Agency (NIA) took over the Malegaon blasts case from the ATS , attempts were made to ‘influence’ the public prosecutor and when those attempts failed, the case was taken away from Rohini Salian. The NIA also moved the trial court with the plea to discharge Pragya Singh Thakur, but the court would have none of it. It actually framed charges against her for her involvement in the Malegaon blast and conspiracy to murder.
Questions about the death of Hemant Karkare never really died down. SM Mushrif, a former Inspector General of Maharashtra Police, raised several questions about Karkare's death in his book, ‘Who Killed Hemant Karkare?’, and also moved the Supreme Court demanding reinvestigation of the case. The apex court dismissed the plea in 2018 holding that the case could not be reopened because Ajmal Kasab’s conviction had been upheld and the death sentence executed. Kasab was the only terrorist who was captured alive in the 26/11 operation.
Retired Assistant Commissioner of Police Shamsher Khan Pathan caused a sensation last year by alleging that the controversial Mumbai Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh had destroyed a mobile phone seized from Kasab.
Parambir Singh, then a DIG posted in the ATS, had taken the mobile phone from a constable, Pathan claimed, but never returned it. He also claimed that Singh did not bother to inform his seniors about the phone.
In January 2013, the then Union home secretary RK Singh, who is now a minister of state in the Union council of ministers, had told the media that RSS associates were involved in terror activities in the country. “The government has names of at least 10 persons associated with the RSS in bomb blast cases,” he said. Singh also spoke of an RSS hand in the Samjhauta Express, Mecca Masjid, Hyderabad and Ajmer dargah blasts. Singh’s statement followed the then Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde accusing the RSS of running terror camps. NIA’s investigation into the murder of Sunil Joshi in 2007 had led to evidence of Joshi having masterminded the Ajmer and Mecca Masjid blasts.
Television channel Headlines Today (now renamed India Today TV) had telecast tapes— said to have been extracted from the laptop of Dayanand Pandey, an accused in the Malegaon case—of secret meetings discussing terror strikes. The channel, in a press statement, had claimed access to witness statements that indicted Indresh Kumar and held that he knew of the meetings and the plans.
In February 2014, a cover story in The Caravan magazine based on a series of interviews with Swami Aseemanand in Ambala jail once again put the RSS in the dock. Aseemanand had been arrested in 2010 and accused of masterminding the blasts in the Samjhauta Express (February 2007), Hyderabad Mecca Masjid (May 2007), Ajmer dargah (October 2007) and two attacks in Malegaon (September 2006 and September 2008), which together killed 119 people.
Aseemanand, who later denied statements attributed to him, was quoted as saying that RSS leaders Mohan Bhagwat and Indresh Kumar had sanctioned the blasts. The Caravan claimed the cover story was based on four exclusive interviews in Ambala jail that extended over nine hours. In June 2019, a report in the Free Press Journal quoted former Union minister Kantilal Bhuria saying that ‘former’ RSS activist Kamal Chouhan had confessed to his involvement in the bomb explosion in the Delhi-Lahore Samjhauta Express.
So, when Yashwant Shinde claimed in his affidavit that he had participated in training camps on using modern weapons and bomb-making, it did not come as a surprise.
But how seriously should one take the affidavit he filed on August 31? The purpose of the affidavit, he claims, is to be examined as a prosecution witness in the Nanded bomb blast case of 2006. He would like to expose the terror links of the RSS, because it is no longer working in national interest, Shinde told this reporter.
Legally speaking, it is doubtful if the affidavit will motivate the prosecution to re-open the investigation and interrogate Shinde as well as Bhagwat and Indresh Kumar. It is, after all, for the prosecution, not the court, to decide if Shinde will be allowed to depose as a prosecution witness, a remote possibility at best.
Shinde denies that he is doing it for publicity or that the affidavit is a bargaining chip of any sort, but his long silence over the past 16 years seems questionable. Coincidentally or otherwise, bomb blasts have become less frequent since 2014, though unanswered questions abound about the Pulwama explosion in 2019 ahead of the general elections.
Asked why he took so long to break his silence, Shinde says, “For the past several years, I have been trying to convince (senior RSS functionary) Shrikant Joshi and others that it's not okay to carry out bomb blasts to benefit the BJP. After Joshiji's death, I discussed it with Sunil Deodhar. In fact, I have had a discussion with Mohan Bhagwatji also, but my concerns remained unaddressed. That is why I was forced to bring it out in the open,” he claims.
It is possible that what Shinde has stated in the affidavit is only a part of what he knows and wants to share. But with neither the NIA nor the government apparently interested in pursuing his lead, it is likely to die down till…