Sunday June 16, 2024

Samjhota Express bombing: where India failed to act

By Abdul Zahoor Khan Marwat
February 28, 2018

On February 8, 2007, two carriages of the twice-weekly train service connecting New Delhi with Lahore were bombed near the Indian city of Panipat. Most of the 68 people killed were Pakistanis. The tragedy occurred just a day before the high profile visit of Pakistan’s then foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri to New Delhi for ministerial-level talks. The tentacles of the Samjhota Express attack spread to the Indian Army and Indian Military Intelligence. A Hindu holy man Sadhu Aseemanand’s confession before a court in Haryana in January 2011 confirmed the existence of underground cells of Hindu Right, with support of personnel from the Indian Army, were behind the string of terrorist occurrences, including the Samjhota Express carnage.

India finds itself on the back foot over revelations that it had covered up the trail of the Samjhota Express tragedy for which the Indian media, police and the government had routinely named Pakistan and its intelligence agencies. It was found leaders of different Hindu communal organisations -- Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Abhinav Bharat, Jai Vande Matram and Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram -- had planned, financed and supported these terrorist attacks. One report revealed: "The composition of the bombs showed careful, macabre preparations to ensure release of maximum incendiary flames to cause a large number of casualties among passengers who couldn’t even escape the moving inferno by jumping out of the barred windows. Forensic investigations confirmed that a mix of sulphur and nitrate had been used in the explosion to ignite bottles of kerosene, all assembled inside two suitcases, that took shape as balls of fire which instantly engulfed two coaches. A fully prepared suitcase bomb, loaded with its incendiary cocktails had failed to pick up combustion in another compartment, presenting the investigators with a windfall. The suitcase was traced to Indore where these suitcases were purchased and their covers stitched by a local tailor. However, for the next year and a half, this was the point where the investigations remained struck."

Colonel Purohit of Indian Military Intelligence, who was nabbed, admitted that Hindu terrorists were working to cause an armed conflict between Pakistan and India. Also, the Hindu terror groups were seeking to end India’s democracy and its secular status and wanted a conservative Hindu state in its place. The terrorists wanted to target the Indian Muslims besides other minorities, which are already sidelined. According to Tehelka, there was covert support for Saffron terror groups among the uniformed personnel and the Indian Army seemed to rally behind them. Purohit even claimed that Gen J J Singh, who was the Indian Army chief till September 2007 was with him. Even more damning was the revelation by Purohit that “one of our own captains had visited Israel for training and meeting and demanded four things from Israel, i.e. continuous and uninterrupted supply of arms and training, an office with a saffron flag in Tel Aviv, political asylum and support for our cause of a Hindu Nation in the UN.

The Israelis gave a very positive response and promised arms and asylum.”

Purohit, who faces charges of involvement in the 2008 blast in the Muslim-majority Malegaon town in Nasik district of Maharashtra and was also linked to the 2007 Samjhota Express terrorist attack, was granted bail by the India’s top court in 2017. Lt Colonel Shrikant Prasad Purohit was in jail for the last nine years. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) had opposed his bail, saying that there was enough evidence of Purohit’s role in the blast in which seven people were killed, The Indian Express reported.

Former Indian home minister P. Chidambaram had given a historic statement, telling the BBC that India could “no longer point to the cross-border modules as the source of terror". He said that of the four recent terrorist strikes, Indian modules were responsible for carrying out at least two of them. He added that New Delhi needed "enormous" counter-terror mechanism, which was still not in place and they were working on it. The home minister warned against radicalisation of the Indian youth.

Furthermore, the Indian media reported him as saying: “If more youth are radicalised, it will create more trouble for us. We have to wean them away. Then there is the concern how to communicate with the people of India. Policing is not easy in India. India is diverse, plural country. Policing India is a very complex task.”

There is some kind of support for these terrorists among Indian politicians, officials and policemen. However, Rahul Gandhi was one politician who admitted to the role of Hindutva groups. WikiLeaks reported that Rahul Gandhi told former US Ambassador Timothy Roemer the bigger threat lies in the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious conflicts, political tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community.

The anguish of the affected families still reverberate, reminding us that India has failed to arrest the top plotters of the Samjhota bombing and take them to task. Instead most of them continue to roam free as there is little progress in the case.