On Wednesday, Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, 48, an accused in the Malegaon bomb blast in 2008 that killed six people and injured 100 people, was welcomed with open arms into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The terror-accused, who is on bail, will be BJP’s candidate from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.
After refusal by stalwarts like former Chief Ministers Shiv Raj Singh Chauhan and Uma Bharti to contest, the saffron party expects to polarise votes in the seat that it has never lost since 1989. Thakur will be taking on Congress veteran and former two-time CM Digvijaya Singh.
Pragya’s Bike & Malegaon Blast
Sadhvi Pragya Thakur's name first cropped up in relation with blasts on September 29, 2008 in Muslim-dominated Malegaon in interior Maharashtra when an improvised explosive device tied with an LML freedom bike claimed lives of six people and injured 101 others. The Maharashtra Anti-terror Squad (ATS), headed by then chief Hemant Karkare, traced the links to Surat and found that Sadhvi not only owned the bike but also provided men who were associated with radical Hindutva groups to carry out the attacks.
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A subsequent interrogation unearthed the links between a series of attacks carried out in Malegaon, Ajmer Sharif, Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad and Samjhauta Express. After her arrest on October 24, 2008, the investigation revealed a broad network and detailed planning to take revenge against ‘Jihadi’ terrorism. The prime members of the network consisted of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Sunil Joshi and Swami Aseemanand alias Naba Sarkar. While Thakur and Joshi were accused in the Malegaon blasts, Aseemanand was accused in the Samjhauta Express blasts. Interestingly, all accused have been associated with Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).
The evidence collected by ATS revealed a more sinister design to carry out the attacks. The chargesheet filed by ATS revealed that Thakur was part of most of the meetings that took place across the country to target Muslim majority areas to avenge the killing of people in Gandhinagar's Akshardham Temple in 2002. In one such meeting in Bhopal, she took charge to provide logistics and men to execute the blast in Malegaon. The men selected for the attack were Sunil Joshi, Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange.
Intercepted Conversations on Her Role in Blast
The case against Thakur built up further when investigating authorities intercepted a conversation between Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Purohit in which both were found discussing her role in the blast. But the most important evidence came from RSS member Yashpal Bhadana who claimed his presence in a meeting on April 11, 2008 in Bhopal where Purohit expressed his desire to wage guerrilla war against jihadi forces. His statement read, “Col Purohit repeated the issue of waging a guerrilla war against jihadis that he had first mentioned at a meeting in Faridabad on January 26." “Col Purohit said that we must do something quickly to take revenge against Muslims,” the statement added. “In Maharashtra’s Malegaon, the population of Muslims is very high. If we explode bombs there then we can avenge the atrocities against Hindus. On this, Sadhvi Pragya said she would arrange for men for the work.”
Enter, the National Investigation Agency
The National Investigation Agency took over the case from ATS on April 13, 2011, on instruction of the Home Ministry and filed a chargesheet five years later in 2016. The period was quite eventful; first, the BJP came to power in 2014. Second, a statement from Special Prosecutor Rohini Salian alleged that the agency was pressuring her to ‘go soft’ in the case. Meanwhile, the statement got reflected in NIA chargesheet which exonerated Thakur and Prosecuted Col. Purohit. The agency, in its chargesheet, said although bike was registered in the name of Thakur as per transport department records, it was used and maintained by Kalsangra. The NIA chargesheet further maintained that the statement of Bhadana was made under duress and it was not defendable as it was made before an inspector under MCOCA Act and not in front of magistrate, as prescribed by Section 164 of Criminal Procedure Code.
Following the chargesheet, Thakur appealed for her discharge from the case. However, the NIA court refused to exonerate her from charges. It ordered that Thakur and six others must be tried under. In October 2018, the court framed charges against Thakur under Sections 16 (committing a terrorist act) and 18 (conspiring to commit terrorist act) of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
Also Read: Too Many Coincidences in the Mecca Masjid Acquittal
The court observed, “It has to bear in mind that as per the statements of witnesses before ATS officer that accused No. 1 had agreed to provide men for causing blast. As per both investigating agencies (ATS and NIA), absconding accused Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange are the planters of the bomb. Hence, above material cannot be overlooked at this prima facie stage.”
Discharged by a court on charges under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) in the Malegaon blast case, Thakur is still facing trial under other criminal provisions including the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. In April 2017, she was granted bail by the Bombay High Court where she claimed she had become infirm owing breast cancer and was not receiving adequate treatment at an Ayurvedic Hospital she was lodged in.
Malegaon Victim’s Father Moves NIA Court
According to the bail order, Thakur was given bail because she was "suffering from breast cancer" and was "unable to walk even without support". Her candidature, while exposing the hollowness of Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s recent claim that there is nothing like ‘Hindu terror’, also invited widespread criticism from lawyers of the victims who termed it as a mockery of justice.
According to PTI, the father of one of the victims of the 2008 Malegaon blast on Thursday moved the special NIA court, urging it to bar prime accused Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur from contesting the Lok Sabha election.
The application was filed by Nisar Sayeed, who lost his son in the blast.
Special National Investigation Agency cases judge V S Padalkar sought replies from both the NIA and Thakur and posted the matter for Monday.
The applicant sought that Thakur, who is out on bail, be asked to attend court proceedings in Mumbai and be barred from contesting the election as the trial is in progress.
It further mentioned that Thakur got bail on health grounds. If she was "healthy enough to fight elections in the crippling summers heat", then she has misled the court, the complainant alleged.