A special NIA Court in Panchkula on Wednesday acquitted all four accused in the 2007 Samjhauta train bombing case for lack of evidence, invoking sharp and wildly contrasting reactions from Pakistan, the Indian government, victims' families and the Opposition.
While Opposition leaders questioned how alleged double standards of convicting non-Muslim offenders seem to have been in play, the Bharatiya Janata Party hailed the verdict as "historic".
The blast on the Samjhauta Express occurred near Panipat in Haryana on 18 February, 2007, when the train was on its way to Attari in Amritsar, the last railway station on the Indian side. Swami Aseemanand, Lokesh Sharma, Kamal Chauhan and Rajinder Chaudhary, four of the accused in the case, will now walk free.
Pakistan's acting foreign secretary summoned Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria to lodge a strong protest against the verdict. Pakistan stressed how it had consistently raised the "lack of progress and the subsequent, concerted attempts by India to exonerate the perpetrators of this heinous terrorist act in which 44 innocent Pakistanis lost their lives".
One of the first to react was Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti. "Despite damning evidence, the accused, including a former RSS member have been acquitted. God forbid, had they been Kashmiris or Muslims, they would be pronounced guilty and imprisoned without even a fair trial. Why such double standards and leniency towards saffron terror?" the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister asked.
The verdict came after NIA special judge Jagdeep Singh dismissed the plea filed by a Pakistani woman for examining eyewitnesses from her country, saying it was "devoid of any merit"
Among those who bore the burden of maximum disappointment was Mohammad Jawid, who lost 11 relatives in the blast and had been waiting to see justice done to the perpetrators for nearly 12 years. "We did not get the justice. The real culprits are still out. This is not a right verdict," the 37-year-old Gaya resident told PTI.
The NIA chargesheet had dubbed Sunil Joshi as the mastermind of the blast. Joshi was shot dead near Madhya Pradesh's Dewas district in December 2007, while three other accused " Ramchandra Kalsangra, Sandeep Dange and Amit " were never be apprehended and declared proclaimed offenders.
The BJP said the verdict was an indication of how the previous Congress-led government played politics with terror. "The case was based upon very imperfect evidence. This has to be seen in conjunction with the saffron terror issue raised by the then Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde and also echoed by P Chidambaram," BJP leader and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said. The NIA had claimed that the accused were upset with terror attacks on Hindu temples and then conspired to seek "revenge".
Congress leader Kapil Sibal sought to highlight the apparent notion now that "no one" had caused the blast.
2007 : Samjhauta Express Bomb Blast
68 killed NIA charged 8 accused
Verdict : No one knows who killed the 68 victims
Must be a proud day for our criminal justice system !
" Kapil Sibal (@KapilSibal) March 21, 2019
CPI(ML) leader Kavita Krishnan countered the verdict with the accusation that India could now be held responsible for harbouring terrorists just as much as Pakistan could.
Pakistan Government harbours terrorist Masood Azhar. True. Doesn't India's Government harbour Aseemanand and other terrorists like him, responsible for Samjhauta Express & many other blasts? " Citizen/¤¨¤¾¤ - ¤°¤¿¤ Human/¤¤¤¸¤¾¤¨ Kavita Krishnan (@kavita_krishnan) March 21, 2019
Several journalists also pointed out the implications of the verdict. Some pointed out how the NIA had failed at its task, which others asserted that Aseemanand had been extremely lucky.
" Suhasini Haidar (@suhasinih) March 20, 2019
Swami Aseemanand, Lokesh Sharma, Kamal Chauhan and Rajender Chaudhary acquitted in the Samjhauta blasts. Another clean chit to right wing terror in India. https://t.co/WjiUgTMNwe " Rana Ayyub (@RanaAyyub) March 20, 2019
Nobody did the Samjhauta blast.
" Shivam Vij (@DilliDurAst) March 20, 2019
Aseemanand has the luck of the devil. Acquitted for Samjhauta blast too. So who planted the bombs that killed 68, including 43 from Pakistan? " Harinder Baweja (@shammybaweja) March 20, 2019
With inputs from PTI