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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 10, March 1, 2014

Mirror... Mirror on the Wall!: Who Were Those ‘Bad Elements’, Mr Bhagwat?

Monday 3 March 2014, by Subhash Gatade

‘Cat drinks milk with closed eyes and thinks the world is not watching it.’
(Marathi Proverb)


Rare have been the occasions in recent times when the RSS, with all its anushangik (affiliated) organisations on their toes, is engaged in dousing the fire in which it has caught itself unawares. The reason being the ‘interview’ of one of its own pracharaks (wholetimers)-turned-terrorists, named Swami Aseemanand, that was published in a leading magazine of our times. (http://www. caravanmagazine.in/reportage/believer) According to the RSS, it is a ‘concocted’ one; and the organisation has even issued a handwritten letter supposedly written by the interviewee ‘denying’ that any such interview was taken whereas the magazine has stood its ground and even made transcripts of the interview and its audio recordings public.

Perhaps with the ‘denial’ by the interviewee the matter should have ended there for the RSS, but this does not seem to be the case. And for reasons which are known to itself, it is trying to ‘clarify’ its stand on various aspects which came up during the interview and is seeking to distance itself—once again—from Swami Aseemanand alias Naba Kumar Sarkar, a disciplined activist of the ‘Parivar’ for last more than three decades, who hails from the same village in West Bengal where Ramkrishna Paramhans was born.

The reasons for this apparently strange behaviour are not difficult to understand. It is for the first time that the role of Mohan Bhagwat, the Sangh supremo himself (the man who would be declared ‘kingmaker’ if his ‘anointee’ manages to reach the top post), has come under the scanner as it is being claimed in the said interview that he not only ‘blessed’ one of the most violent phases of Hindutva politics in recent times—popularly known as Hindutva terror—but in fact had its tacit support.

And with the supremo himself under the scanner and calls for fresh investigations from different quarters getting louder, nervousness seems writ large on the RSS leaders’ faces. The Left parties, especially the CPM, have even demanded “[a] CBI probe into the claims made by Swami Aseemanand, that the RSS leadership had ‘sanctioned’ these terror acts”. The pathetic situation in which the RSS finds itself today can be gauged from all those clarifications which it is officially making regarding Aseemanand. The RSS declared in a press release that Aseemanand was ‘never a leader in the RSS’ and ‘such reports are mischievous and misleading’. Dr Manmohan Vaidya, the Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh, emphasised that ‘Swami Aseemanand has never held any post at any level in the RSS’. (http://www.truthofgujarat.com/orphaning-swami-aseemanand-nathuram-godse-typical-tales-disownment-rss/selection_256/)

Poor Dr Manmohan Vaidya, somebody should have reminded him that the RSS had fielded Ram Madhav a few years back to discuss l’affaire Aseemanand when he was ultimately nabbed by the intelligence sleuths and, in fact, had a different take on the whole issue. The said press conference was held in the second week of February 2011 in the national Capital. It was the time when the law of the land had finally caught up with the real perpetrators behind the Ajmer and Mecca Masjid bomb blasts and the terror module comprising Devender Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Ramji Kalasangra, Assemanand and others had come to limelight. With the RSS pracharak and expert bomb-maker, Ramji Kalasangra, and his associate, Sandeep Dange, still absconding, the CBI had to put a reward on them for information leading to their arrest. Giving a completely new and almost unforeseen twist to the Aseemanand episode, Madhav had said that Aseemanand had “in fact” left the RSS in 2006. As a good spokesperson, he had dished out the usual disclaimers in the beginning itself: RSS does not believe in violence etc.

II Aseem (Unlimited) Terror

“Indreshji met me at Shabri Dham sometime in 2005. Many top RSS functionaries accompanied him. He told me that exploding bombs was not my job and instead told me to focus on the tribal welfare work assigned to me by the RSS. He said he had deputed Sunil Joshi for this job (terror attacks) and he would extend Joshi whatever help was required.”

—From the Confession of Aseemanand before the Delhi Magistrate on December 18, 2010 

It is not difficult to understand why the RSS had then felt it necessary to tell the outside world about Aseemanand’s alleged departure from the RSS in 2006 (as claimed by Ram Madhav in his press conference held in February 2011) around five years after this act. Anybody can see that the RSS could have announced this earlier also when he was declared an absconder in a number of terror attacks in the country. Newspapers were printing columns about this terror guru, details of the terror module he was involved in and his participation in different bloody acts. If the RSS could have announced it then itself then that would have appeared more authentic and its sincerity about distancing itself from such fanatic elements in its ranks could have become clear. When Aseemanand was in police custody and had given a voluntary confession before a Magistrate which implicated the organisation as well as many of its senior leaders, the announcement about his ‘leaving the organisation’ did not carry much weight and looked more as an afterthought or an attempt to save its skin.

