How ‘Saffron Terror’ Was Coined: A Rundown of 2008 Malegaon Blasts
The 2008 Malegaon blasts ensured that “saffron terror” would be added to the Indian political lexicon. While there was quite a political furore over the naming of former ABVP and RSS functionaries in the chargesheet, it was all but ignored that a serving Army officer, namely, Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Prasad Purohit, had also been allegedly involved.Two bomb blasts took place, almost simultaneously, in Maharashtra and Gujarat, on 29 September 2008.
In the former state, two low intensity bombs, fitted on a Hero Honda motorcycle and rigged to detonate in Malegaon.On 29 September 2008, two low-intensity bombs fitted in a Hero Honda motorcycle exploded, killing four people and injuring 79 others in Malegaon, a city in Maharashtra’s Nashik district. Almost simultaneously, another blast was triggered in Modasa, Gujarat, where a 15-year-old boy lost his life. The blasts occurred on the eve of Navratri.
The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) began an investigation into the Malegaon blast, led by then ATS Chief Hemant Karkare, who was later killed in the 26/11 Mumbai terror strike. The ATS got its first breakthrough in the case by tracing the owner of the motorcycle used in the blast. The links from the owner of the motorcycle led to the arrest of three accused on 24 October 2008. The ATS arrested Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Shiv Narayan Gopal Singh Kalsanghra, and Shyam Bhawarlal Sahu.
The investigation also found links to Hindu extremist groups like the Abhinav Bharat, Rastriya Jagran Manch, Sharda Sarvagya Peeth, and the Hindu Rashtra Sena. All of the accused arrested or named in the chargesheet belonged to either of these organisations. The ATS probe also found links to these groups with respect to the 2006 Malegaon bomb blast, the Ajmer Dargah blast, the Mecca Masjid and the Samjhauta Train blast. This led to the prosecution filing charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act (MCOCA), which necessitates that the court should take cognizance of two former chargesheets against one or more of the accused.
By the time the ATS arrested Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit, a serving Army officer, on 4 November 2008, for his alleged involvement in the blasts, the case had been heavily politicised – the BJP and the Shiv Sena accused the Congress of ‘using’ the ATS for its own political motives.