It was on November 26, 2008, few hours before 26/11 attacks, I got a call from my source in Shiv Sena that they were going to launch an offensive against ATS officers who arrested Sandhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and others in 2008 Malegaon blasts case.
The then ATS chief, Hemant Karkare, was at the centre of the controversy as Sena was planning to protest outside his Mumbai residence and publish pictures of the ATS officers involved in investigation of 2008 Malegaon blasts case in the party mouthpiece Saamna.
I called Karkare while he was rushing to meet then then home minister, RR Patil, which was not of much help because the minister had put Karkare himself in a spot for making the government face such allegations in the first place.
I interviewed him that evening in which a distressed Karkare said that he had no hidden agenda and he was just doing his job. In fact, it looked that rather than being pressurised by the ruling coalition to arrest a particular set of people (as being now charged), he was feeling pressured for his and his officers' safety from the main opposition party in Maharashtra, Shiv Sena.
Ironically, Karkare laid down his life in the terrorist attack on the same night and the protest and editorial against him never happened.
|Late ATS chief Hemant Karkare.
Cut to now, and the NIA, in its chargesheet, has said that the evidence against Sadhvi Pragya Thakur is not enough to prove charges against her because the bike owned by her was not in her possession but was with Kulsangra (known to be close to Sadhvi, which even NIA admits).
The two prime witnesses, Rakesh Dhawde (who is also accused in the case) and Yashpal Bhadana, who established that Pragya Thakur attended meetings of Abhinav Bharat, where the "conspiracy" of Malegaon bomb blast was hatched, later retracted their statements.
ATS had recorded Yashpal Bhadana's statement under section 164, that is in front of judicial magistrate, and this statement is admissible in the court of law as evidence. But after the case was transferred to the NIA, Bhadana, recorded another statement in Patiala House court and said that the earlier one was given by him under pressure.
Since 2011, when the NIA was handed over this case, the agency has come up with a new theory which revolves around Lt Col Purohit, and nine other accused. They have not denied the entire module detected by late ATS chief Karkare and his team, but have informed the court that they want to remove MCOCA charges from the case, suggesting that they were concocted and applied with evidence.
To challenge the premise of MCOCA in the case, the NIA said that MCOCA was applied in it because Rakesh Dhawde, who was arrested by the ATS team investigating the Malegaon blast case on November 2, 2008, has allegedly disclosed that he had organised a training camp in July/August 2003 at Singhgad, Pune, in which the arrested accused in Parbhani blast (this small-scale blast happened near mosques in Parbhani in November 2003) had participated. He also confessed of giving logistical support to eight accused in 2004 Jalna blast (again near a mosque). That's how the ATS established a crime syndicate and past record of crime and applied MCOCA in the Malegaon case.
Now, the NIA has raised questions on swiftness of ATS. It has asked how is it that the ATS within a few days of Dhawade's arrest, found out that he was part of the training modules for Jalna and Parbhani blasts. NIA has also questioned how, after passing on that information to Aurangabad ATS office on November 6, 2008, did ATS Aurangabad file supplementary chargesheet in Jalna and Parbhani blasts cases within just seven days and declared Dhawade as an accused in Malegaon case on November 13, 2008?
|Sadhvi Pragya Thakur.
The supplementary chragesheet says that accused in 2008 blast case didn't have any knowledge about Dhawade's involvement in Jalna and Parbhani blast cases. It says he retracted from his statement given in front of the judicial magistrate, in which he had "confessed" that Lt Col Purohit had asked him to give RDX to Ramji and Sandeep Dange who were sent by Pragya Singh Thakur.
So, the NIA thinks that the stringent MCOCA doesn't hold any water in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, even though the strict law has stood ground for many other blast cases investigated by probing agencies in Maharashtra, resulting in conviction in some of them.
Now, as NIA has submitted that they want to remove MCOCA and apply UAPA to the Malegaon 2008 case, Sadhvi Pragya and other five other accused - Shiv Kalsangara, Shyam Sahu, Pravin Takkalki, Lokesh Sharma and Dhansingh Choudhry - reaped the benefits. The statements which could have been used to prosecute these accused under MCOCA cannot be used now and NIA couldn't collect evidence against them to try them under court of law.
But the same has relied on the investigation done by team Karkare and has maintained that Lt Col Prasad Purohit "collected huge funds for the Abhinav Bharat oranisation and directed to disburse it to procure weapons and explosives for their unlawful activities. He is one of the key members of the conspiracy". NIA has relied on the FSL report which confirms voice samples of Prasad Purohit, Sudhakar Dwivedi and Ramesh Uphadhyay. Their conversation was recovered from the laptop of accused Sudhakar Dwivedi.
The authorised intercepted conversation between Purohit, Uphadhyay and others reveal that they were in process of creating their defence. The post conduct of accused persons shows the guilt in their mind and their active participation in the crime.
|Lt Col Prasad Purohit.
To conclude, the theory that secret meetings were held by Abhinav Bharat and that they were the brain behind the blasts has been put forth in NIA's chargesheet.
On the other hand, public prosecutor Rohini Salian has resigned under alleged pressure from the NIA for going slow on all the Malegaon blast accused. Though NIA brushed these accusations aside by saying that Salian's performance was not satisfactory and hence she was being removed from the panel of public prosecutors, the agency will also have to answer new special public prosecutor Avinash Rasal's outcry.
Rasal has decried he was completely unaware that NIA was going to file the supplementary chargesheet, ask MCOCA to be revoked and inform the court that they had no evidence to prosecute the main accused in the case, Sadhvi Pragya Thakur.
He was in the court since 11 am on May 13, and was dumbfounded when he saw an NIA officer with some junior lawyer in the panel approaching the special MCOCA court and informing that they are filling long-awaited supplementary chargesheet.
Feeling hurt, Rasal told the NIA officer present there that he "better resign rather than continuing like this".
NIA has to answer many questions and if the special judge accepts NIA's chargesheet, it will be interesting to see if the NIA can prove charges against LT Col Purohit and nine other in the case.