The National Investigation Agency Special Court in Jaipur on Wednesday convicted three people in the 2007 Ajmer blast case. NIA Special Judge Dinesh Gupta, however, acquitted seven others, including former RSS member Swami Aseemanand, giving them benefit of doubt. The quantum of punishment for the convicts will be decided on March 16.
Those convicted include Devendra Gupta, Bhavesh Patel and Sunil Joshi, with Gupta and Joshi being Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) pracharaks. The three men were found guilty under sections 120 B (criminal conspiracy), 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code, various sections of Explosive Substances Act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
The Court analyzed the testimony of 149 witnesses and the contents of 451 documents submitted to it, while about a dozen witnesses turned hostile in cross-examination during the trial. Those acquitted, beside Aseemanand, include Chandrashekhar Leve, Mukesh Vasani, Bharat Mohan Rateshwar, Lokesh Sharma, Mehul Kumar and Harshad Solanki.
Three persons were killed, and at least 15 others injured when a bomb exploded around 6.15 p.m. on October 11, 2007, inside the premises of the shrine of Sufi saint Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti. While the investigation initially blamed Islamic terror groups for the blast, a confession by Aseemanand shifted the focus of the probe towards Hindutva groups.
The Rajasthan ATS filed a chargesheet against three accused on October 20, 2010, before the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s Court in Ajmer. The ATS had averred that the blast was orchestrated with the intention to stir communal disharmony in the country and insult the religious feelings of a particular community during the month of Ramzan. The NIA had then taken over the investigation in April, 2011. The case was fast-tracked after the change of Government at the Centre in 2014.
Public Prosecutor expresses disappointment with NIA
Responding to the verdict, Public Prosecutor Ashwini Sharma expressed disappointment with NIA, saying that the Federal Agency could have done a great deal more to build the case against Aseemanand. In conversation with Scroll, Mr. Sharma claimed that since several witnesses were acquaintances of the accused, they were liable to be influenced by the defence lawyers. It was, however, the task of the investigating agency to ensure that that did not happen. “The IO [Investigating Officer] hasn't even come once for the hearing,” he said. “When I called and told him that the witnesses are turning hostile, he said 'Panditji, what to do, I have many other cases.’”
He further opined that NIA should have pushed for the Ajmer and the Mecca Masjid blast cases to be tried at a single location. He dejectedly noted that some of the documents for the Ajmer case are lying in Hyderabad, and said, “Bas bahut ho gaya. I have done enough. I have many other cases and limited time. I might as well leave this one.”