In fact, the same ambivalence vis-a-vis Swami Aseemanand still exists in the RSS till date. Perhaps one of the top leaders of the RSS would be able to shed light on a few of the questions regarding this whole episode.

Why has the RSS till date not deemed it necessary to take back the award—Special Guruji Samman—which was given to him for his ‘meritorious service to the RSS’ that was awarded to him on the occasion of the birth centenary of M.S. Golwalkar (2005)?

Why is it that the RSS-affiliated lawyers are providing him legal aid, despite the formal declaration by the RSS after its five-day meeting at Jodhpur (2010)—when the police had slowly laid hands on many of its activists—that it would not provide any legal aid to anyone found to be involved in such activities? Who were those ‘bad elements’ about which it spoke after this Jodhpur meeting, elements who had either ‘left the organisation’ or ‘who had been asked to go’ and why neither the RSS nor its affiliated organisation, the BJP, has disowned this criminal-terrorist till date?

The proximity of Aseemanand with the top leadership of the RSS-BJP is on record. Leaders like Narendra Modi, Shiv Raj Singh Chauhan, former RSS supremo K.S. Sudarshan and the current supremo Mohan Bhagwat attended programmes organised by him at Shabari Kumbh. There are a number of photographs freely available on the Net where these stal-warts of the RSS/BJP are seen enjoying the company of Aseemanand at the Shabari Kumbh he had organised in the Dangs district of Gujarat. It was not for nothing that the Gujarat Government led by Narendra Modi made a lot of funds available for this new “kumbh” invented by the RSS.

From the RSS’ viewpoint, Aseemanand’s credentials were impeccable. Before finally settling in Dangs, a tribal majority district in Gujarat, to ‘fight conversion by missionaries’, he worked for the RSS in different places and was active in the Andaman Islands also. Rightly, it must have been unthinkable that one fine morning he would give a written confession about his own and fellow swayamsevaks’ crimes before the Magistrate under Article 164, which is admissible as evidence. Naturally with the confession, the RSS had then found itself on a slippery path. (Full text of the confession is available on www.tehelka.com)

As a recap it can be mentioned that the confession had made a few things clear.

1. A group of RSS pracharaks was involved at least in the following bomb blasts: Malegaon (2006), Ajmer Sharif (2007), Samjhauta Express (2007), Mecca Masjid (2007) and Malegaon (2008).

2. The signed statement by Aseemanand tells us that the bomb blasts were engineered not by fringe ultra-Right organisations but by the RSS’ National Executive member Indresh Kumar.

3. Indresh Kumar had handpicked and financed some RSS pracharaks to carry out the terror attacks.

4. Indresh Kumar had deputed Sunil Joshi to plan and execute these terror attacks and had extended all possible help to him.

5. Muslim boys provided by Indresh Kumar executed the Ajmer bomb blast.

6. Aseemanand had feared that Indresh Kumar could get Sunil Joshi killed.

(It needs mentioning that later Aseemanand had retracted the above statement saying that he was coerced to give it, despite evidence to the contrary.)

Obviously, the RSS had not bargained for Aseemanand’s change of heart and the conse-quent confession; and these had then put it in an uneviable position, much worse than what it found itself in after Gandhi’s murder by Nathuram Godse. This was unparalleled in the RSS’ history of over 80 years. The spectre of legal conviction of the RSS people for involvement in terror activities had started haunting it. The usual practice hitherto has been Modiesque where carnages were packaged as “successful experiments”, which should be “emulated”.

Any cursory glance at the confession makes it clear that it implicates himself (Aseemanand) at every juncture knowing well that he can even receive death sentence for his acts. It is of key importance that his confession had pointed to the existence of a broad network of RSS pracharaks who not only planned and participated in these terror attacks but also received shelter by sections of the organisation in various states.

Ram Madhav’s impromptu-looking statement about Aseemanand was in fact part of a well-thought-out plan. It then reflected one simple thing: With five different agencies, of different States as well as the Centre, in the thick of investigations into the Hindutva terror network, and with new disclosures on the way like the revelations in the Sunil Joshi murder case, which had even put the BJP Government in MP on the defensive, the RSS was extremely worried. It may be added here that till then the NIA had not taken up all the terror cases.

