Sadhvi Pragya: political pawn
by Sandhya Jain on 25 Nov 2008 2 Comments

As terrorist charges against Sadhvi Pragya, Lt. Col. Purohit, and an endless list of others become increasingly surreal, the possibility of their being substantiated in a court of law also appears more remote. Rather than struggle daily with new sub-plots, the Mumbai Anti Terror Squad (ATS) would do well to release the accused and abort its nascent career as a thriller-writer.

Even if the tale of ‘Hindu terror’ had initial plausibility, it fell apart as the arrests degenerated into a fishing expedition of anyone who knew anyone, and the list of their “successful crimes” became truly incredible. The allegation that Lt Col Purohit supplied RDX for the Samjhauta Express blast blew the case to smithereens as that blast was caused by an incendiary device; the army does not stock RDX; the impugned officer had no access to any explosives nor knowledge of bomb-making; and there is simply no way an army officer could be involved in so much covert activity without being detected.

Political analysts feel the case was contrived for political reasons, and the Prime Minister’s decision to speak to Mr. L.K. Advani and depute the National Security Advisor and Intelligence Bureau chief to meet him suggests unease at the affair. There are whispers that regional players have driven the crisis to retain their power base, and forced coalition partners into acquiescence. If this is untrue, the sooner the Centre moves to dissipate this impression the better, as the crisis is having a deleterious impact on the morale of the defence forces.

Mr. K.P.S. Gill, the nation’s most valiant police officer, led a citizen’s delegation to the National Human Rights Commission last Friday, where he said that never in his career had he seen a 10-day police remand for any woman, let alone a sadhvi. Lt Col Purohit has also hinted at maltreatment, but as only Sadhvi Pragya’s affidavit is public so far, it would be worthwhile to note some of its salient points.

Sadhvi Pragya became a sanyasin in January 2007 and was living in a Jabalpur ashram when the Maharashtra ATS called her for interrogation in October 2008 as a vehicle that belonged to her was involved in the 29 September Malegaon blast. Once she said she had sold it to one Sunil Joshi in October 2004, and the police discovered the latter had been murdered in 2007, matters should have ended there.

Instead, Sadhvi Pragya was illegally detained and interrogated for 13 days from October 10-23, with no woman constable ever present. She was beaten by police officers who also beat her disciple, Bhimbhai Pasricha, when he refused to beat her. She was subjected to obscene language and psychological abuse, and felt depressed enough to contemplate suicide. She was moved from place to place, including being lodged in a hotel, again without women constables. The ill-treatment necessitated hospitalisation for nearly six days, after which she was formally arrested on 23 October.

Details of Sadhvi Pragya’s narco and polygraph tests are well known. It is pertinent that a supplementary interrogation technique – used to cover missing links in criminal cases like the Telgi stamp paper scam – was used as a primary tool of investigation, repeatedly, even though it failed to unveil any hint of crime.

This suggests misuse of the ATS by its political masters. A narco analysis of Swami Sudhakar Pande last Friday caused him to fall into a coma; he regained consciousness only after eight hours! It is pertinent that media photographs have revealed that both religious persons arrested in this case were forced to wear civilian clothing during custody, a terrible abomination and a religious insult which should be actionable under Sec. 495-A of the IPC.

Sadhvi Pragya has rightly asked that narco analysis and polygraph tests be conducted on the ATS officers who handled her detention and interrogation to unravel the truth about those who masterminded the conspiracy behind her arrest, and that of others, destroying lives and reputations in a disgraceful attempt to equate “Hindu terror” with jihad.

Indeed, the story was so malleable that when the Samjhauta-to-Malegaon plot began to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, the scriptwriters twisted it to incorporate a plot to kill top RSS leaders, most notably Mr. Mohan Bhagwat! VHP leader Dr. Pravin Togadia rightly said the Mumbai ATS deserved the Booker Prize for the narrative! Seriously, however, the Malegaon accused could either have plotted to kill innocent Muslims or Hindu leaders; not both. Hence, this is clearly a witch-hunt.

In this context, it may be pertinent to know if Lt Col Purohit, during his tenure in Military Intelligence in Jammu & Kashmir, had submitted information that impacted adversely upon the ruling party’s political votebank, or hurt some other political interests of the powers-that-be. Certainly the sudden decision to invoke MCOCA even when no credible prima facie case could be established against the accused suggests that there is a desire to hold them in custody at all costs, at least until the current round of Assembly elections, and possibly also the national elections, are over.

The Congress-dominated regime’s decision to use MCOCA is invidious also because the UPA at the Centre revoked POTA and TADA on the plea that existing laws are adequate to tackle terrorism, and more stringent measures are not needed, either at the Central level, or in states like Gujarat, where police have a good record of unearthing crime. The known terrorist Abu Salem, extradited from Portugal, was removed from MCOCA coverage by a generous state government, though reputed spiritual leaders and Army officers are being subjected to hideous defamation by selective media leaks.

Some of the purported evidences are truly extraordinary. Sexy photographs have allegedly been found in a godman’s computer, and one is at a loss to connect them to the Malegaon bomb blast. There are audio recordings of mobile phone conversations that could mean anything, as the word ‘bomb’ or ‘blast’ is never used; and there is a witness who has heard both sides of a telephone conversation! Photographs of public functions where media was present are being projected as evidence of a private conspiracy, and overall, the investigation is degenerating into a travesty of justice. It is time to call a halt to the farce.

The author is Editor,

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