Conspiracy of silence after terror accused's damning disclosure

As usual, February began on a chilly but calm note. In days to come, the political mercury was to go up with Parliament back in business for a vote-on-account in an election year and to play midwife to deal with the troubled pregnancy of Telangana.

Delhi had in store a script ready to play out – cacophony and disruptions in Parliament, protests at Jantar Mantar and unfolding of a possible political alliance against Congress and BJP. However, these predictable acts, repeated every year as a ritual, were disturbed by interviews rightwing terror accused Swami Aseemanand gave to the magazine, ‘Caravan’.

It was not his life story but a comment on RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat and senior leader Indresh that made to the headlines. Aseemanand claimed that Bhagwat and Indresh knew about his group’s terror plans in 2005 and gave their blessings, puncturing claims that the Sangh had nothing to do with subversive acts. Bhagwat rose to become the RSS Sarsangchalak four years later. Predictably, the BJP and the Sangh trashed it as “concocted” and even managed a denial from Aseemanand, now in Ambala Jail.

The leaders knew the person making such claims was not an ordinary member but a VIP in the Parivar, who was among the chosen few who were honoured with a Rs 1 lakh award and Shri Guruji Award named after M S Golwalkar. The Sangh was understandably shocked as the allegations touched a raw nerve.

With the transcript of the interviews now in public domain, Aseemanand emerges as a key figure of the Parivar. It chronicles the journey of Aseemanand from a poor boy born to a freedom fighter in a nondescript Bengal village, where Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was born, to an old man who stands accused in three terror cases, including the Samjhauta blasts. Aseemanand, who talks about how he and his six brothers joined RSS ignoring the warnings of their Gandhian father, remembers himself as a Paramahamsa follower celebrating Eid and Christmas.

Aseemanand, a postgraduate in Physics, remembers his indoctrination by a local RSS pracharak. He decided that his mission for life would be that “no more enemies of Hindus are born, and if anyone has converted then to bring them back to Hinduism”.

He travelled across India – to Andamans, to Kerala, to Chhattisgarh and later to Dangs in Gujarat where he was tasked to establish the stranglehold of Hindutva.

The saffron-attired Swami spoke unapologetically about his involvement in riots after Godhra carnage, his anger against Islamic terror attacks, his meetings with co-accused Pragya Singh and slain Sunil Joshi and the run up to his alleged involvement in terror attacks. Aseemanand believes, according to the transcripts, whatever he has done is good for the Hindu community.

Political thriller

With Parliament in session and controversial comments on tape, the conversation had the recipe for a political thriller in an election year. The magazine had by then released the tapes and transcript to counter the Sangh allegations of concoction.

As the interview made its way into headlines, there were occasional sound bytes but no leaders worth the salt except for Mayawati, Digvijay Singh and Salman Khurshid vociferously spoke about it. AAP and CPM issued statements and their leaders demanded a further probe into the claims.

CPM believed that the reported actions of RSS leaders have “grave implications” and it is essential for the NIA to urgently investigate the matter. AAP asked the BJP what action it proposes to take against the “violent and divisive” actions of its sister organisations.

But the secular wing among the political class was not generally enthusiastic about raising the issue. Aseemanand, whose retracted confessions before court spoke about Hindutva groups’ involvement in terror strikes, had given Congress, the beleaguered ruling party at the Centre, enough ammunition on a platter. Home minister Sushilkumar Shinde, who stirred a hornets’ nest in Jaipur AICC session last year with his reference to Hindutva terror, was tame in his response when he remarked that ‘if Aseemanand has said it, it could be true.’

To be fair to Congress, its leaders did talk about their party stand during prime time TV debates but it ended there. The other side was not that evasive as an obscure rightwing outfit ‘Hindu Sena’ staged a protest outside the magazine office and used a south Delhi based PR company to send its press releases to media outlets.

It was curious to see Congress shying away from the offensive and its government not taking any credible action when legal experts opined that the revelations merit a more serious look as the interview had been taped. The magazine on its own offered the tapes for forensic examination.

As media quoted NIA sources’ doubts about the evidentiary value of the disclosure, the agency issued a statement that whatever appearing in print was “mere speculation and do not in any manner reflect the official position of NIA”. But it took almost two weeks for the NIA to seek the tapes of the interview.

The transcript of the interviews gives an interesting aside on CBI, which initially investigated the Hindutva terror cases. Aseemanand says that CBI was ahead in its investigations and knew much before the arrests of the accused. The delayed NIA action raises question as why there is such a delay.

At the political front, there appears to be a conspiracy of silence. Or is it a silence of convenience when Aseemanand himself had no qualms in talking? Will the government now walk the talk?

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