The way the Mecca Masjid case has panned out will boost the cause of cynics who doubt that a criminal justice delivery system exists under India’s democracy. In politically sensitive cases, top investigative agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation and National Investigative Agency, that are bodies of handpicked and trained policemen, have failed to marshal evidence in a manner that will satisfy the courts.
These agencies look to the colour of the party in power and act accordingly. How different is the situation from the one in neighbouring Pakistan, where the police finds it next to impossible to collate evidence against criminals linked to certain terrorist outfits that will stand judicial scrutiny?
An IED blast during Friday prayers on May 18, 2007 had killed nine persons at Hyderabad’s famous Mecca Masjid, and injured 58 others. The special judge handling the case being prosecuted by the National Investigation Agency gave the verdict on Monday that the NIA had failed to offer cogent evidence against any of the five accused, and thus they will walk free. There wasn’t enough evidence even to establish conspiracy.
Everything appeared to hinge on a confession by an old RSS diehard who goes by the name of Swami Aseemanand and wears saffron robes, given during the UPA period to a court in Delhi. When the government changed at the Centre, the man withdrew the confession. Naturally, the NIA special judge had little difficulty throwing out the case.
It is thought unlikely that the NIA will go in appeal. The Mecca Masjid case is expected to go the same way as the others — the Ajmer Dargah blast, the Samjhauta Express attack (both 2007), and the Malegaon blast case of 2008 in which members of so-called extreme right-wing Hindu outfits were charged. Aseemanand has been linked to more than one case.
Where conviction has occurred in these cases, it is of some insignificant member of the group, with the more high-profile persons deemed valuable by the so-called “Hindu terror” outfits remaining untouched as the case against them is calculatedly bungled by the investigators.An explicit allegation to this effect surfaced in 2015 when Rohini Salian, a respected Mumbai lawyer engaged as special public prosecutor in the Malegaon case, went public saying someone from the NIA in Delhi had communicated with her to urge that she “go soft” on the accused during the trial.
A common modus operandi is for prosecution witnesses to turn hostile. As many as 64 did in the Mecca Masjid case, including Lt. Col. Shrikant Purohit, who is said to have deep links with right-wing bodies and is an accused in the Malegaon case. The suspicion can’t be resisted that investigators incentivise key witnesses to recant. Strengthening the law is necessary to ensure professional conduct by the police and in respect of witnesses....