In an important development in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, the accused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Prasad Purohit and two others have been cleared of the extremely grave charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) by a Special court of the National Investigative Agency. The Special NIA Court has, however, asked the accused to be charged under Sections 16 (committing a terror act) and 18 (criminal conspiracy) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), and Sections 120(b) (punishment of criminal conspiracy), 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder) and 326 (intentionally causing harm to others) of the Indian Penal Code.
It must be noted that both the high-profile accused – Lt Col Purohit and Pragya Thakur – will now face trial under an anti-terror law, with the court rejecting their discharge petitions. This flies in the face of some of the “premature celebrations” in some quarters of the Indian TV media, which have started trending #HinduTerrorMythBusted, saying that the duo and other co-accused will not be tried as terror accused.
The court said Sadhvi Pragya,Lt Col Purohit n 6 others will face trial under Sections 16 (committing a terror act) 18 (punishment for conspiracy), 120B,326 nd 307 IPC . How is it "big vindication for all HINDUS?" https://t.co/yGB9OWYgi8— vijaita singh (@vijaita) December 27, 2017
While the NIA court has indeed discharged three of the accused – Shyam Sahu, Shivnarayan Kalsangra and Praveen Takalki – from the case, that judicial pardon has not been extended to either Purohit or Pragya Thakur. Five other co-accused – including Sudhakar Dwivedi, retired Major Ramesh Upadhyay, Sameer Kulkarni, Sudhakar Chaturvedi and Ajay Rahirkar – will also be facing trial under relavant sections of the UAPA and IPC.
In addition to dropping of MCOCA, certain UAPA sections, including 17 (raising funds for a terrorist organisation or a terrorist attack), 20 (being part of a terrorist organisation) and 23 (aiding somebody who is part of a terrorist organisation) have been dropped against all accused by Judge DS Tekale of the Special NIA Court. Since the accused are all out on bail, that will continue until the charges are framed formally on January 15, 2018.
Malegaon blast: History of ‘Hindu terror’
The September 29, 2008 Malegaon blast that killed seven persons and injured 79 more when a bomb tied to a motorcycle went off in the textile town of Maharashtra, was the first case that brought to fore the idea of “Hindu or saffron terror”, a term coined by then Union home minister P Chidambaram of the UPA government. Purohit and Pragya Thakur, as well as Sameer Kulkarni, who rebuilt the VD Savarkar-founded militant Hindu rightwing youth group Abhinav Bharat, and others were then arrested shortly after, and the investigation was led by the Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkare, who died during the shootouts of 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
Purohit was arrested On November 4, 2008, and the Maharashtra ATS investigation revealed that he might have been allegedly involved in other attacks such as the Malegaon blast of 2006, the Mecca Masjid blast in Hyderabad in 2007, the Samjhauta Express blast on February 18, 2007. This led the assorted Sangh Parivar, including the BJP, the RSS, as well as Shiv Sena, jump into the bandwagon of “politicisation of terror”, and even LK Advani ascribed motives to Karkare.
MCOCA slapped, dropped, reinstated, dropped again
In the Malegaon case, the slapping of the extremely serious MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act) has seen varying judicial stances. While a special court trying the case dropped MCOCA on July 31, 2009 after Maharashtra ATS slapped it on the accused in the case, the charges against the 11 accused were reinstated by the Bombay High court on July 19, 2010.
However, on April 15, 2015 the Supreme Court held that the accused cannot be charged under MCOCA, thereby clearing the path for the eventual bail of the accused, including Thakur and Purohit, which the SC directed had to be decided in one month. With the Special Public Prosecutor Rohini Salian alleging in June 2015 that she had been under pressure from the NIA (now under the Modi-led NDA government) to “go soft” on the Malegaon case, resulting in “weakening of the prosecution’s case”, the later developments could be foreseen from afar.
Everyone knows BJP govt has been pressurizing lawyers to help these people (accused) & NIA was also putting pressure for the same. Govt lawyer has stated that NIA has pressurized them to go slow (on the accused): Shakeel Ahmad, Congress on #MalegaonBlast judgement (File Pic) pic.twitter.com/ZFEkXQceOb— ANI (@ANI) December 27, 2017
In 2016, NIA dropped charges against Pragya Thakur and five others, and Thakur got bail from the Bombay High Court on April 25, 2017, but rejected Purohit’s bail plea. However, on August 21, 2017, the SC granted interim bail to Purohit, who was then welcomed by the Army with much pomp, and was even allowed to don the Army uniform, while “homecoming” was celebrated on national television by a section of news channels.
Fresh charges under UAPA
The Special NIA court has said that Sadhvi Pragya “cannot be exonerated of conspiracy charges as she was aware of the motorcycle being used for the conspiracy”, in its judgment that has asked for fresh trial under Sections 16 and 18 of the UAPA, and various sections of the IPC. This is, in a way, a setback of sort to the NIA, which, notoriously enough went soft on its own investigation done under the previous government.
However many are reading this “partial relief” to Thakur, Purohit and five others, insofar as the dropping of MCOCA is concerned. Lt Col Purohit was (previously) accused of floating Abhinav Bharat, masterminding the blasts, collecting funds to procure arms and explosives, as well as organise meetings between prominent members of the Sangh Parivar. With MCOCA and crucial sections of UAPA dropped, these charges no longer stick, even as the “terror” tag hasn’t still left the accused yet.