NIA told me to go soft on 2008 Malegaon blast accused: Prosecutor Rohini Salian's comments hurt Modi govt

Special public prosecutor in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, Rohini Salian, in comments that are likely to stir a political storm has she accused the federal National Investigation Agency of going slow.

FP Staff June 25, 2015 22:32:13 IST
NIA told me to go soft on 2008 Malegaon blast accused: Prosecutor Rohini Salian's comments hurt Modi govt

In comments that are likely to stir a political storm, special public prosecutor in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, Rohini Salian,has accused the federal National Investigation Agency of asking her to 'go soft' on rightwing Hindu extremists accused in the case.

What did Rohini Salian say?

"Last year I got a call from one of the officers of the NIA, asking to come over to speak to me. He didn’t want to talk over the phone. He came and said there is a message that I should go soft. I told him I will always support the cause of justice," she told the Indian Express.

NIA told me to go soft on 2008 Malegaon blast accused Prosecutor Rohini Salians comments hurt Modi govt

Salian in a YouTube interview.

The prosecutor also spoke about how the decision to transfer the trial to a special court under a special judge had set the trial back. "Now NIA needs to appoint a special judge and the specially constituted court and the trial will commence." She also claimed that there were blatant attempts to 'nudge' out the senior counsel in the case.

On 12 June, she said the same NIA official told her that there were orders from "higher-ups" that another prosecutor would be appointed in her place. Salian refused to name the official.

Who is she?

Salian is one of the more respected prosecutors in the state. She ended her career as a lead prosecutor in the Mumbai sessions courts, where she handled  cases ranging from organised crime rackets to terrorism cases. She was brought back in as a special prosecutor in the 29 September, 2008 bomb blast case in Malegaon in which seven persons were killed.

What other cases does she handle as prosecutor?

Salian quit as public prosecutor in 2007 and has since then been working in specific cases as special public prosecutor. The 2008 Malegaon blast is perhaps the most high profile case that she is handling presently.

Salian has said she returned due to a request from the then Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare, who was killed in the 2008 November terror attacks in Mumbai.

Why her statements matter

The 2008 Malegaon case investigation, as this Indian Express report points out, led to a new look at 2006 Malegaon blasts case, the 2007 Ajmer blast, the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast in Hyderabad and the 2007 Samjhauta Express attack -- all of which were assumed to be acts of Islamic terrorists but were now viewed as now being the handiwork of same group of suspects.

As this Outlook report points out, in most of those cases Islamic terror groups were blamed, until the investigating agencies arrested right wing Hindu groups. The police claimed to have a watertight case in the 2008 Malegaon blasts with evidence that includes voice recordings of the conspiracy meetings, confessions and other circumstantial evidence.

The 4,000-page chargesheet had alleged that Malegaon was selected as the blast target because of a sizeable Muslim population there. It named Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, former Army official Colonel Shrikant Purohit and another accused, Swami Dayanand Pandey, as the key conspirators.

However, the case received a blow recently when the Supreme Court ,while asking the trial court to consider the bail plea of key accused like Thakur and Purohit, had said there was “considerable doubt” about the involvement of six accused.

Why Salian's statements are not good news for the Modi government

BJP leaders like Subramanian Swamy have openly supported Sadhvi Pragya Thakur in the case, alleging that she has been falsely implicated. The Congress, on the other hand, has accused the BJP of secretly siding with the accused, with Digvijaya Singh even accusing Home Minister Rajnath Singh of having met Pragya Thakur. Singh denied the allegations and claimed the Congress was attempting to play communal politics.

Salian's allegations offer Congress fresh ammunition against the BJP, and which they will undoubtedly seize with alacrity. It certainly doesn't help that the National Investigation Agency is a central agency under by the Home Ministry, and hence under direct control of the Modi government.

Her statements will also offer up grist to the Pakistani government which has used the 2007 Samjhauta blast case to counter complaints from India about the slow speed of the trial in 26/11 attacks. Pakistan has also demanded that they should be given access to the Samjhauta accused, who the National Investigating Agency had said targeted the train purely because it was transporting Pakistani citizens.

Salian's statements now put the focus back on just how much influence right wing groups wield in the Modi government and whether it is influencing the dispensation of justice as well.

What to expect next

There will inevitably be a stout denial issued by the NIA, and Salian will certainly be pushed out entirely, and a new special prosecutor will be appointment. The Supreme Court's skeptical view of the evidence in the bail plea hearing may help the authorities dismiss Salian's statements as a disgruntled prosecutor with a weak case.

But none of this will alleviate the political pressure on a Modi government that has been straining to prove it is not biased toward minorities.  But its efforts seem to constantly come undone whether by Ram Madhav's ugly attack on Hamid Ansari or now Salian's statements. Now all eyes will be trained on the Malegaon case to see if the government is indeed willing to live up to its rhetoric.

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