Lt Col Shrikant Purohit : A Victim or A Villain?

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After nearly eight years and nine months in jail, Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit came out on bail on 23rd Aug, 2017. An intelligence officer with the army, Lt. Col. Purohit had received many commendations for his job in the area of his operation. These came not only from his employer but also from those who arrested him. He had infiltrated organisations that have inimical intention against India. This included ISI, SIMI and MAOist organisations.

In Sep, 2008, two bombs, hidden in a motor cycle, exploded in muslim majority Malegaon town in Nasik district of Maharashtra. Seven people lost their lives, all muslims. On Nov, 2008, Lt. Col Purohit was arrested under MCOCA by Maharashtra ATS. In less than a month, chief of Maharashtra ATS, Mr. Hemant Karkare, was killed by terrorist bullet during 26/11 attack. Case was transferred to NIA in 2011. At the time of his bail in 2017, no charge sheet has been filed against Lt. Col Purohit.

Lt. Col Purohit was accused of the following charges by Maharashtra ATS in 2009 :

1. Setting up of Abhinav Bharat a right wing organisation. An organisation that was committed to creation of a Hindu Rashtra, with a distinct flag and constitution.
2. Transcript of a meeting attended by Col. Purohit has been retrieved from computer of a fellow accused. It suggested setting up of a parellel government outside India. Use violence if needed, if anyone comes on the way of creating a Hindu rashtra.
3. Arranging RDX that was used in 2008 Malegaon blast. The explosion resulted in loss of seven lives.
4. Arranging weapons and raising funds.
5. Training members of Abhinav Bharat in the use of arms and explosives.

Charges filed by ATS-Maharashtra, needs to be proven in the court of law. Besides, NIA had filed a supplementary charge sheet in May, 2016. Apparently, there was contradiction between two charge sheets. Nevertheless, if one looks at Maharashtra ATS charge sheet of 2009, the following arguments emerge:

  •  Mere participation in a meeting may indicate intent, but action emanating from such meetings did not actually happen. Lt Col. Purohit has also said as much in an interview.
  • Gap has also appeared in the charge that Col Purohit had arranged 60 Kg of RDX. There is some suggestion that the explosive might have been planted in the house of Sudhakar Chaturvedi, one of the accused in the case.
  • On his part, Lt. Colonel Purohit had maintained that he was a member of military intelligence. He had infiltrated different organisations inimical to interest of India. He had kept his superiors informed about his actions. On its part, a military court of enquiry had not found any evidence of wrong doing against Col Purohit.
  • Reports have emerged that Lt. Col Purohit mostly worked alone. He did not have clearance from his superiors. It is quite possible that in any covert operation, only a very few people are actually kept in the loop. This is to maintain secrecy of operation as well as to maintain deniability in case of a botched operation. The fact that army had kept Lt. Col Purohit it its payroll may suggest that he was an asset working for the army.
  • Lt. Colonel Purohit also claimed that he was abducted by his colleague and taken to Mumbai and handed over to Maharashtra ATS. He was tortured for extracting a confession. His family was also threatened.
  • A colleague from armed forces had written to Maharashtra Human Rights Commission about how a statement against Lt Col Purohit was extracted by Maharashtra ATS under duress.

Conspiracy angle emerges from the assumption that during his investigation as an intelligence officer, Lt Col Purohit might have come close to establishing nexus between powerful politician/s – criminals – terrorists? The fact that he was framed under MCOCA may have the following reasons :

  • First, an accused charged under MCOCA normally does not get bail. Remember it took more than 8 years for Lt. Col Purohit to secure one.
  • Second, he can be tortured to extract confession which will be admissible in court. Lt. Col Purohit has indicated that he was tortured by Maharashtra ATS to extract confession. This may also indicate that Maharashtra ATS did not have any concrete evidence against Lt. Col Purohit. Whether this conspiracy theories hold water or not, will have to be established in court of law.

There is a strong political undertone to the case.

  • The term Hindu terror / Saffron terror, coined by ruling UPA, had its beginning from the arrest of likes of Col Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya.
  • Congress Vice President Mr. Rahul Gandhi had discussed his concern about Hindu Terror with US Ambassador to India.
  • Congress general secretary, Mr. Digvijay Singh had alluded to involvement of Hindu Terror in 26/11 Mumbai attack and death of Mr. Hemant Karkare.
  • Ms. Rohini Salian, NIA prosecutor handling Malegaon blast case, had claimed she was asked to go slow on the case in 2015, after BJP lead NDA came to power in 2014.
  • BJP and the right had criticised that Col Purohit was framed and his arrest was part of minority appeasement.

There are many anomalies to stories of police and those of defence. If we compile them together, it appears that scale may be slightly tilted in favour of Col Purohit because evidence against his is at best circumstantial.

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