By B. Raman
The investigation into the Malegaon blast of 2008 is getting murkier and murkier.
From the available reports of the investigation made so far, two things are clear. Firstly, the blast was not carried out by any jihadi organisation. It was carried out by some Hindus who wanted to teach a lesson to the Muslim community for the involvement of some Muslims in acts of terrorism in different parts of India. Secondly, the suspected Hindus belonged to a Hindu organisation called Abhinav Bharat.
One aspect that has remained unclear and is becoming murkier and murkier is the role of Lt.Col.Prasad Purohit, described in sections of the media as a serving officer of the Military Intelligence. It is not clear whether he was serving at the time of his arrest in the Directorate-General of Military Intelligence (DGMI), which comes under the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) or in the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), which comes under the chief of the Integrated Defence Staff.
Lt.Col.Purohit was arrested by the anti-Terrorism Squad of the Mumbai Police as a fellow-conspirator and accomplice of the arrested Hindus of the Abhinav Bharat. One was under the impression that the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which has reportedly taken over the investigation on the orders of the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Government of India, has been enquiring into the suspected role of Lt.Col.Purohit as a fellow-conspirator and accomplice of the suspects from the Abhinav Bharat. There has reportedly been a separate in-house enquiry by the Army not into the facts of the blast, but into the facts of the role of Purohit in the blast.
According to a report disseminated by the NDTV on June 29,2012, Purohit has denied before the in-house enquiry that he was a fellow-conspirator or accomplice. He has reportedly claimed that, in his capacity as a military intelligence officer, he was trying to penetrate the Abhinav Bharat to collect intelligence about its activities with the knowledge of his bosses in the military intelligence whom he had kept informed.
The NDTV has also carried on its web site a detailed report on this subject written by its correspondent Shri Nitin Gokhale.A copy of his report as carried by the NDTV web site is annexed.
Shri Gokhale has stated as follows in his report:
“Many (during the in-house probe) said that he (Purohit) was actually an infiltrator and not a conspirator, who had been assigned to collect evidence and details of right-wing terror groups.
“From the very beginning, Lt Col Purohit has claimed that he had kept his bosses informed of his activities which included attending meetings of the Abhinav Bharat.
“But if the officer was operating on behalf of the military, the Army has to figure out why his tip-offs on rising right-wing extremism in areas like Nashik, Malegaon were not shared with other agencies.”
If what Shri Gokhale has reported is correct, it becomes evident that the military intelligence —whether it is the DGMI or the DIA— has been collecting intelligence about the activities of Indian citizens belonging to certain organisations in Indian territory not affected by insurgency of any kind by penetrating their organisations.
The military intelligence is authorised to collect tactical intelligence through human and technical means in areas where the Army has a counter-insurgency role as in Jammu & Kashmir and the North-East. In areas where it has no counter-insurgency role, it is not permissible for the military intelligence to collect intelligence through any means—particularly through the penetration of Indian organisations run by Indian citizens.
Only the Intelligence Bureau of the Government of India and the intelligence wings of the State Police are authorised to run such operations . Even the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) is not empowered to do so. I do not know whether such powers have been given to the NIA under its charter.
It appears to me that the military intelligence has so far avoided coming to the defence of Purohit in the case under investigation previously by the Mumbai Police and now by the NIA due to worries that if it did so, it could amount to its admitting its illegal actions in mounting intelligence operations against Indian citizens by penetrating Indian organisations.
We face very serious internal security threats due to insurgency and terrorism and Pakistan’s role in them. One of the reasons for our not being able to deal with them effectively is inadequate intelligence. There is a need for strengthening our intelligence capabilities.
At the same time, certain legal limits to intelligence collection have to be laid down. If everybody starts collecting intelligence inside the country we will become no different from authoritarian countries.
If what Purohit claims is correct, it is evident that the military intelligence has been unauthorisedly running clandestine penetration operations against Indian citizens in Indian territory. This matter needs to be enquired into in detail and such rogue operations, if proved to be correct, need to be stopped. The Government should clearly reiterate the charters of different intelligence agencies and make it clear that strong action would be taken against agencies that undertake unauthorised operations against Indian citizens.
ANNEXURE: NITIN GOKHALE’S REPORT
New Delhi: The Indian Army appears to be caught in the cross-hairs of a big new controversy – in 2008, it may have acted too quickly in accepting that a serving military intelligence officer, Lt Col Prasad Purohit, was linked to a right-wing terror group.
In 2008, a bomb exploded on a Friday evening near a mosque in the town of Malegaon, killing six people. One month later, the Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) in Maharashtra said a group of Hindu right-wing radicals was to blame. Lt Col Purohit, who was posted in Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh, and was undergoing an Arabic Language course, was accused and arrested.
The Army, without conducting an immediate court of inquiry, handed him over to the ATS. Later, it did order a court of inquiry but did not allow Lt Col Purohit to cross-examine witnesses.
Two years later, under orders from the Armed Forces Tribunal, the Army restarted the court of Inquiry.
Now, more than 50 army personnel have testified that the Army may have wrongly handed over Lt Col Purohit to the Anti-Terror Squad without conducting its own investigation. Lt Col Purohit, who has been in a jail in Taloja in Mumbai, was allowed to cross-examine witnesses in Mumbai.
Many said that he was actually an infiltrator and not a conspirator, who had been assigned to collect evidence and details of right-wing terror groups.
From the very beginning, Lt Col Purohit has claimed that he had kept his bosses informed of his activities which included attending meetings of the Abhinav Bharat.
But if the officer was operating on behalf of the military, the Army has to figure out why his tip-offs on rising right-wing extremism in areas like Nashik, Malegaon were not shared with other agencies.
There’s also the issue of why the Army or civil agencies like the ATS did not hold its own investigation.
Lt Col Purohit has also accused a colonel in Military Intelligence of colluding with civilian intelligence agencies to detain him without any arrest warrant and torture him. The Colonel, Purohit says, wanted to score brownie points and earn award etc.
The Army, however, says the Colonel in question was officially deputed to liaise with civil agencies.