A blast and a conspiracy

NAt-R
The Rajasthan anti-terrorist squad's 806- page chargesheet against six accused in the 2007 blast at Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti's Dargah in Ajmer throws up some interesting facts, and alleges a well-thought out conspiracy to "avenge the attacks on Hindus".

An unexploded bomb and a long trail

The first lead in the investigation was a live bomb inside an unclaimed bag found at the gate of the Ajmer Dargah — the investigation would later reveal that the second bomb was timed to explode a minute later from the first when the crowd would try to escape. The probe started with two SIM cards— one in the live bomb and the other in the exploded bomb — and the two mobile handsets used to trigger the explosion. The scope of the probe changed after the investigators matched similarities with another attack — two similar handsets and SIM cards were used as timers in the Mecca Masjid blast in Hyderabad on May 18, 2007. The first step was to locate the current locations of the people who purchased the cards and the handsets. The forensic report pointed that the screen saver on the unexploded handset at Ajmer had the words 'Vande Mataram' written on it.

The number of the exploded SIM card was tracked down to Airtel's Bihar-Jharkhand range and was activated on June 2, 2006. The purchase details were tracked to a name called Babulal Yadav from Mihijam and the card was shown to be sold from a shop, Mobile Care in Jharkhand. The SIM of the unexploded bomb was purchased from the West Bengal network of Hutch/Vodafone. The owner of this SIM was Babulal Yadav's son Manohar Yadav, who belonged to Asansol. He produced a driving licence (WB 28 289892) at Sargam Audio in Chitranjan, West Bengal, to buy the SIM.

These two identities eventually led investigators to a yoga columnist named Taraknath Pramanik, whose identity the blast accused used to procure forged driving licences to buy 11 SIM cards and eight handsets to carry out explosions. The probe found that 11 SIM cards were procured with the same details — voter identity card and the same driving licence — from areas around Jamtara, Mihijam, and Asansol between May 24, 2006 and November 26, 2006. It came to light that two SIM cards used in the Mecca Masjid blast were from this same set of 11 cards. Ajmer blast accused Devendra Gupta was Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Zilla Pracharak during this period and all three places came under him.

While four mobile phones were used in the Ajmer and Mecca Masjid blasts — four other phones, that had at some point used one or many of the 11 SIM cards, were found to be in the possession of Madhya Pradesh residents Chandrashekar Leve, Ravindra Patidar and Santosh Patidar. When the team reached one Vishnu Patidar, a relative of the Patidars, it was found that Chandrashekar had told him to put the blame on one Pankaj Patidar, who had died.

Chandrashekar later confessed three handsets were given to him by another blast accused Sandeep Dange, who is also wanted for the 2008 Malegaon blast. It has now been found that when the Maharashtra ATS began their search for Dange in 2008, he was believed to have given the remaining four mobile sets (of the entire bunch of eight used for the blast operations — with four already used in Ajmer and Mecca Masjid) in a suitcase to RSS functionary Govardhan Singh, a resident of Shajapur, with instructions to hand them to Chandrashekar Leve, before Dange went underground. Chandrashekar Leve then, along with another RSS functionary Bhanu Thakur, left to meet Govardhan Singh.

Chandrashekar gifted three mobiles to his relative Vishnu Patidar and started using one for himself, which investigators say was his first mistake as it helped them track them down. One of the these three phones was eventually destroyed by Vishnu Patidar after it failed to work. With these forensic leads and confession of Chandrashekar (arrested on May 1, 2010), the investigating team made their first arrest, Devendra Gupta (April 29, 2010), followed by the others.

RSS links, 3 blasts and an 'organised terror group'

During interrogation, Malegaon 2008 blast accused Col Shrikanth Purohit allegedly admitted before the Jaipur police that, among other things, he was acquainted with Swami Aseemanand, a resident of Dangs, Gujarat. Aseemanand had then informed Purohit that Malegaon 2008 blast accused Sadhvi Pragya Singh and Sunil Joshi had formed the 'Jai Vande Mataram' outfit and it should merge with Purohit's 'Abhinav Bharat' as it would prove "beneficial to their cause". Pragya and Joshi's outfit's name first appeared as the screen saver on the unexploded handset at the Ajmer blast site.

