Mecca Masjid case: NIA failed again

Aseemanand’s confessional statement before a magistrate was part of the evidence, but later it was claimed that it was extracted under pressure.

The acquittal of five accused persons, including Swami Aseemanand, in the Mecca Masjid blast case, marks yet another failure of the state to bring to book offenders who have perpetrated the worst forms of terrorism. Worse, it has sent out the message, again not for the first time, that the state is not neutral and even-handed in its treatment of crime, especially crime that is mixed up with the politics and ideology of the government. The state is represented by the investigation, done by the Hyderabad police first, then the CBI and finally the National Investigation Agency (NIA), and the prosecution. Nine people were killed in the bomb blast inside Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad on May 18, 2007. With the acquittals, the question who plotted and executed the killings has come back, and there is no answer.

The NIA has been exposed as incompetent and probably compromised, taking instructions from its political masters. The Hyderabad police had first registered cases against some Muslim persons, but it turned out later that they were being framed. Investigations by the CBI and the NIA led to the accused, who have now been acquitted. They had also been linked to other acts of terror in Malegaon, the Samjhauta Express and the Ajmer Darga. Aseemanand’s confessional statement before a magistrate was part of the evidence, but later it was claimed that it was extracted under pressure. The statement even disappeared from the court records. As many as 66 witnesses turned hostile and this seriously damaged the case. There are increasing instances of witnesses turning hostile in sensitive cases where BJP and Sangh Parivar-connected persons are in the dock. Witnesses not only fail to get protection but are said to be pressured to change their testimonies to favour the accused.

The NIA is answerable for the shoddy conduct of the case and its poor aftermath. Ever since the NDA government came to power, there were reports of pressure being brought upon investigators and prosecutors of cases in which Hindutva bodies and their members are involved. The public prosecutor in the Malegaon case quit in 2015 citing pressure from the NIA to go soft on the accused. The NIA exonerated Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur in that case, but the court did not accept the clean chit. The NIA, which was set up as a specialised agency to investigate and fight terror, has lost its credibility by taking its orders from the government. It is another parrot in the cage now. If institutions of state are made to serve the interests of governments, the rule of law, and in a wider sense democracy, will only be undermined.

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