New Delhi: A telling detail in the Ajmer blast case may come back to haunt Adityanath, the newly-appointed BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. A key witness in the Ajmer blasts, which killed three and injured at least 15 persons in October 2007, has said in his statement that Adityanath in 2006 met one of the main convicts in the case, Sunil Joshi, who was mysteriously shot dead during the course of investigations soon after the blasts took place.
On March 8, a special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in Jaipur found three accused – Devendra Gupta, Bhavesh Patel and Joshi, who was being tried posthumously – guilty of planning the Ajmer blasts. Seven, including Swami Aseemanand (who is also one of the key accused persons in other saffron terror cases and who had confessed to the crime before a metropolitan magistrate in Delhi’s Tis Hazari court in 2010), were acquitted as the court decided to give them the “benefit of doubt”.
Three were found to be absconding. Both Gupta and Patel, former RSS pracharaks, were sentenced to life imprisonment.
While the involvement of Hindu right-wing groups in the Ajmer blasts seems to have been firmly established with the conviction of two RSS pracharaks, new details in the case have emerged, according to a report published in The Indian Express. An aide of Aseemanand, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar, told the NIA that he had accompanied Joshi, alias Manoj, to the Gorakhnath Mutt in Gorakhpur, where Adityanath met them.
Why would Adityanath meet a terror convict months before blasts in Muslim-dominated areas of Ajmer, Hyderabad and Malegaon?
The report claims Rateshwar, who was among the seven persons to have been acquitted in the case, had said in a statement to the NIA that he was tasked by his leader, Aseemanand, in March 2006 to travel with Joshi. “…Manoj [Joshi] informed me over phone that Swami Aseemanand has directed him to visit Jharkhand, Agra, Gorakhpur and Nagpur for some special tasks and I also should go with him. I confirmed the same from Aseemanand ji,” his statement quoted in the Indian Express reads.
The Ajmer blast case was initially investigated by the Rajasthan ATS, but was transferred to the NIA in 2011. Both agencies claimed that the meeting took place in March-April 2006. The NIA claimed to have found Adityanath’s contact details in the “pocket diary of Joshi, recovered after his murder in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh, in December, 2007.”
The report further said that the chargesheet filed by the agencies mentioned that Rateshwar and Joshi met in Indore and travelled to Chittaranjan in West Bengal, where they met Gupta, one of the convicts. Rateshwar further said in front of the NIA that Gupta, an RSS pracharak, arranged for their stay at the RSS office in Jamtara, West Bengal.
After this meeting, according to the Rateshwar’s statements, Aseemanand instructed them to visit Agra and meet one Rajeshwar Singh, who was allegedly ran a ‘ghar wapsi‘ conversion progamme for Muslims and was a key suspect in a case of forcible conversion of 200 Muslims.
It was Rajeshwar who introduced both Joshi and Rateshwar to Adityanath with the reference of Aseemanand, according to Rateshwar’s statement:
“…Rajeshwar Singh took both of us to Gorakhpur in his vehicle. Next day we reached Gorakhpur and met with Shri Yogi Adityanath, MP in his Ashram. Rajeshwar Singh introduced us to Shri Yogi Adityanath with the reference of Swami Aseemanand. Manoj (Joshi) asked him to meet separately then Yogi Adityanath told him he is busy and will meet in the evening.
We stayed in the guest house of Ashram and about 9 pm Manoj and myself went to meet Yogi Adityanath in his drawing room separately. On reaching, I remained present at some distance but Manoj went very close to Yogi Adityanath and sat near to his wooden bed on the knees and discussed something secretly and in low voice. Thereafter we came back to Valsad and Indore, respectively. After few days, I informed Aseemanand about the visit…”
The Indian Express report also quotes Rateshwar’s lawyer J.S. Rana, who said that Rateshwar’s statements had no sanctity as they were taken as a witness but he became one of the accused persons during the course of investigation.
On October 11, 2007, in the holy month of Ramzan, just before many had gathered to break their fast at the famous dargah of the Sufi saint Moinuddin Chisti, a crude bomb explosion in the shrine’s courtyard claimed three lives. While initial reports claimed that the blast may have been orchestrated by some Pakistan-based terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, investigations pointed out towards the involvement of Hindutva militant groups. Around the same time, blasts in the Samajhauta Express, Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad and Malegaon also indicated the role of underground Hindutva groups.
Midway through the investigations in all these cases, one of the key accused Joshi was shot dead before the agencies could reach him. Former Haryana SIT head Vikash Narain Rai, who investigated the Samjhauta blast case, also pointed out Joshi’s crucial role in an exclusive interview with The Wire. At least a dozen witnesses turned hostile during the trial.
Critics of the Narendra Modi government have said that it is using its power to influence the cases. The undue extension given to director-general of NIA Sharad Kumar, seen as close to the government, in 2016 also drew a lot of flak. At the same time, the controversial statements by Rohini Salian, a lawyer in the Malegaon blast case who accused the NIA of asking her to “go soft on the accused” in the saffron terror cases, also indicates the pressures put on those fighting these cases.
In this context, the new details revealing Adityanath’s alleged closed-door meeting with Joshi is a significant development that needs further investigation. The revelations may help investigative agencies track the cases, but will UP’s new chief minister, known for his militant Hindutva remarks, come forward to assist them?