Was NIA Chief's Tenure Extended to Divert Attention From Hindutva Angle in Malegaon Blast Probe?

Many former and serving bureaucrats have said Kumar was trying to build an unsustainable case against the accused, perhaps on the insistence of the BJP-led government, thereby shielding the actual culprits.

Bureaucrats have questioned the extension of Sharad Kumar's tenure as NIA chief. Credit: PTI

Bureaucrats have questioned the extension of Sharad Kumar’s tenure as NIA chief. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: A day after the nine accused in the Malegaon blasts were released, a group of former and serving bureaucrats have raised objections to the extension late last year of Sharad Kumar’s tenure as the director general of the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Kumar, who is thought to be close to both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, was given an extension last October on the grounds that he was well-versed with high-profile cases, most importantly the Malegaon and Samjhauta Express blast cases, which he had been supervising directly.

The NIA, during the UPA’s tenure, had found that some Hindutva extremist groups had planned these blasts. The bureaucrats say that the nine accused in the Malegaon blast case, all Muslims, were unnecessarily kept in prison despite the NIA having told the court that it had no evidence against them around two years ago. Kumar, they said, was trying to build an unsustainable case against the accused, perhaps on the insistence of the BJP-led government, thereby shielding the actual culprits.

Kumar had taken over as the NIA chief in April, 2014 and was set to retire in October last year. But the cabinet appointment committee, headed by Modi, decided to retain him as the NIA chief on a contractual basis. “Kumar’s extension as the DG of the NIA is unprecedented. This is the first time after the implementation of sixth pay commission that a uniformed police officer holding the post of DG was given an extension. This had led to a negative sentiment among senior bureaucrats who have not been allowed promotions or have been sitting to be DGs for a long time,” said a retired IPS officer who was a serving official until last year.

Kumar, a 1979 batch Haryana-cadre officer, was given an extension with full powers to arrest and investigate. “That he is close to the BJP-led government seems to be the reason behind his extension. The special public prosecutor Rohini Salian’s controversial comments against NIA explains why Kumar was given an extension with so much power,” said the officer, on the condition of anonymity.

Salian, the former special prosecutor, had claimed in a recent affidavit that a NIA officer has asked her to ‘go soft’ against the accused in the Malegaon case. Salian’s statements to The Indian Express indicated that the NIA was, in some way, trying to sway the case in its favour by influencing the lawyer.

Swami Aseemanand, the primary accused in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast, had confessed to the police that Hindutva right-wing extremists were responsible for the Malegaon, Ajmer Sharif, Samjhauta Express and Mecca Masjid blasts. The NIA is supposed to investigate the Hindutva terror link further.

Since Salian made her statements, many activists and lawyers have feared that the BJP-led government, understood to be sympathising with Hindutva, may dilute these cases and falsely implicate innocent Muslims who have been arrested in these cases. The nine accused were imprisoned for five years, before being released on April 25. Following Salian’s statements, activists alleged that the NIA under Kumar was unnecessarily trying to delay the case and prevent the role of the Hindutva terror groups to be exposed.

A few bureaucrats whom The Wire spoke to pointed out that Kumar, despite being an efficient officer, is close to Modi and Shah, and the extension of his tenure must be seen in this light. In 2012, Kumar was the senior-most officer in Haryana and was slated to take over as the director-general of police after R. S. Dalal retired. However, the then Haryana state government promoted Shriniwas Vashisht, fourth in rank of seniority, to that post. “The Congress-led state government promoted Vashisht, a 1981-batch officer ahead of Sharad Kumar as he was thought of as an anti-Congress leader. Kumar had a very good track record as an officer. Yet, he was shunted out as the DG Vigilance. This had created friction between him and the Chief Minister Bhupinder Hooda’s office.” said a Haryana-cadre IPS officer who did not want to be named.

Following this, Kumar opted for a deputation posting with the central government. It was in New Delhi that he warmed up to the BJP-led government. “Senior BJP leader and former minister Vijay Goel and Kumar are related to each other as brother-in-laws. Likewise, he knows other BJP leaders too.” said the Haryana officer.

According to another retired IPS officer who chose not to be named, Kumar’s knowledge of important cases was not reason enough to extend his tenure as NIA chief. “So many DGs who retired from important offices know a lot about existing cases. Ranjit Sinha retired as the CBI director when he was investigating the 2G and coal block allocation scams. Professionally Kumar may be really good and the government is well within its powers to extend anyone’s term but such a move is unprecedented and unethical.”