III Dump the Footsoldiers, Own up the Mastermind!

The chargesheet filed by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Rajasthan Police against five accused in the 2007 Ajmer dargah blast case on Friday [22 October, 2010] has named senior RSS leader Indresh Kumar as having provided “guidance” for a conspiracy hatched by radical elements for planting bombs in several cities across the country.

—The Hindu, October 24, 2010

An unruly mob of the Rashtriya Swayam-sevak Sangh (RSS) members went on a rampage at Videocon Tower in the city’s Jhandewalan area. The building houses the offices of the TV Today Network and Mail Today. The 3,000-strong mob pelted stones, smashed glass doors...

—Mail Today, New Delhi, July 17, 2010

Remember the July 16, 2010 attack on the office of ‘Headlines Today’, a national television channel, by thousands of activists of the Hindutva brigade because the channel had made public a few of the tapes available with the police.

These tapes showed the involvement of the RSS top leader, Indresh Kumar, and others in the planning of the Ajmer bomb blast. It also showed how one Dr R.P. Singh had planned to kill Dr Hamid Ansari during a programme in Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia by organising a bomb blast. The aformentioned channel had telecast on July 16, 2010 tapes of secret meetings discussing the need to carry out terrorist attacks on public meetings of Muslims. The press release issued by the channel had said that the video and audio tapes telecast by it were extracted by the investigating agencies from the laptop of Dayanand Pandey, an accused in the Malegaon bomb blast case.

As witnesses to the attack had later revealed, a lot of meticulous planning had gone into the attack. Of course, the RSS never claimed that their workers had organised it or had played a role in it, although it said that it fully sympathised with their ‘concerns’.

It is now history how the Sangh Parivar took up the defence of Indresh Kumar since then in a big way. The attack on ‘Headlines Today’ seemed to be a signal to its demoralised workers that they should go on the offensive. The month of November 2010 saw a massive programme under the aegis of the RSS to ‘protest the vindictive attitude’ of the UPA Government and its ‘continued stigmatisation of Hindus’. For the first time in the RSS’ history, the Sangh supremo and his close associates participated in different rallies. To keep up the momentum, the RSS also organised a nationwide campaign in February 2011 to reach out to the people, telling them that ‘charges against the RSS are part of the Congress conspiracy’.

One does not know how the RSS convinces its own activists/sympathisers about its dual approach vis-á-vis its own activists. One set of rules for the ordinary workers but for the higher-ups the rules are easily twisted. Ordinary RSS workers in MP are reported to have even raised questions about the ‘silence’ maintained by the MP Government over the killing of Sunil Joshi. With the exposures in the case which showed that his own colleagues killed him, and the MP Police helping them in its own way to cover up the crime, there have been murmurs of protest within the organisation itself.

In its response to the unravelling of Hindutva terror, the Sangh Parivar emerges as an incoherent, confused as well as demoralised lot: saying one thing today, denying it the next day; accepting that there were a few bad apples amongst its midst who had taken up extreme types of activities (‘who have been asked to go’— accor-ding to the reports of the five-day Jodhpur meeting of the RSS held in May 2010) and offering all sorts of cooperation to the government (even claiming that none of these ‘bad apples’ would be given any legal assistance but in practice going all out to provide them good lawyers) or within a few months changing its tune (refer to the Jalgaon meeting of the RSS in October 2010) and frowning upon the govern-ment for its ‘witch-hunt against Hindus’ and even mobilising thousands of workers in different cities and towns to score a political point.

None of the RSS’ earlier steps to wriggle itself out of the Hindutva terror conundrum match its less reported step wherein it wrote a letter to the Prime Minister asking him to form an independent commission to enquire into the alleged conspiracy hatched by the likes of Lt. Col. Purohit, Dayanand Pandey and others to kill Mohan Bhagwat and Indresh Kumar. There was some hope in the RSS that, with this letter, it would be able to turn the tide. The letter signed by Suresh (“Bhaiyaji”) Joshi, Sarkar-yavah (General Secretary] of the RSS and sent on February 11, 2011, asked:

The fundamental question that arises, but not addressed, is: how could the RSS be bracketed with those who were viciously hostile to it and conspiring to kill its leaders?

