By Kanchan Gupta, Daily Pioneer
The so-called ‘investigation’ by the Anti-Terrorism Squad of Maharashtra into the September 29 explosion at Malegaon, in which six Muslims were killed, continues to take strange twists and turns. Each morning we get to read increasingly bizarre stories about Sadhvi Pragya, Lt Col Shrikant Prasad Purohit, Swami Dayanand Pande and the others who have been arrested for what the ATS now claims to be more than one conspiracy and are being held under Section 3 of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act which provides for the death penalty. The latest allegation that has been levelled against them is that they were plotting the assassination of senior RSS leaders, including general secretary Mohanrao Bhagwat. As with all the other startling allegations that have been levelled against the accused, no evidence has been offered by the ATS to even remotely substantiate this claim. All that we have been told is that they have ‘information’ to this effect. Just as the ATS had ‘information’ about Lt Col Purohit surreptitiously acquiring 60 kg of RDX from an Army ammunitions store and using part of it to bomb Samjhauta Express on February 18, 2007, and kill 68 people. Confronted with the results of forensic tests that had shown the use of incendiary material, and not RDX, in the Samjhauta Express bombing, the ATS shamelessly shifted gears and came up with something more fanciful so that public attention would not focus on its obvious fabrication of an outrageous charge.
The ATS, through anonymous ‘sources’, now says the Army has ‘tampered’ with Lt Col Purohit’s laptop and wiped its hard disk clean of incriminating material. But there’s no reason to lose heart: The ATS has found ‘evidence’ which shows that Lt Col Purohit would visit, horror of horrors, anti-Islamist and anti-jihadi Websites! Even if we were to accept this as a verity, let us not forget that as a military intelligence official, it was Lt Col Purohit’s job to scan the Internet for information. In any case, since when has the Government of India outlawed logging into anti-Islamist, anti-jihadi or, for that matter, anti-Muslim Websites? And so the traducement continues as the ATS works at feverish pitch to concoct stories and paint the accused in the bleakest of colours.
Newspapers have been prominently publishing these stories and 24x7 news channels have been dedicating bulk of their prime time bulletins on them, although both reporters and editors know that by doing so, they have elected to become complicit partners in what is fast emerging as an elaborate con job. The last time newspaper columns were converted into fertile fields for planting stories of a similar nature was in the dying days of the Rajiv Gandhi Government when Mr VP Singh was sought to be maligned by ‘exposing’ the ‘St Kitts scandal’. There was no off-shore account in which Mr Ajeya Singh, son of Mr VP Singh, had salted away ill-gotten wealth. But the ‘information’ that was planted in the media was replete with ‘details’ that were later proved to be no more than pulp fiction. I also recall how the Congress tried to malign Mr Sanjay Singh after Syed Modi’s murder, using the CBI to leak the salacious contents, page by page, of Amita Modi’s ‘diary’. Nothing came of the case; Mr Sanjay Singh’s alleged involvement in the murder was never proved; and, it is no small irony that he should now be back in the Congress. It would also be instructive to recall the days when industrialists who had fallen foul of the Congress would be raided by Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and Income Tax officials and the next day’s news reports would invariably mention that ‘incriminating documents’ were seized from their premises. That would be the last time we would hear of those ‘incriminating documents’.
As then, so now plants and motivated leaks are being packaged and presented as ‘exclusive’ stories, as if they have been unearthed by intrepid reporters for the benefit of unsuspecting readers and viewers. The fact is that there is little to distinguish those who have been planting ATS handouts and off-the-record briefings as stories corroborated by evidence — one of them, writing on the front page of a so-called national daily, pompously declared that he had accessed the ‘information’ with the ATS, but did not cite any evidence — from those engaged in the world’s oldest profession. In fact, the harimtu were not entirely devoid of integrity, honour and dignity — values which are treated with contempt by peddlers of fiction as fact who have ensured that every unubstantiated allegation of the Maharashtra ATS has been immortalised through the columns of their newspapers and broadcast on prime time news shows. On Friday evening, a 24x7 channel claimed it had got hold of ‘exclusive’ footage, courtesy the ATS, which amounted to ‘clinching evidence’, the much-awaited ‘breakthrough’, to prove the allegations against the accused. And what did the ‘exclusive’ footage show? That three of the accused were present at a public event where nationalist slogans (for instance, “Bharat Mata ki jai!”) were raised. Is acquaintance a punishable offence? Is everybody who has spoken to somebody whom the Maharashtra ATS is intent on framing to be arrested and subjected to narco-analysis and brain-mapping tests? Are we living in a democracy or a banana republic where the police have over-riding authority to torture civilians, defame decorated Army officers, and defile reputations built over years?
The Prime Minister, we are told, is hugely upset that Mr LK Advani should have raised the issue of Sadhvi Pragya being detained illegally, of being physically abused and mentally tortured, of her chastity being questioned by policemen who have long sold their souls to venal politicians and gangsters, of her being interrogated without ensuring the presence of female constables, and of her being disallowed the right to contact her lawyer. When asked whether he had read Sadhvi Pragya’s sworn affidavit, the Prime Minister said he had not. Nor would the Prime Minister have read Lt Col Purohit’s sworn affidavit, in which he has said the ATS threatened to kill him in a staged ‘encounter’ unless he owned up to each and every crime his tormentors could think of. Contrast the Prime Minister’s callous indifference with the sleepless nights he spent when the Australian Police were interrogating Dr Mohammed Haneef for his links with the Glasgow bombers.
If the ATS were really serious about its job and under “zero political pressure”, it would have steered clear of media publicity, put together the evidence, presented it in a court of law and secured convictions. What it has instead achieved in doing is holding India up to ridicule and making a mockery of the law of the land. After the Malegaon episode, let’s not pretend disquiet over Abu Ghraib or lecture the world about how the rule of law prevails in this wretched land of ours.