‘Nobody planted the bomb’: NIA faces opposition fire after court acquits all accused in Mecca Masjid blast case

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New Delhi | Published: April 17, 2018 6:01:55 PM

The Mecca Masjid: the site of the blast. (Express photo: Raaj Dayal)

The acquittal of all accused in the 11-year-old blast at Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid has triggered some sharp political reactions. The five accused, which included Hindu leader Swami Aseemanand, on ground of lack of evidence in the 2007 blast was sufficient to send tempers soaring in the opposition camp. If this wasn’t enough to stoke controversy, the judge who pronounced the verdict also resigned barely hours after the judgement. He, however, cited personal reasons behind his decision to quit.

The exoneration of all accused in the case put the spotlight on the National Investigation Agency, which took over the probe from the Central Bureau of Investigation in 2011. As per a report in The Indian Express, when the case was transferred to the NIA from the, a part of the evidence collected from the spot allegedly never reached the NIA.

Speaking to The Indian Express, former NIA special director N R Wasan, who supervised the case in its later stages, confirmed of the existence of a red shirt which is suspected to have belonged to one of the persons who placed the bombs. This red shirt, which was recovered from the blast site by the local police, strangely never reached the NIA. He said he did not know what actually happened to the shirt or who was responsible for its safekeeping.
The role of NIA has come under scanner over its failure to prove anyone’s guilt after pursuing investigations against the accused for more than seven years. After taking over the probe in 2011, the NIA named Aseemanand, a former RSS activist, as the kingpin of the Mecca Masjid blast and accused 10 people in the case: Devender Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Sandeep Dange, Ramachandra Kalsangra, Sunil Joshi, Aseemanand, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar, Rajender Chowdhary, Tejram Parmar and Amit Chouhan.

However, the two key suspects in the case — Sandeep Dange and Ram Chandra Kalsangra — are still missing while Sunil Joshi and Ramprasad Kaloda were allegedly murdered. Since suspects and witnesses vanished or were killed, investigators had a tough job from the very beginning.

According to The Indian Express, the special court examined 226 listed witnesses in the course of the trial, where 64, including Lt Col Shrikant Purohit, turned hostile on February 14, 2018. Purohit claimed that his statement was never recorded by any of agencies-CBI or NIA. NIA’s special public prosecutor N Harinath told The Indian Express that Purohit was listed as a witness to identify Swami Aseemanand and other accused and prove that Aseemanand called him after the murder of Sunil Joshi, also an accused in Ajmer Dargah blast case.

The alleged misuse of NIA by parties in power is another key factor that the opposition is citing as a reason behind the failure of the agency to prove the charges. Former Under Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), R.V.S Mani, alleged that the National Investigation Agency was misused by the political bosses, reported ANI. Mani has taken voluntarily retirement 22 months before the due date.

“The original case by the CBI, which had gathered a lot of evidence and was progressing well, the then political leadership of the home ministry transferred the case from one central agency to another, handing the case to NIA. I don’t know what they did with the original evidence, but since then the saffron terror narrative was enforced,” Mani told ANI, adding that the NIA painted every case in the ‘Hindu Terror’ angle.

“Initially they did only saffron terror cases, I think it was more of a painting agency than an investigation agency, they were colouring everything (every case) in saffron,” Mani said.

The blast that took place on May 18, 2007, at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad during Friday prayers, killed eight people and left 58 injured.

Meanwhile, the acquittal of the accused has led to political sparring between the Centre’s ruling BJP and the opposition. Former Union Minister and senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal has come down heavily on the National Investigation Agency. Taking to Twitter, the Congress leader said: “Mecca Masjid bomb blast. 9 killed 58 injured. NIA must be honoured for proving there was no killer!”. He further added: “Task well done ! Desh badal chuka hai !”.

Not just Sibal, others including AIMIM Chief and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi also lashed out at NIA for failing to provide justice. In a tweet, Owaisi said: “Justice has not been done, NIA & Modi govt didn’t even Appeal against Bail that was given to Accused within 90 days this was a complete biased investigation which will weaken our resolve to Fight Terrorism ,MMasjid 9 people died many injured (sic).”

Former JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav has also raised questions over the investigation. In a tweet, Yadav said,  “Surprising that no one found guilty in Mecca Masjid blast case & more surprisingly d Judge who gave verdict resigned soon after. If there was no one guilty found then who were involved. People are confused as to who will give justice to siblings & families of those who died (sic).”

Buoyed by the verdict, the ruling BJP on Tuesday demanded an apology from Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi for “defaming Hindus”. Addressing the media in New Delhi, party spokesperson Sambit Patra said, “If Congress considers India to be its own, then Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi must apologise to the whole country for defaming the great Hindu religion by trying to prove that there was something called ‘saffron terror’.”

On the other hand, the victims and relatives of those killed in the blast have urged the Telangana government to move High Court against the special NIA court verdict. Reacting to the acquittal, Fayaz Khan, who lost his uncle and brother-in-law in the blast, said he was “upset” over the judgement.

“We have not got justice…it is the responsibility of the government to move the High Court against the judgment and see to it that all of them are punished accordingly,” he told PTI.

The blast that took place on May 18, 2007, at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad during Friday prayers killed eight people and left 58 injured.

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