BY VK SHASHIKUMAR

The second part of the series by veteran investigative journalist, VK Shashikumar, raises difficult questions on the continued imprisonment of Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit’s as an accused in the 2008 Malegaon terrorist bomb attack case. With his customary hard-nosed approach he once again brings into public focus new documents unravelling a disturbing plot to severely undermine the apolitical institutional stature of the Indian Army and the morale of its soldiers and officers.

The Sadhvi & The Soldier

The National Investigation Agency on May 13, 2016 exonerated Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur in the September 29, 2008, Malegaon bomb blast case that left six persons dead. The Sadhvi was an accused along with Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Purohit in the case. The NIA states in the supplementary charge sheet filed in the special court trying Col. Purohit and others: “The evidence on record against her is not sufficient to prosecute her as all the witnesses have retracted their statements. Thus, no case is made out against her.”

This conclusion by NIA surfaces several difficult questions – If this holds true for the Sadhvi, then why is the soldier still in prison? Is Col. Purohit’s continued imprisonment on account his sustained intelligence inputs on terror-related activities of extremist Hindu organizations much before the Malegaon blasts and its aftermath?

There is an outrage in the country over attacks on Indian army personnel serving in conflict zones. Videos of Indian citizens spontaneously applauding and appreciating Indian army soldiers are going viral. During the days of cash crunch last year after demonetization was announced, those frustrated of standing in long queues outside ATMs and banks were consoled by fellow citizens citing the hardships faced by soldiers on India’s borders.

But why isn’t there any outrage over Col. Purohit’s suspicious and continued imprisonment? On May 13, 2016 the NIA also charged the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of planting evidence (RDX traces) against Col. Purohit to frame him in the Malegaon blast case. So, if the charges against the Sadhvi have been dropped, then why aren’t the charges against Col. Purohit being dropped as well? Why is he incarcerated without trial for his alleged involvement in cases involving Hindu terror groups when the cases of accused belonging to such groups seem to be floundering?

On 27 September 2009, a year after the Malegaon blasts, an ‘Action Taken Report’ was dispatched to BGS (Int), Southern Command. The following excerpts from the report clearly vindicate the consistent stand taken by Col. Purohit that as an intelligence officer he was only doing his job as tasked by his superiors. That he had infiltrated extremist Hindu groups which were keen to carry out terror activities to avenge attacks of Muslim terror groups and that after successfully embedding himself in such groups; he was constantly feeding intelligence information to his superiors as per the established chain of command.

On 14 October 2008 the following report was received from Col. Purohit by 3 Det SCLU, military intelligence unit in Deolali, Nashik:

“A Sadhvi named Ms Pragya Singh Thakur may have been involved in the 29 September 2008 Malegaon bomb blast. The lady drives a LML Freedom motorcycle. This motorcycle was reportedly used in the blast. It was likely that police was on the trail of the lady.”

Two days before Col. Purohit’s input was received telephonically by the 3 Det, SCLU (Southern Command Liaison Unit), the ATS had “reportedly picked up/detained the Sadhvi.”

The action taken report states that the information was shared by 3 Det SCLU with Dr. Sukhwinder Singh, DIG, ATS on October 15, 2008. He indicated that the Sadhvi had been “picked up” and “operations were on in the general area Malegaon and Surat.”

In fact, the ATS’s charge sheet against the Sadhvi was anchored on her ownership of the LML Freedom motorcycle which was rigged with explosives to carry out the blasts. But the NIA charge sheet rubbished the ATS version by claiming that she had handed over the motorcycle to Ramchandra Kalsangra, an absconding accused, almost two years before the blasts. The NIA further said that the charge that she attended a meeting in Bhopal to plot the Malegaon blasts could not be proved because two witnesses, Yashpal Bhadana and R P Singh, retracted their statements about her presence at the meet.

In spite of the embarrassingly wide divergence between the two charge sheets filed in the court by two different agencies – Maharashtra ATS and the NIA – there is no doubt in the minds of the police investigators or intelligence sleuths that Col. Purohit knew Sadhvi Pragya quite well.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise when a military intelligence memo eight years ago affirmed that Col. Purohit knew the Sadhvi and that he had indeed met her in Bhopal and Jabalpur. The action taken report dated 27 September 2009 clearly states that he had shared details of his meeting with the Sadhvi.

“The areas mentioned by Lt. Col. Purohit where he supposedly met Sadhvi in person before i.e. Bhopal and Jabalpur are outside own AOR (Area of Responsibility). Thus, details regarding meeting and the background of Sadhvi could not be corroborated in the immediate time frame.”

The military intelligence unit’s assessment in 2009 further acknowledges:

“The officer most likely knew that the police investigation was leading towards the Sadhvi’s trail…The officer had reportedly met the Sadhvi on his own accord more than twice as confirmed by him.”

If the investigating agencies haven’t been able to prove the culpability of the Sadhvi and have exonerated her, then, on what grounds does Col. Purohit continue to be jailed for several years with the trial yet to commence?

When Col. Purohit voluntarily provided inputs on October 14, 2008, just couple of weeks after the Malegaon blasts he was stationed at the Army Education Corps Training College in Panchmarhi. He was learning Arabic as part of his intelligence operations when the police allegedly found and decoded some SMSes that he purportedly sent to an accused after Malegaon blasts. Why aren’t the investigative agencies giving credence to the fact that he already knew that the police was closing in on Sadhvi? Was it because of his successful infiltration of the alleged Hindu terror groups that he was able to glean information even when he at AEC and that if this is indeed accepted, then it might lead to opening of a can of worms?

At this point it must be asked whether the fear in the establishment really is that if he is exonerated, then, that will directly establish what Purohit had been claiming- that he infiltrated the terror group Abhinav Bharat, which allegedly planned and carried out the Malegaon blasts and that he kept all his seniors in the army informed about his activities.

Recent media reports citing affidavit filed by the Ministry of Defence validate Col. Purohit’s consistent plea of just doing his job and keeping his seniors updated and informed. In the last few days media reports suggest the MoD informed the court that Col. Purohit informed his superiors about all his source meetings. “The appellant had informed about the meetings prior to and immediately after the meetings to his superiors in that unit.

Col. Purohit has been tireless in his effort to seek bail and while doing so submitted numerous letters of appreciation from his superiors in the Army. The Nashik police also appreciated him for his work and effective coordination during his tenure as an Army intelligence officer in the region.

Several army officers who have worked with Col. Purohit during his tenure in the Maratha Light Infantry and later in military intelligence have publicly dismissed charges against him as false. Recently, Colonel S.S. Raikar affirmed in a public meeting that the charge that Col. Purohit stole 60 kg of RDX from the army is a fabrication. This has, anyway, been confirmed by the NIA in its supplementary charge sheet. The NIA’s investigation suggests that RDX traces were planted as an evidence to frame Col. Purohit.

Col. Purohit’s counsel Shrikant Shivade submitted official records of from the Army to prove that his client did not and could have illegally shipped out RDX from Jammu and Kashmir during his tenure there between 2002 – 2004. Shivade has also repeatedly emphasized during the hearings of the special court that his client was merely interested in doing his job of “generating intelligence” in accordance with the protocols associated with his job. His superiors were not only aware of his intelligence gathering activities, but were also regularly updated by him officially.

At the end of the heaviness of an inescapable reality is that its increasingly becoming a moral load to bear for soldiers and officers of the Indian Army. Why is an officer in prison for doing his job, when charges against other accused are dropped?

More important, why on earth would Col. Purohit implicate himself in a crime he did not commit?

(VK Shashikumar is an investigative journalist and a strategist. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)