Purohit informed the cops that on the night of December 29, 2007, Aseemanand called to say that one of their "kaas admi" (important person) was murdered in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh. He is then alleged to have said that "Sunil Joshi is the person behind the Ajmer blast and it thus becomes important for us to probe who murdered him".

Joshi's phonebook and daily expenses diary had revealed much about his history, workplace, movements and other sources. The material revealed that Joshi was a "radical Hindu extremist" and that he had, a year prior to his death, assumed a different identity, Manoj, living in Dewas Bypass in a rented house. Four others — with assumed names of Raj, Mehul, Ghanshyam and Ustad — had lived with him for a year and a half before his killing, and had disappeared soon after his death, never to be located thereafter.

Agencies are still trying to ascertain the identities and the role of these four people — it was Joshi who had given them assumed names and they always tracked his movements.

The probe into Joshi's death brought out some interesting relationships. Ajmer blast accused and Ajmer native Devendra Gupta was first introduced to Joshi when the latter was Zilla Pracharak of RSS in Mhow, Madhya Pradesh. Gupta, who was a low-level functionary with the RSS, slowly rose in the cadre through his association with Joshi and was eventually given a respectable posting in RSS sister body 'Seva Bharati' in 1999. In 2001, he slowly rose to the post of RSS Tehsil Pracharak.

Under Joshi's guidance, he continued to work as an RSS functionary in Indore and Mhow region between 1998 and 2003. The association bloomed into a very "thick friendship" and the both met over a period, with Gupta shifting to Jharkhand and taking over the post of Zilla Pracharak till September 2008. Nine years of association saw the two meeting each other in the company of common friends at various places in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and

Jharkhand — this bond was later to become the framework for flow of ideas over secret meetings with extremists ideas.

Malegaon blast accused Sandeep Dange, who is now shown wanted in this probe too, was Zilla Pracharak in Shajapur, Madhya Pradesh. Another Ajmer blast accused Chandrashekar Leve worked very closely with him in the same region and their association goes back to 10 years.

RSS senior functionary and blast accused Devendra Gupta has confessed that the Ajmer blast was a conspiracy planned and executed by Sunil Joshi along with Sandeep Dange, Ramji Kalsangra, Lokesh Sharma. He confessed to making driving licences specifically for this operation for himself (WB38178780) and Sunil Joshi's new identity Manoj (WB 38178781) on September 30, 2005 so that these forged documents could be used to buy SIM cards and mobile phones that will be eventually used in the blasts. So organised was their plot that Gupta exchanged the driving licence with Joshi at a railway station in Kolkata.

Gupta showed the Jamtara RSS office at Mihijam — the Bhupat Maheswari Sadan — when Gupta was a Zilla Pracharak between 2003 and 2008 and where "secret conspiracy meetings for exploding bombs in Ajmer and many other places were discussed". This office was where many secret meetings were held since May 2005 after the decision to carry out blasts was taken in Ujjain during the Kumbh of 2004. Though this office is in Jamtara, Jharkhand, it is just 50 metres from the West Bengal border. The entire operation was run from Mihijam — right from the forged documents to the conspiracy.

First to be arrested, Gupta spilled the beans on Indore resident and RSS functionary Lokesh Sharma who was part of the conspiracy and who, along with Sunil Joshi, was responsible in procuring explosives for the blast. He and Joshi had procured the explosives from a certain Krishnadutt Pandey's goshala in Depalpur.

The detonators were first procured by Sandeep Dange and later shifted to Ramji's house along with pipes for making the bomb. While further probe is in progress, it is based on this confession that Sharma was arrested on May 15, 2010. He later confessed that the "secret meetings" continued at Malegaon blast accused Ramji Kalsangra's Shantivihar Colony flat in Indore where the group eventually met to make the bombs used in the blast.

The explosives first exchanged hands at Dewas bypass in Indore where eventually Sunil Joshi would be murdered some day. Sharma also showed the shop in Faridabad where the handsets (the exploded handset in Ajmer and an unexploded one in Mecca Masjid) were purchased. Based on these links, Sharma and Gupta were arrested for their role in the Hyderabad blast by the CBI.

