Hindutva Brigade Must Break Silence Over Espionage Allegation
Recent revelations involving alleged espionage involving Prof Pradeep Kurulkar at the Defence Research and Development Organisation should have shaken up the establishment. After all, Kurulkar is said to have handled crucial projects related to India’s defence and reportedly was the lead designer or team leader for projects on missile launchers and subsonic cruise missiles.
Reports say Kurulkar was in contact, over WhatsApp, with a Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agent late last year. His suspicious activities were reported to the police by DRDO, and in January, his laptop and two mobile phones were seized. The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) is now handling the case. Kurulkar’s foreign trips are also under the scanner.
Such discoveries have long-term implications for India’s national security. Initial reports from ANI, a news agency known for its proximity to the ruling regime, did not mention Kurulkar’s name. The news agency did not initially mention his name in its tweets, though pictures of his face were circulating on social media and news outlets. The sequence of events left many wondering if the tweets deliberately concealed his name to create a doubt over his identity.
No doubt, Indian investigators will examine if the neighbouring country’s sleuths have penetrated India’s defence research sector and the extent to which Kurulkar has compromised India’s secrets. But it’s worth noting this case has not been handed over to the National Investigation Agency. Formed in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack and supposedly more equipped and experienced to handle cases with cross-border ramifications, this agency has been busy filing plenty of cases—so, why not this one?
It’s another matter that the Maharashtra ATS does not have an outstanding record of handling issues professionally and impartially. A state-level agency naturally has its limitations, but it notably botched up the so-called Hindutva cases, where majoritarian supremacists or their footsoldiers were alleged or found to have been involved in sparking violence. The most significant blow to the Maharashtra ATS was after its chief, Hemant Karkare was killed. He exposed the national supremacist network after the Malegaon bombing in 2008, a case in which 37 witnesses have since turned rogue.
The official statement after his arrest underlined how Kurulkar “misused his post, thereby compromising sensitive government secrets, which could threaten India’s security if it falls into the hands of the enemy nation”. But the case has a broader ambit and possibly merited charges not merely under the Official Secrets Act of 1923, which has been used. No accusations of treason, sedition, or hurting national security have reportedly been applied in this case.
Since Kurulkar’s arrest last week, the “honeytrap” narrative has spread quite far, but while this may be accurate, it must not become a means to soft-peddle the case into a sensational, sleazy “trap”. Such cases demonstrate the lack of vigilance on the part of Indian agencies, and it is worth examining whether he could hide in plain sight because he was active in Hindutva organisations. The day his alleged interaction with a Pakistani agent went public, the Marathi language press disclosed he attended programmes organised by numerous Hindutva outfits. There are images of him addressing meetings to commemorate Hindutva icon VD Savarkar. On YouTube, there are videos in which he discusses his association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) since childhood.
If enough Opposition pressure is mounted, Hindutva organisations may have much to explain about their followers, ideology, and how such a suspect moved within its fold and concealed his intent behind its activities. No doubt, thousands of people frequent RSS branches every day, but that alone cannot be an excuse to shrug off responsibility when such serious allegations come to light. The RSS has consistently relied on the opaqueness of its membership to deny responsibility for wrongdoings of those apprehended even for serious cases such as being caught with bombs and arms. But it never fails to claim credit when convenient. This will not do, and these outfits must explain how and why such figures could participate in its activities whilst allegedly plotting against national interests.
Kurulkar is not the only person who attended Hindutva events and was caught in a compromising position concerning Pakistan’s ISI. Recall the Dhruv Saxena case from 2017, when the Madhya Pradesh ATS nabbed an eleven-member alleged module that leaked information about the military movement. Saxena, supposedly the kingpin, was reportedly a district coordinator of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT cell in the past. A former minority cell chief of the BJP was also accused of being no less than a Lashkar-e-Taiba operative, and the party denied involvement, but photographs turned up of him with the party’s leaders. It can be argued that photographing oneself with leaders at public functions is easy enough, but the list of damning revelations is too long to ignore.
Take the affidavit filed by Yashwant Shinde, who applied to appear as a witness in the district court in the 2006 Nanded bombing case, in which members of Hindutva outfits were allegedly involved. Shinde claimed he was trained for covert operations linked with a larger conspiracy to plant bombs across India. In 2003 and 2004, he alleged, the same group he trained with were behind bombed mosques in Maharashtra’s Jalna, Purna, and Parbhani towns.
As yet another individual who claims a deep connection with hardline Hindutva groups comes under the scanner, the votaries of a majoritarian Hindu nation must confront the reality: Kurulkar’s arrest is not an isolated case but a possible symptom of what lies within. Those who make loud noises about nationalism cannot compromise national secrets or take actions that cost lives.
The author is an independent journalist. The views are personal.
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