It adds:

We believe that Col. Purohit’s role was political and he was not acting on his own. Thorough probe is needed to find out those behind him in his attempts to divide the RSS and its friendly organisations from within. This larger political conspiracy cannot be unravelled by mere criminal investigation. Col. Purohit had been aggressively anti-BJP and anti-RSS as the Malegaon case evidence brings out. Hence arises the issue about his hidden political connections and agenda. It is needless to say that only those who would politically benefit from such strategies could have been behind him. But, only a thorough, independent investigation will expose his political agenda and connections. Similar probe is also required against Dayanand Pandey, whose role is equally mysterious. Otherwise the full truth would remain buried. (http://rssonnet.org/index.php?option =com_content&task=view&id=151)

This was a clear shift in the RSS, tactics wherein it wanted to go on the offensive instead of being defensive on the issue of Hindutva terror. The question then arose as to whether this ‘shift’ would help the RSS save itself from the morass in which it was finding itself then.

IV All the Wise Men

Anyone closely following the trajectory of the case knew that this salvo by the RSS in which it tried to portray the likes of Purohit and Pandey as ‘playing a political role’ and dubbing their deeds as attempts to ‘divide the RSS and its friendly organisations from within’ was very much in the pipeline since a few months before the release of the letter. A section of the media had carried reports of a 14-page unsigned document (‘Purohit trying to divide the Sangh Parivar at behest of Cong leaders’, Mail Today, October 24, 2010) which claimed that Lt. Col. Purohit ‘had the blessings of intelligence agencies as well as Congress politicians in power’. In its attempt to distance the RSS from the Hindutva terror network, the document purportedly initiated by an ultra-Right Hindu organisation, had even claimed that Lt. Col. Purohit had made contacts with rogue elements in the VHP and RSS. The letter, signed by Suresh Joshi, Sarkaryavah of the RSS, was definitely not so explicit but it dropped enough hints. It could be conjectured that the RSS top brass would have deliberated to effect this ‘shift’ in its stand.

For someone who has not followed the debates, the simple question raised by Bhaiyaji Joshi sounded quite logical: “...how could the RSS be bracketed with those who were viciously hostile to it and conspiring to kill its leaders?” But there were lots of gaps in this statement and convenient omissions which made the perpetrator look like a victim.

The first concerned the role of Shyam Apte, a businessman from Pune, in this conspiracy. Apte has been associated with the RSS for a long time. The tapes with the government agencies tell us about the conversation Purohit, Apte and Dayanand Pandey had regarding the Mohan Bhagwat-Indresh Kumar duo and the manner in which the conspiracy had been hatched. It may be added here that had Hemant Karkare been alive, Shyam Apte would have been put behind bars for his close relationship with Purohit.

What does one make of the role of Shyam Apte in the conspiracy? Would it be proper to think that he had any personal animosity against the duo and that’s why he wanted to finish them off? A natural query would be: why was Shyam Apte’s role not mentioned by the RSS in its letter to the Prime Minister?

Secondly, the number of meetings Lt. Col. Purohit had with Praveen Togadia, the leader of the VHP, is remarkable. What transpired at these meetings? A section of the media had reported about these meetings when the late Hemant Karkare was leading the investigation into the 2008 Malegaon blast. It was reported that Togadia had tried to win over Purohit by asking him to join him whereas Purohit had castigated him for his lameduck approach towards Hindu Rashtra. 

Two news items, as a sample of the coverage at the time, would be apt to quote here:

New Delhi: VHP leader Pravin Togadia may have styled himself as a fire-spewing radical, but he feared getting overtaken by Shrikant Prasad Purohit, the serving Lt Colonel who has been arrested for the Malegaon blast and who has since acknowledged his role in plotting last month’s “revenge terror”. ...Not known for accommodating rivals, Togadia, in fact, sought a meeting with Purohit. While the latter agreed to meet him, he refused to fold up Abhinav Bharat during the interaction the two had at a Mumbai hotel in August.

(“Togadia alarmed by Lt-Col’s rise?” The Times of India, November 7, 2008—http://timesofindia. indiatimes.com/india/Togadia-alarmed-by-Lt-Cols-rise/iplarticleshow/3683348.cms)

The Indian Express provided details of these meetings as well as the role played by the RSS leader Shyam Apte in the conspiracy to eliminate Indresh Kumar:

...Purohit’s interrogation report includes several other details:

• Purohit first met Togadia in February 2006 in Nashik at the home of the local VHP unit head Vinayak. In December that year, he met Togadia in Mumbai and apprised him of the Abhinav Bharat concept. In March-April 2007, Togadia told Purohit over the phone the names of donors to the trust. In August-September 2007, Togadia gave him Rs 2 lakh, which were subsequently passed on to Abhinav Bharat’s Samir Kulkarni. On August 2, 2008, Togadia severely reprimanded Purohit for breaking up the VHP’s Madhya Pradesh unit.

