On 29 September 2008, at least seven were killed and over 70 injured when a bomb tied to a motorcycle exploded in Nashik’s Malegaon town.
Explainers

Malegaon Blasts Case Explained: Lt Purohit, Sadhvi to Face Trial

What Is the Trial About?

Prime accused in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case that killed at least seven people and left over 70 injured will stand trial on stringent terror charges on 15 January.

A decade ago, the controversial case was used by the Congress government to raise the ‘saffron terror’ alarm. Several accused, including Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Lt Col Prasad Purohit, have received bail in the meanwhile.

The investigations were initially conducted by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATI), which was led by 26/11 martyr Hemant Karkare. In 2013, it was handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), following an order of the Home Ministry under the UPA government.

Since then, the case has witnessed roadblocks of conflicting evidence, allegations of political bias, unproven charges by the investigating teams and unconfirmed results.

In light of the hearing which will take place on Monday, here’s a look back at the Malegaon Blasts of 2008, the controversial case following it, and its journey ever since.

What Were the 2008 Malegaon Blasts?

On 29 September 2008, multiple blasts took place near Bhikku Chowk in Malegaon, Maharashtra. At least 7 people were killed and over 70 injured in the blasts. At the same time, another blast went off in Modasa, Gujarat killing a 15-year-old boy. Both blasts went off on the eve of Navratri.

Two low-intensity bombs had been fitted onto a Hero Honda motorcycle and had been designed to detonate at Malegaon.

The Maharashtra ATS, under the lead of Karkare, was assigned to help the Malegaon police in their investigations, and their first real breakthrough took place when they traced the motorcycle back to Thakur, one of the prime accused, who was the alleged owner of the motorcycle, according to reports.

Simultaneously, they collected sufficient evidence that allegedly indicated the involvement of certain Hindu right-wing groups, such as the Rastriya Jagran Manch, Sharda Sarvagya Peeth, Hindu Rashtra Sena and Abhinav Bharat in the attacks.
Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur was granted bail in April, 2017.

Following this, on 24 October 2008, the police arrested Thakur, Shiv Narayan Gopal Singh Kalsanghra and Shyam Bhawarlal Sahu. On 4 November, the ATS arrested Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit, a serving army officer for being the alleged “brain behind the conspiracy.”

According to Indian Express, the ATS probe had found that the attacks had been planned as a retaliation to earlier ‘jihadi attacks.’ The 4,000-page chargesheet that had been filed in the case alleged that Malegaon had been selected as the target-base due to its ‘sizable Muslim population.’

Also Read: DeQoded: The 2008 Malegaon Blasts Case

Who Were the Prime Accused?

Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Prasad Purohit, an accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case.

Other than Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, a former ABVP activist, Shiv Narayan Gopal Singh Kalsanghra and Shyam Bhawarlal Sahu, the ATS had arrested Lt Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit for not only spearheading the attacks, but also because he was allegedly funding and training members of the Abhinav Bharat, a right-wing extremist organisation, reports News18.

According to Firstpost, Purohit had allegedly stolen 60 kgs of RDX from the army. The police had also allegedly tracked down and decoded some controversial texts that he had sent to Upadhyay in relation to the Malegaon blasts.

Other accused included Major Ramesh Upadhyay, Sameer Kulkarni, Rakesh Dhawade, Sudhakar Dwivedi aka Dayanand Pandey, Sudhakar Chaturvedi and Pravin Takalki, Ajay alias Raja Rahirkar, and Jagdish Mhatre, Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange, reports Indian Express

The court has discharged Shyam Sahu, Shivnarayan Kalsangra and Praveen Takalki from the case, PTI reported.

According to their probe, the ATS had mentioned that several of the accused had possibly been involved in other terror acts such as the Modasa blast in Gujarat, the Malegaon blast of 2006, the 2007 Mecca Masjid Blast in Hyderabad and the 2007 Samjhauta Express blast.

According to The Wire, the prosecutors of the case had filed charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act (MCOCA), that required the court to have taken ‘cognisance’ of two previous chargesheets, which was against one or more of the accused in question. These were later dropped in 2009, picked up in 2010 and dropped in 2015 again, due to ‘lack of evidence against the accused in the previous cases,’ reports News18.

Also Read: Political Interference in the 2008 Malegaon Blasts Investigation

Who Was Heading the Investigation?

26/11 martyr, Hemant Karkare, was leading the ATS investigation into the Malegaon Blasts case. 

The investigation was spearheaded by the ATS, led by Karkare, in collaboration with the Malegaon police. The ATS had allegedly traced the motorcycle, which contained the two bombs, back to its supposed owner, Thakur, and arrested her in October, 2008.

According to Firstpost, the ATS had targeted Thakur, Purohit and Swami Dayanand Pandey as the ‘key conspirators.’ The report said that while Pandey had asked Purohit to arrange for the RDX, Thakur was in charge of the motorcycle that was used in the blast.

As reported by Hindustan Times, the ATS had also mentioned that they were in possession of several CDs, DVDs and transcripts of phone calls that proved to be incriminating evidence against the accused.

However, the case was transferred to the NIA in 2013, on the direction of the Home Ministry and their investigations presented a few differing results.

The NIA submitted its own chargesheet in 2016, reports Hindustan Times, where it discharged Pragya Thakur and five others, and revoked MCOCA. At the same time, it also accused the ATS of having ‘coerced and manipulated witnesses’ to the case, with the NIA re-examining only 11 of the 452 witnesses who were originally examined by the ATS. Out of these 11, four had claimed that they had testified ‘under duress,’ the report adds.

Also Read: Malegaon Blast Case: Accused Sameer Kulkarni Gets Bail

Why Were They Granted Bail?

After spending about eight years in jail, Thakur was finally granted bail in April 2017 on the condition that she would not try to influence the prosecution witnesses. A year before that, the NIA had dropped the charges against Thakur and five others, due to lack of sufficient evidence, reports News18.

The Bombay High Court had not granted bail to Purohit at this time, however, and he had then reportedly moved the Apex Court, challenging the decision.

A few months later, in August, he was granted bail by a Supreme Court bench headed by Justices RK Agrawal and AM Sapre, who had also imposed certain conditions for the same.

Also Read: 2008 Malegaon Case: Sadhvi Pragya, Purohit to Be Tried Under UAPA

What’s the Current Status of the Case?

As of now, Purohit, Thakur and six others who were originally accused for the attacks, will be on facing trial on stringent terror charges, which will be heard on 15 January.

The accused, reports PTI, will face trial under sections 16 (committing a terror act) and 18 (criminal conspiracy) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), the maximum punishment for which is life imprisonment.

It also added that they would stand trial under sections 120(b) (punishment of criminal conspiracy), 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder) and 326 (intentionally causing harm to others) of the IPC.

(With inputs from PTI, Indian Express, The Wire, Firstpost and Hindustan Times)

Also Read: Malegaon Blast Accused Lt Col Purohit Reports to His Army Unit