The acquittal of Naba Kumar Sarkar, better known as Swami Aseemanand, a “radical Hindutva monk” — and three others — in the Samjhauta Express blast case of 2007, by a National Investigation Agency (NIA) court at Panchkula on Wednesday, is likely to be met with questions and not a little surprise. This is principally on account of the fact it was Aseemanand’s 2010 confession — which he later retracted — that had led the investigators to a whole network of people who were alleged to have been involved with other high-profile cases in which the victims were members of the Muslim community. In setting free the accused in the case of the blast in the India-Pakistan train service, Samjhauta Express, that took 68 lives, the court ruled that the NIA, a specialised body meant to track terrorism cases, had not marshalled evidence to back the case against the accused. It also ruled that the charge of the accused entering into a conspiracy was not made out.
A number of terrorist attacks occurred in 2007 and 2008 at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, the Samjhauta Express and the Ajmer Sharif Dargah (all 2007) and Malegaon (2008) in which the persons who were charged had affiliation with the RSS and kindred outfits, and the victims were Muslims. In the Malegaon case, one of the accused, Lieutenant Colonel (retd) Shrikant Prasad Purohit, was reported to be linked with Abhinav Bharat, an outfit associated with descendants of the assassins of Mahatma Gandhi. It is this profile of the accused and the cast of characters that went on trial which led to the coinage of the expression “saffron terror” or “Hindu terror”. The RSS and the BJP questioned this expression. They made two arguments: that Hindus cannot by definition be terrorists, and that the charge against the accused in the cases of 2007 and 2008 was politically motivated.
What became immediately noticeable was that practically all the accused began to be set free in these cases after the change of government at the Centre in 2014. The judgment in the Samjhauta Express case is only the latest in that chain of events. It is also noteworthy that several individuals who were charged in this case were also charged in other cases of terrorism in which Muslims were victims. Even so, the NIA has failed in evidence against them that would satisfy the court. In the Malegaon case, the Mumbai-based well-known special public prosecutor Rohini Sallian had publicly claimed in 2015 that the NIA in Delhi was leaning hard on her to go easy on the accused in the Malegaon case. This matter should have been judicially probed so as not to cast a shadow on later investigations in multiple cases of a similar nature. It is to be seen if the NIA will go in appeal against the Samjhauta Express judgment.