April 27, 2016

India: The disgrace at Malegaon - Editorial, The Tribune, April 27, 2016

The Tribune, April 27, 2016

The disgrace at Malegaon
Right-wing terror cases to test NIA credibility

The discharge of the nine accused Muslims in the 2006 Malegaon blasts case leaves a blot on the functioning of India’s premier investigative agencies. A failure to hold top bosses accountable encourages them to misuse anti-terror laws. Framing innocents in crimes they have not committed has become almost an everyday occurrence in this country. When Maharashtra’s ATS (anti-terror squad) picked up nine Muslims after the Malegaon blasts that left 37 people dead, few eyebrows were raised. When the CBI took over the investigation and filed a charge-sheet, their guilt stood almost established in the national conscience. Post 9/11, members of certain communities, including Muslims, have unfortunately been stereotyped as terrorists.

It came as a huge surprise when the third agency to probe the case, NIA (National Investigation Agency formed after 26/11), stumbled upon a confession by Swami Aseemanand, picked up for the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast, saying that a right-wing group was involved in the Malegaon blasts. For the first time four right-wing terrorists were arrested and the term “saffron terror” gained currency thereafter. The innocent Muslim accused got bail finally but not before spending five years in jail. After the change of government at the Centre in 2014 an allegation of bias has frequently been thrown at the NIA and not just by human rights activists. The NIA has filed a charge-sheet against the four right-wing suspects in the Malegaon case but done little else. It has so far found no evidence against them. What lends credence to the charge is the fact that about 40 witnesses have turned hostile in the 2007 Ajmer Dargah and Samjhauta Express blast cases.

The discharge of the accused in the Malegaon case and possible acquittals in other right-wing terror cases will dent the NIA’s image. Its credibility is at stake. Already its Pathankot handling has raised questions. If terror cases are pursued on communal lines, as an impression to this effect is gaining ground, it would jeopardise India’s fight against terror and its right to ask Pakistan to proceed against its own Masood Azhars and Hafiz Saeeds. There cannot be “good terrorists” and “bad terrorists”.