Thakur’s motorcycle, registered with the Surat R.T.O, was found near the site of the blast. The explosives used to cause the blast had been planted on the motorcycle.
Taking off from this clue, the ATS traced the owner and found that she had been in constant touch with the other conspirators. Their meetings in Bhopal were established and they were arrested. Further circumstantial evidence, which is often better than direct evidence because oral testimony has been seen to wilt under clever cross-examination, was gathered to nail the accused.
The Sangh parivar soon rose in protest against the arrest, alleging that the ruling Congress party was behind this turn in the investigations. It is true that a bunch of known Muslim hotheads were first suspected and arrested. In fact, many observers of the terrorist scene, including this writer, initially thought that the perpetrators must have been Muslim extremists because they were the only ones till then, who were conversant with the use of explosives in terrorist crime.
The Congress leaders at the Centre and in the state had no problem at that stage accepting that the ATS had made a correct prognosis of the events. It was only after the real story emerged that these leaders began speaking of ‘Hindu’ terror and ‘saffron’ terror.
The allegation that the Congress government was influencing the ATS and Hemant Karkare is obviously an ill-conceived notion. In my entire service in the police force, I have not come across any case when such demands, overt or covert, were ever made by politicians to rope in their political opponents in such serious cases. No contemporaries of mine have ever hinted at such attempts at influencing them during investigations. The allegation is totally misconceived.
Further proof that the investigations were now on the rails is that two of the accused in the Ajmer blast case have been convicted though one of the main accused, Swami Aseemanand, was let off by the courts.
In the Malegaon case the NIA, which took up the investigation from the ATS of Maharashtra, tried hard to exonerate Sadhvi Pragya Thakur by trying to influence the public prosecutor Rohini Salian, and when that attempt failed, by moving the trial court for her discharge. The trial court would have nothing to do with this move and actually framed charges against her. She is facing trial in Mumbai for murder, conspiracy to murder and other heinous terrorist crimes.
Hemant Karkare was a man of honour. He was known in the Maharashtra police and even outside the state among central and state police forces as a man of honour. He has served in various districts of Maharashtra and was widely respected by both, the policemen of those districts and the public. Everyone had a good word to say about him.
I was particularly happy when his brother-in-law spoke up a few days ago to mention that he was a humane person and would never ever think of making a false case or torturing a woman like Pragya Thakur now alleges.
I say this of the brother-in-law because a day before Hemant was killed by Pakistan based terrorists on November 26, 2008, he met me in my office in search of a shoulder to lean on during a period of personal turmoil. He told me that he was greatly troubled because within his own family there were those who were disturbed by his findings and this had upset him in turn. On making inquiries I was told that his wife’s family had many active BJP sympathisers and that was the cause of his discomfort.
Hemant was also bothered because L.K. Advani, the senior BJP patriarch, had come out openly in support of Pragya Thakur and had issued a public statement condemning the Maharashtra ATS and its leader. Hemant wanted me to study the papers and convince myself that he was doing nothing wrong or unethical! I told him that I believed him implicitly because I have known him and his reputation in the force as a man of total integrity.
I offered to speak to Advani as I had occasion to interact with the senior politician and found him to be reasonable to deal with. With regards to his family, which was obviously the bigger source of conflict in his mind, I advised him to follow the dictum of Lord Krishna as propounded to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra: It was to do one’s duty and that was what I felt Hemant should proceed to do. His Oath to the Constitution required him to seek the truth and bring offenders to justice.
I have read the statements put out by different police leaders and the article written by S.S. Virk, an officer who has served with me in Punjab and who is thoroughly conversant with all aspects of terrorism. Virk had an extensive session with Hemant at a meeting in Delhi when Hemant recounted how he had uncovered an entire gang of extremists out to take revenge against some followers of Islam who had been causing death and mayhem in Mumbai and other parts of the country through the use of terror.
Pragya’s group used to meet quite often to devise a plan of action as they were dissatisfied with the government’s response to jihadi terror. They felt that the only way of putting an end to the mayhem was to cause parallel mayhem of such intensity that it would generate second thoughts in the minds of the jihadists.
But as practitioners of terrorism, the jihadists had much more experience and could muster logistical support even from beyond our borders. Our homegrown terrorists of the majority community were amateurs in contrast. They were out for revenge but went about it rather ham-handedly. In fact, their initial experiments with explosives had injured many of their own supporters as the story revealed to Virk by Hemant shows.
I hope I have convinced my readers that Hemant Karkare was incapable of making a false case against anyone for that matter and certainly not against his own coreligionists. I now move to another aspect of the controversy. The BJP has put up Pragya Singh Thakur as its candidate for the Lok Sabha seat from Bhopal because she would then face Digvijay Singh, a leading Congress leader and former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, who they claimed had coined the words ‘Hindu terror’.
The party felt that the electorate would then decide whether “Hindu terror’ was a reality or not. Digvijay Singh denies having used the words ‘Hindu terror’ and I am firmly of the view that such epithets denoting particular religions or communities should not be used. It denigrates the entire community or religion and other members of that community or religion are needlessly painted with the same brush as those minuscule sections which practice such atrocities.
I am not surprised that our prime minister himself is hurt by the use of this epithet for he certainly is not involved in terror. That is of course if you reject his definition of terror to include pogroms of the type experienced in Delhi in 1984. Because if his definition is upheld what happened in Gujarat in 2002 will also fall under the category of terror!
My Sikh friends in Punjab were unhappy with the words ‘Sikh’ terror. My Muslim friends in Mumbai were upset with the word ‘Islamic’ terror. Very few Sikhs were involved in terrorist activities and so also very few Muslims were involved. The great majority was only bothered about where the next meal was to come from!
Hence, I accept this objection of the prime minister and his colleagues to the use of the word ‘Hindu terror’ but I do not agree that it was necessary to put up an accused in a terror case as its candidate to disprove the epithet.
In fact, the choice of Pragya Thakur as the BJP candidate gives the public the impression that the party wants to flaunt its extremist wing and merge it into the mainstream of national politics, either to gain an acceptance for this wing in the public mind or in order to threaten the minority community of further repercussions beyond the ones they have already suffered in the five years from 2014.
After her nomination as a candidate, Pragya went to town showering curses on a dead man and proclaiming that it was her curse that caused his death! This was the wildest and most unacceptable statement made by a candidate against a good and honourable man and should alert voters to the danger of electing an extremist with the power to cause death through curses as their representative in parliament.
Julio Rebeiro is a former police commissioner of Mumbai, DGP Gujarat, DGP Punjab, and the former Indian ambassador to Romania.