Hyderabad: 14 years ago, when Friday prayers were ongoing at historic Makkah Masjid in Hyderabad’s Old City, a bomb blast took place which left nine dead and at least 60 severely injured. Five others were killed in police firing in the violence that followed immediately after the blast.
But the pain inflicted in the blast still remains fresh as the role of National Investigation Agency (NIA) failed to prove anyone guilty in all these years.
A special court of NIA on April 16 acquitted all the five accused charge-sheeted in the cell phone-triggered pipe bombing inside the mosque in 2007.
In a very interesting development, Justice Ravinder Reddy, within hours of delivering the judgement, resigned from his job citing personal reasons and went incommunicado.
The role of NIA came into question as it failed to prove anyone guilty after pursuing investigations against the accused for more than seven years after taking over the case from the CBI. The removal and transfer of officer-in-charge Pratibha Ambedkar, two weeks before the controversial verdict, raised more eyebrows about the integrity of the NIA.
After the blast, according to The Wire and various other reports, the Andhra Pradesh police held more than 200 people, mostly Muslims, for interrogation out of which 21 were charge-sheeted.
The police suspected the role of a Pakistan-based militant group, Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami(HuJI), but investigations over the next few years pointed at the possibility of the role of a Hindutva terrorist outfit.
Eventually, Hindu nationalist organisations like Abhinav Bharat were held responsible for a series of blasts that took place between 2006 to 2008, which might be listed as Samjhauta Express blasts (2007), Ajmer Sharif blast (2007), Malegaon (2006) and Makkah Masjid blast (2007).
Afterwards, Naba Kumar Sarkar (Swami Aseemanand), Pragya Singh Thakur (current BJP MP from Bhopal) and Lt Col Shrikant Purohit were taken into custody for allegedly leading the blasts at these places. A charge sheet was also filed against another three people, RSS pracharak Devender Gupta, proper dealer and Hindutva activist Lokesh Sharma and his leader Sunil Joshi who was murdered in 2007.
The NIA after taking over the case in 2011, named Aseemanand, a former RSS activist as the mastermind of the Makkah Masjid blast and accused ten other people in the case, Devender Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Sandeep Dange and Ramachandra Kalsangra(both former RSS activists), Sunil Joshi (murdered in 2007), Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar(a private employee), Rajender Chowdhary(a farmer), Tejram Parmar and Amit Chouhan.
All accused acquitted
Aseemanand and Rateshear were granted bail in 2017, while three others were put under judicial remand. The wire reported that 226 witnesses and 411 documents were examined during the trial. Before the NIA took over, the CBI had examined 68 witnesses in the case, 54 of whom turned hostile including defence research and development organisation scientist Vadlamani Venkat Rao.
After the witnesses turned hostile, the court could not find enough evidence to prosecute the accused. Aseemanand walked free from the Ajmer blast case and Makkah Masjid blast case, despite confessing his crime both in front of the police and the media.
Tehelka had published a report about his 42 page confession statement, in which he talked in detail about various stages of organising and executing the blast. In an interview to The Caravan too, he had confessed to planning the bombings.
On 18th December, 2010, Aseemanand told the magistrate in the court, “I know I can be sentenced to death penalty but I still want to make the confession.” According to The Wire, he spoke about the role of prominent RSS leaders like Indresh Kumar in mentoring those who eventually executed the blast.
Brief history of Aseemanand
In a meeting in Gujarat in 2005, Caravan reported that Mohan Bhagwat, now the chief of the RSS, heard Aseemanand’s plans “to bomb several Muslim targets around India” and said, “It is very important that it be done. But you should not link it to the Sangh.”
Caravan also reported that Aseemanand allegedly said, Narendra Modi met him at an RSS meeting in Ahmedabad and said, “Now it has been decided that I will be the chief minister. Let me come and then I will do your work. Rest easy.”