March 09, 2017

India: Implications of the Acquittal of Swami Aseemanand

scroll.in - 9 March 2017

Acquitting Aseemanand

On Wednesday, a special court of the National Investigation Agency acquitted Swami Aseemanand and six others in the 2007 Ajmer shrine blast case, giving them the “benefit of doubt”. In 2011, the former activist of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had confessed to planning and helping execute bomb blasts targeted at minorities “to avenge attacks on Hindu temples”. Aseemanand still stands accused in two other blast cases. But this acquittal dilutes the case against saffron terror.
Aseemanand was alleged to be part of a terror network that carried out a series of bomb blasts in the last decade, including Ajmer 2007, Mecca Masjid 2007, Samjhauta Express 2007, Malegaon 2006 and 2008. Many of those accused in these cases were part of a shadowy extremist Hindutva outfit called Abhinav Bharat, or they had ties with the RSS.
But over the last decade, the big names associated with this terror network been struck off the list of the accused in most cases. Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, once a member of the Akhil Bharti Vidyarthi Parishad, was recently cleared of charges that she was involved in the murder of Sunil Joshi, a former RSS pracharak who was killed in 2007. However, the Mumbai High Court has reserved her bail order in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case. Indresh Kumar, now a national executive member of the RSS and convenor of its Muslim Rashtriya Manch, was named in the Ajmer blasts case but never even called for questioning. The case against Colonel Purohit, the army man who became part of Abhinav Bharat and an accused in Malegaon 2008, also seems to be collapsing.
A constant theme over the last few years, has been the accusation that the guilty got away because of institutional complicity. Most damning were the charges against the National Investigation Agency, which took over a raft of saffron terror cases in 2011. These charges came out into the open after Rohini Salian, special public prosecutor in the Malegaon 2008 case, alleged that after the National Democratic Alliance government came to power in 2014, she had been told by the investigating agency to “go soft” on cases of saffron terror. They were echoed to a certain extent by Ashwini Sharma, public prosecutor in the Ajmer blast case, who felt the agency had not done enough to build a case against Aseemanand, and who now feels mystified that the swami should be acquitted in spite of his confession. As witness after witness turned hostile and charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act were dropped, suspicions mounted that the dilution of these cases was politically motivated. The accused, it has been pointed out, often belonged to organisations that are close to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
With the collapsing of these cases, a larger battle will be lost. In 2008, they spawned the term Hindutva terror. It marked a radical shift away from the way terror is understood, that it is not restricted to followers of any one religion or extremism. The term stuck, in spite of institutional resistance and public denial. But now, with the charges against the accused rapidly melting away, Hindutva terror will be restored to myth once more.