Pune/New Delhi : Within 48 hours of high-profile Malegaon bomb blast accused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur charging Maharashtra’s Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) with torturing and abusing her, her alleged co-conspirator Lt. Col. Prasad Purohit told a Pune court Wednesday that the sleuths were out to kill him – but was still remanded to police custody.
In a related development, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Wednesday hit out at what it termed the government’s flip-flop over Purohit’s alleged links to the Samjhauta Express train bombing. This has given Pakistan a handle to challenge New Delhi’s charge that Islamabad sponsors terrorism in India, the party said.
Purohit, the first serving Indian officer accused of playing a major role in planning and executing a terror blast, complained to Pune’s Shivajinagar court that the ATS had threatened to eliminate him during his interrogation in their custody.
Notwithstanding the fears expressed by the army officer, the court remanded him to the custody of Pune ATS police for two days in an old case of forgery registered by them earlier this month.
Purohit, whose 14-day police custody remand granted by a Nashik court ended Tuesday, was brought to Pune for interrogation in a case in which he is accused of getting his friend Milind Datye a revolver licence from the army quota on the basis of forged documents.
The Pune ATS told the court they received a complaint about this from Datye himself when he got suspicious about the licence after Purohit’s arrest in the Malegaon blast case.
Purohit’s lawyer Avinash Bhide countered that the ATS was trying to implicate his client in a false case only in order to show him in bad light and keep him in their custody.
In an attempt to counter the “ATS attempt to malign Purohit’s bright image”, Bhide produced before the court a set of commendations received by the officer during his tenure and also a document showing he was invited by the ATS to give a lecture on terror-combat techniques.
Hours before this, a local court in Khadki near Pune remanded another Malegaon bomb blast accused Samir Kulkarni to a day’s police custody in a case of attacking a church and beating its pastor.
An activist of right-wing Hindu group Abhinav Bharat who shifted to Madhya Pradesh from Pune about 18 months ago, Kulkarni is suspected to have spearheaded an attack on the Vineyard Church in Dapodi near Khadki and had beaten up the pastor, Rev. Peter David Salve.
The police, who had published a sketch of the absconding assaulter on the basis of his description given by the pastor, approached the ATS on noticing similarities between Kulkarni and the sketch after his arrest in the Malegaon blast case.
Earlier, even as the accused were being escorted to the two courts, hundreds of emotionally charged volunteers of Hindutva organisations showered flowers on them and shouted slogans in their support.
Saffron flag wielding supporters of Purohit and Kulkarni continued to stage solidarity demonstrations in front of the Shivajinagar and Khadki courts throughout the time the proceedings continued and even after the accused were brought out.
Outside the court, Purohit’s wife Aparna told reporters her husband was being falsely implicated in the case.
“He is a true patriot, who guarded the Line of Control (in Jammu and Kashmir) with single minded devotion for several years without thinking of his family”, she said.
In New Delhi, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shanker Prasad said: “The investigators first accused Lt. Col. Prasad Purohit of stealing RDX from the army and planting it in the Samjhauta Express to trigger the blasts, and it later turned out that RDX was not used at all.
“The Congress-led government was earlier soft on terror but is now acting in a juvenile manner, as this instance explains,” the spokesman said.
The Congress does not realise the implications of such an attitude, which will provide “Pakistan the opportunity to tell the world that India was spreading false propaganda about Islamabad”, he maintained.
Prasad said such an irresponsible attitude would blunt New Delhi’s charge that Islamabad was sponsoring terror in India. India and Pakistan are to hold home secretary level talks Nov 25 in Islamabad, with counter-terrorism figuring on the agenda.
Six people were killed in the Sep 29 Malegaon blasts. The Feb 18, 2007 blasts on the Delhi-Lahore Samjhauta Express had killed 68 people.