The chargesheet looks at the role of Swami Aseemanand, who emerged as a key figure in the planning and execution of the plot after he first led a group comprising Pragya Singh, Sunil Joshi, Sandeep Dange, Ramji Kalsangra, Lokesh Sharma, Devendra Gupta, Samandar and Shivam Dhakad during a secret meet, on the sidelines of the Kumbh in Ujjain in April-May 2004. This meeting, the confessions have disclosed, had discussed "the attacks by Muslim terrorists across 2001 and 2002 on places such as Amarnath yatra, Akshardham Mandir, Ahmedabad and Raghunath Mandir, Jammu," says the chargesheet. "Critical of the government and police's inability to handle the situation, this meeting vowed to avenge the attacks with the same vengeance."

"Not only was Aseemanand found to be leading this group, but he had also offered his support and sanctuary to those like Sunil Joshi after the Ajmer blasts," the chargesheet reads. Aseemanand was active with the work of Hindu Dharm Jagran at tribal-majority Ahawa in Dang districts in Gujarat in 1995 to stop Hindu conversions and to take on Christian missionaries. It also emerged that Aseemanand was known to have "close links" with Malegaon blasts co-accused Pragya, Purohit, Dayanand Pandey and Sameer Kulkarni, besides being responsible for bringing together Jai Vande Mataram and Abhinav Bharat, both of which had played an active role in the Malegaon blasts.

Joshi and six others — Lokesh Sharma, Ramji Kalsangra, Shivam Dhakad, Samandar, Sandeep Dange and Pragya Singh Thakur — reached Jaipur on October 31, 2005 and stayed at the C-Scheme Gujarati Samaj Room No 26 under assumed identities. It was here that a secret meeting was allegedly addressed by RSS leader Indresh Kumar in which he advised Joshi to align with some religious grouping while working to facilitate travel through cities under the pretext of some religious duties to avoid raising suspicion, the chargesheet says.

The action begins

The main plot was shaped in Jaipur and responsibilities delegated. Targets and their recce and explosive procurement and making the bombs was Sharma and Kalsangra's responsibility. Gupta was made in charge of procuring forged documents to get SIM and mobile handsets, Pragya was given the role of media relations while the funding was entirely the responsibility of RSS Zilla Pracharaks Sandeep Dange and Sunil Joshi. Further probe is still in progress on the Jaipur secret meetings. It is from here that the Rajasthan ATS chooses to identify these people collectively as a "terrorist group" under the guidance of Swami Aseemand.

Another interesting aspect is that all these people were co-organisers at the Shabrikumbh organised in February 2006 by Aseemanand at Shabridham, Dang, where many people with extreme Hindu fundamental views participated. Another secret meeting took place here — the reference agenda was the Varanasi Sankat Mochan temple blast and how Hindus had been tolerant. Locations for targeting Muslims were discussed, which included Jama Masjid, New Delhi, Dargah Sharif, Ajmer, Mecca Masjid Hyderabad, Malegaon's Muslim population and the Samjhauta Express. These locations were then to be vetoed and accepted by Swami Aseemanand. The group then left for Indore, after taking instructions from Aseemanand.

Joshi, Dange, Sharma, and Kalsangra then conducted another secret meeting at Kalsangra's home in Indore in March 2006. While these remained the main players, they also were joined by Pragya in specific meetings in various locations. Bomb-making was primarily under the supervision of Dange and Kalsangra as they both were tech-savvy and Kalsangra was a qualified electrician, the chargesheet says.

Interestingly, after the Ajmer blast, Joshi called an associate of Aseemanand, Bharat Rateshwar, asking him to switch on the television and watch the Ajmer blast coverage and to inform Aseemanand that the blast was a success. Dang turned to be a safe haven for the accused after the two blasts of Ajmer and Mecca Masjid. After "successfully carrying out the blasts", Sadhvi Pragya, Joshi, Dange, Kalsangra, Gupta, Sharma, Dhakad and Samandar visited Ujjain and performed last rite ceremonies of blast victims killed in attacks by "Muslim terrorists".

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