Before the court: Sadhvi Pragya’s bike used for blast that killed six, her chats with co-accused

Sadaf Modak
Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur arrives at the Madhya Pradesh BJP headquarters in Bhopal, Wednesday, April 17, 2019. (Source: PTI Photo)

Her motorcycle with an IED, her phone conversations with would-be bombers, her presence at a conspiracy meeting in Bhopal, her inquiries on why the bomb didn't kill more.

These are some of the allegations against Pragya Singh Thakur, described by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) as one of the "principal conspirators" of the Malegaon blast which left six dead and 101 injured on September 29, 2008.

The first to be arrested in the case in October 2008, Thakur currently faces charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and also stands accused of murder, attempt to murder, criminal conspiracy, and of promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion etc - the court observed that the accused planned the conspiracy with the aim to spread terror and cause communal rift.

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The bomb was set off with an improvised explosive device, fitted in a gold-coloured LML Freedom motorcycle that was registered in the name of Pragya Singh Thakur.

The ATS, which arrested Thakur, maintained that she "provided" the motorcycle for the blast to her close associate Ramji Kalsangra, still a wanted accused.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which took over the probe from the ATS in 2011, filed its first supplementary chargesheet only in 2016, and gave Thakur a clean chit.

The NIA said it had "reassessed" evidence put on record by the ATS and concluded that the motorcycle registered in Thakur's name was not in her possession, that it was being used by Kalsangra for over two years and she was, therefore, not connected to the incident. The NIA said that other evidence included statements, all of which were retracted, so no case was made out against her.

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Citing change in circumstances, Thakur, whose earlier bail pleas were rejected, filed a fresh bail plea before the special court within a month of the NIA chargesheet. The court, however, rejected her bail plea on June 28, 2016. It said that prima facie, Thakur "cannot avoid her connection with the motorcycle being the registered owner of the same". The trial court had also said that the NIA had done no investigation against Thakur apart from re-recording witness statements.

Subsequently, the Bombay High Court, relying on four witness statements recorded by the NIA, granted her bail on April 25, 2017, but made it clear that the observations were only to decide the bail plea. Click here for more election news

Thakur relied on these while seeking discharge from the case before the special court. However, the special court rejected her plea on December 27, 2017, observing that prima facie the vehicle used in the blast belonged to Thakur and stood in her name in the RTO records.

"Accused. no. 1 (Thakur) is the registered owner of the said motorcycle till today… it is for the accused to show that her motorcycle is still in existence and in use by somebody," the court said.

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It also relied on the statement of PW-23 (prosecution witness), a cousin of Kalsangra, who had said that he had heard a conversation between Thakur and Kalsangra in which they spoke of the blast, and Thakur inquired why it had caused few casualties.

The NIA had said that it was not relying on this statement since the witness had alleged ill-treatment at the hands of ATS. "In such circumstances, truth can be elucidated from the mouth of this witness only after his examination in witness box," the court said.

Among other evidence relied by the court while rejecting Thakur's discharge plea was her presence at a meeting which took place in Bhopal before the blast. A witness had told the ATS that Thakur's co-accused, Lt Colonel Prasad Purohit, had spoken on growing jihadi activities and the need to do something to prevent this by expanding the activities of their organisation, Abhinav Bharat.

The witness allegedly told ATS that Purohit expressed his opinion about taking revenge against Muslims with a bomb blast in a Muslim-dominated area and that Thakur had shown readiness to provide persons for it. The NIA claimed that it re-examined the witness and he had retracted his statement. The special court, however, said that it will have to be seen during the trial as to which of his two statements does the witness stand by.

The other evidence in the trial includes a conversation between Purohit and accused, Ramesh Upadhyay, where they are discussing the arrest of Thakur. According to the prosecution, they allegedly discussed the motorcycle and probable defences for disowning it. Purohit allegedly told Upadhyay that "Singh has sung a song quite a bit", referring to Thakur's interrogation, allegedly because she had named Purohit in the case.

The court also relied on phone conversations between Thakur and other co-accused including Sudhakar Chaturvedi and the two absconding accused, the alleged planters of the bomb, in the months before the blast. Thakur had allegedly spoken to wanted accused Sandeep Dange, three days before the blast, on the day of the blast and the next day. The court said that these "incriminating circumstances" showed "strong suspicion" of their involvement in the blast.

"It has to bear in mind that as per the statements of witnesses before ATS officer that accused No. 1 had agreed to provide men for causing blast. As per both investigating agencies (ATS and NIA), absconding accused Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange are the planters of the bomb. Hence, above material cannot be overlooked at this prima facie stage," the court said while rejecting her discharge.

So far, 106 witnesses, mainly those injured in the blast, have completed their deposition in the case. Thakur last appeared before the court on October 30 when it framed charges against her and she pleaded not guilty.

Appearing before the court in a wheelchair, Thakur had claimed that the charges were false and a Congress conspiracy. In her earlier bail pleas, she claimed that she was suffering from breast cancer and medical reports showed that she had become infirm and could not walk without support.