SEEMA MUSTAFA | 4 JUNE, 2016
NEW DELHI: “We had confirmed the involvement of the Sunil Joshi group in the Samjhauta explosion and the fact that no one from SIMI was involved,” was the categorical response of then Special Investigation Team chief, Vikash Narain Rai, an upright police officer who had been entrusted with the enquiry of the train explosion in 2007.
In an exclusive interview to The Citizen Rai ---former Director General of Police (Law and Order), Haryana---spoke of the painstaking investigation, the non cooperation of agencies, and the fact that he and his team had zeroed in on Joshi and his group for planting the explosive that set the Samjhauta on fire. Joshi was a RSS pracharak and was killed in the winter of 2007 after the blasts by two men who are still absconding.
Rai who was contacted by News X for his views yesterday found that a 25 minute interview where he had stated the facts was not telecast by the channel that instead as clearly part of its official policy, targeted another police officer on the show (more on this tomorrow in Part 2 of this report) to take forward the claim that Muslim and not Hindu groups were involved in this case. “It was totally insane, unbelievable,” he said.
“I have been a police officer for 35 years,” said Rai still surprised at the levels to which the media has sunk now, “ and this decision to black out my interview was clearly manipulated, either for money or under political pressure.” Or, although he did not say it, perhaps for both.
Rai speaks of a meticulous, step by step investigation. The explosives that had been put together to ensure that the fire would expand in a moving train, and not subside with the one burst, were planted in suitcases. All of these had been destroyed but as Rai recalls, “we were very lucky to find one such suitcase intact.”
The make of the suitcase took the investigators to Indore, to a Raghunandan attache shop.
Rai pointed out that Indore immediately run bells of SiMI terror as this was a strong base for the Muslim group, but by then reports of Hindu extremist groups operating out of the city were also known. The shop was owned by a Bora Muslim and had two young employees, a Hindu and a Muslim.
The two boys were questioned intensively and recalled that two young men had come to their store to purchase the suitcase. And that they had returned later in the day to take away the suitcase in a loose cloth cover as they did not want to be seen with it. Rai said that the investigating team found that all the components that went into the explosives were also purchased in the radius of one kilometre from this shop.
He said that the first alarm bells went off for him when the two shop employees, interrogated separately, said that the two men appeared to be Hindus, spoke in a local Indori accent, and were clearly from the city itself.
Various names started surfacing during the course of the investigation but a major lead, Rai said, came from the murder of a local businessman Sunil Joshi. He was reported to be close to Pragya Thakur. He was killed by two men who have still not been traced. Rai said it could not be confirmed at the time whether the two men, identified at the time, had been killed as well or had fled the country to Nepal or elsewhere. The name of Swami Aseemanand also emerged in the course of the investigation.
The investigating team had by this time established two facts as Rai put it: one, the Samjhauta case involved Sunil Joshi and his men; and two, there was no SIMI or Pakistan hand in this.
The investigation was unable to proceed further, Rai said, by complete non-cooperation from Madhya Pradesh and more specifically from Indore. He said that at one point he stationed himself for several days in Indore but was unable to get the police to cooperate. He said that several policemen told him privately that while he was on the right track there was little they would or could do to help.
Rai said that in meetings held by the Ministry of Home Affairs at the time the Investigating Officers of Malegaon, Ajmer and other such terror attacks would exchange notes pointing towards the involvement of Hindu groups. In Mecca Masjid, several Muslim youth were falsely accused by the invesitgators of that case, and were subsequently acquitted by the courts. Rai confirms this with, "The investigators of Mecca masjid case had arrested wrong people even though the signatures of their case were exactly the same as Samjhauta case. We did not believe them and subsequently the NIA got those arrested persons discharged/released."
Interestingly Rai recalls a long conversation he had with the then Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare. He said that Karkare, investigating the Malegaon blasts, also said that he had considerable evidence that the Hindu extremists were involved in this case as well. He told Rai that he was putting the evidence together and would get back to him with more details as soon as he had stitched the loose ends. Rai said that this did not happen as Karkare was murdered soon after in the Mumbai terror attack.
The lack of cooperation from the Madhya Pradesh government brought Rai’s investigation to a “dead end” and later it was passed on to the newly set up NiA along with some of the other cases. Even here he recalls, this was done not immediately and only after the second NIA chief had taken over.
The NIA had chargesheeted RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi with the samjhauta Express train blast. He was considered an important link to the alleged acts of Hindu terror across the country at the time. He was shot dead on December 29,2007 when he was walking back to his hideout in Chuna Khadan locality in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh. As Rai now said, the two assailants identified at the time are still absconding.
Instead the Sunil Joshi murder case that is was at the heart of the Samjhauta Express and other investigations, has been quietly shifted back to Madhya Pradesh with the NIA under the current government claiming it has found no evidence of a terror angle.
(Read part 2 here).