'Presumption of innocence': Sadhvi still an accused

IANS
Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, a key accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, has entered the electoral fray on a BJP ticket from Bhopal in perhaps first such case in which a national party has fielded an accused facing terror charges.

New Delhi: Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, a key accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case which killed six people and injured over 100, has entered the electoral fray on a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ticket from Bhopal in perhaps first such case in which a national party has fielded an accused facing terror charges.

Although, charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) have been dropped against her, she is facing trial under stringent sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), an anti-terror law, which is considered successor to TADA and POTA.

Currently, Thakur is out on bail granted to her by a Mumbai court in 2017.

According to Indian law, any citizen above 25 years of age is eligible to contest polls unless convicted of any crime, punishment for which could be for two years or more.

Thakur is not yet convicted in any case.

The UAPA, as it stands today, deals with two qualitatively different kinds of criminal acts: "unlawful activity" and "terrorist acts". Terror accused are usually charged under UAPA. If Thakur were to be convicted under UAPA, she would likely face imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and will also be liable to fine.

"The Representation of the People Act does not prohibit any person who is under trial and out on bail from fighting elections as long as such a person discloses all the cases against him/her in the affidavit and paper filed during nomination," said Kumar Mihir, Advocate on Record, the Supreme Court of India.

The criminal jurisprudence in India is based on "presumption of innocence" and till a person is actually convicted, he/she is presumed to be innocent.

"Fighting an election is a statutory right given to all citizens of India and any person who is under trial and is yet to be convicted is presumed innocent. He/she cannot be debarred from fighting elections," said Mihir.

Following is a summary of cases involving Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur:

Malegaon Case

September 29, 2008: Explosives planted on an LML Freedom motorcycle go off opposite Shakil Goods Transport Company in Malegaon, Maharashtra. Six people are killed and over 100 injured.

Hemant Karkare, then chief of the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS), supervised the investigation. The ATS traced the motorcycle to Surat, and found that it was registered under the name of Thakur, a former Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad activist.

The ATS arrests Army officer Lt Col Prasad Purohit and retired Major Ramesh Upadhyay. The ATS concludes that Hindutva outfit Abhinav Bharat and a self-proclaimed seer, Sudhakar Dwivedi alias Dayanand Pandey, are also involved.

January 20, 2009: A chargesheet is filed followed by a supplementary chargesheet on April 21, 2011 in the special MCOCA court in Mumbai. The ATS names 14 accused, also including Shivnarayan Kalsangra, Shyam Sahu, Sameer Kulkarni Ajay alias Raja Rahirkar, Rakesh Dhawade, Jagdish Mhatre, Sudhakar Chaturvedi, Pravin Takalki, Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange.

Thakur's involvement

Thakur was arrested on October 24, 2008. Her arrest helped investigators to look into the alleged activities of Hindutva extremists. She is chargesheeted in the Malegaon case, where her motorcycle was used.

The ATS chargesheet said that Thakur particpated in meetings since 2006 which planned the attack in Malegaon. On April 11, 2006, in Bhopal, Thakur allegedly took charge of finding men to execute the attack. These men were Sunil Joshi, Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange, the chargesheet said.

In another chargesheet involving a blast in the cross-border Samjhauta Express, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) alleged that Thakur was known to accused Aseemanand since 2003. But the agency failed to prove the complicity of the two in the blast.

March 21, 2019: The NIA special court acquits Aseemanand and three others in the Samjhauta blast case.

Links to Other Cases

Thakur's name cropped up in the Ajmer Dargah blast case, but she was never charged.

April 2017: The NIA files a closure report against Thakur, RSS leader Indresh Kumar, and two others in a special court in Rajasthan, though the Rajasthan ATS said that Thakur and Indresh participated in a meeting on October 31, 2005, along with others.

Thakur was also accused of conspiracy in the December 2007 murder of Sunil Joshi. In 2014, the NIA filed a chargesheet against her and others. But, she was acquitted in February 2017.