By Abhishek Jha:
Late last month, Rohini Salian, special public prosecutor in the 2008 Malegaon blast case made allegations that there was a suggestion from an NIA official, after the 2014 election, that she ‘go soft’ on the accused. Reports have now emerged saying that two other cases, where the accused are Hindu extremists or belong to the Sangh Parivar, have been weakened due to witnesses turning hostile. The Sangh Parivar’s close association with the BJP now lead to speculations about this weakening having a link to the shift of power at the centre.
The Ajmer Blast Case
The 2007 blast at the Ajmer Dargah killed 3 people and left 17 injured. 12 people were chargesheeted by the NIA, which was handed over the investigation in 2011. 14 witnesses, whom Public Prosecutor Ashwini Sharma called “star witnesses” in an interview with NDTV, have now turned hostile. They had recorded statements linking the accused to the blast before a magistrate voluntarily, as is prescribed by Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The relevant section states that the “Magistrate shall not record any such confession unless, upon questioning the person making it, he has reason to believe that it is being made voluntarily.”
One such hostile witness is Randhir Singh, who defected to the BJP from Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) in February this year and was made a minister. He told the court in May 2015 that the ATS had pressurised him in the court. The public prosecutor, however, told NDTV that he cross-questioned them and “asked every single witness if they had ever complained to the court that the ATS had pressurised them. They said that they had never got an opportunity to complain to anyone.”
Earlier the case was in the midst of controversy when Indresh Kumar, National Executive Council member of the RSS, was chargesheeted.
Another witness, Anand Raj Kataria, who had told ATS earlier that he was “officially introduced to Sadhvi Pragya Singh” went back on his statement on Monday and told the court that he only knew her because she performed yagyas at Kotichandi, The Indian Express reported. He also denied knowing two of the accused, Aseemanand and Devendra Gupta. The trials in the case were put on fast-track, requiring five hearings to be held every month, after the new government took power last year.
The Samjhauta Express Blast Case
On February 18-19, 2007, a blast in the Samjhauta Express had killed as many as 68 people including Pakistani nationals. Three witnesses, Shivam Dhakad, Kavita, and Ganpati turned hostile on the 3rd of this month. Dhakad, who was said to be an RSS sharirik pramukh in Dewas in Madhya Pradesh is also a witness in the 2007 Hyderabad Mecca Masjid blast case. He had said in his statement earlier that Hindu extremists were to kill the chief guest of a function at the Aligarh Muslim University in 2006 after the university decided to invite a Muslim instead of BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, the Indian Express reported. He is reported to have said that he had received weapons training and in explosives along with 12 other people and had conducted a reconnaissance of the residence of Justice U.C. Banerjee, who headed the Godhra train burning enquiry panel.
An NIA officer who wished to remain anonymous told The Indian Express that “it is not surprising for them to go back on their statements” because they are relatives and close friends of the accused.
The setbacks to these three cases, without the witnesses having ever previously alleged that they had been pressurised by anyone while making their statements, create suspicions regarding the shift in statements having to do with the BJP. The instance of Randhir Singh going back on his statement after joining the BJP and being made a minister appears to be a case of exchanged favours and the BJP shouldn’t act surprised if it is questioned about it.