• On February 2, 2008, Shyam Apte gave Rs 2 lakh to Purohit, and orders to kill Indresh. Purohit passed on the money to another activist, Rakesh Dhawade, who gave him the weapon for Rs 50,000. This weapon was given to Alok. Dhawade, Purohit said, claimed to have trained the RSS cadres who died in the Nanded blast. Purohit had given Dhawade Rs 3.2 lakh the month before, to buy another four weapons.

(Shishir Gupta, “Togadia funded Abhinav Bharat, Sadhvi said ‘my people’ set off Malegaon bomb: Purohit to CBI,” The Indian Express, November 24, 2008—http://www.indianexpress.com/news/togadia-funded-abhinav-bharat-sadhvi-said-my-people-set-off-malegaon-bomb-purohit-to-cbi/389786/0

In fact, Purohit’s email account had four e-mail IDs of Praveen Togadia. Why did all the ‘wise men of the RSS’ not mention this fact? Or did they know that like Purohit and Pandey, Togadia also does not have a high opinion of Mohan Bhagwat and Indresh Kumar? Imagine for a moment the conspiracy of the Malegaon bomb blast 2008 involving the likes of Purohit, Pragya and others with a side story or sub-plot of ‘killing Bhagwat and Indresh’!

Looking back, Suresh Joshi should have demanded that since RSS man Shyam Apte was part of the conspiracy, he should be immediately arrested and since Togadia was in regular touch with Purohit, he should be immediately called for questioning by the investigating agencies.

What does the alleged plot to kill Mohan Bhagwat and Indresh Kumar—which also involves senior leaders of RSS like Shyam Apte —tell us? It goes to show that there are ruptures in the RSS at the top level which are on political as well as personal lines and the involved actors consider recourse to violence an active option.

V Too Clever By Half

The scrutiny of the RSS’ letter to the Prime Minister asking the ‘government institute an impartial and independent inquiry into the hidden mission of Lt. Col. Purohit, Dayanand Pandey and their associates’ to look into the ‘plot to kill Bhagwat and Indresh’ revealed its various levels of ruptures. An appropriate response to this move of the Sangh Parivar would have been to interrogate more of the Parivar men and in greater detail.

We do not yet know how the Prime Minister’s office handled this ‘letter’? There is no infor-mation available about it in the public domain.

Assuming that tomorrow the investigating agencies take up the probe into this ‘plot’ seriously, they will have extra weight to arrest RSS leader Shyam Apte from Pune and also put Togadia to thorough interrogation. It may be added here that Togadia had never even been called for questioning despite enough evidence, including a mention in the chargesheet filed by the Maharashtra ATS under Hemant Karkare in the Malegaon 2008 blast, implicating him in financing Hindutva terror modules or addressing meetings of youth exhorting them to take up retaliatory strikes.

In fact this single move on behalf of the Sangh Parivar had exposed it to further questioning and clarifications. At the time of writing this letter, it was finding it politically expedient to distance itself from Hindutva terrorists Lt. Col. Purohit and “Shankaracharya” Dayanand Pandey but it was not ready to answer a simple query: why did a few years and a few months back the same RSS and its affiliated organisations go all out to support these very terrorists and the terror module they were associated with? We should never forget that much on the lines of Malik Qadri, the Pakistani terrorist who was greeted with rose petals in the Islamabad court, the Malegaon bombers—comprising Lt. Col. Purohit, Sadhvi Pragya, Dayanand Pandey and others—were also showered with rose petals at the behest of the Hindutva organisations when they were produced in Nashik and Pune courts then.

Was it not necessary for Sangh supremo Mohan Bhagwat, his numero uno Suresh Joshi, and other ‘wise men at the top’ to have written another letter addressed to the people of India seeking their apology for their shameful support to these terrorists sometime back? History bears witness to the fact that when the then Maharashtra ATS chief late Hemant Karkare was unearthing the Hindutva terror network spread across India, when he took up the investigation of the Malegaon 2008 bomb blast case, forces like the Shiv Sena and RSS were in the forefront to stigmatise him, spreading all sorts of canards against him, calling him a traitor. L.K. Advani, the then Prime Minister-in-waiting, had even raised the issue in Parliament and defended Sadhvi Pragya.

As an aside it may be mentioned here that the letter sent by the RSS administrator, Suresh Joshi, to the Prime Minister nowhere expressed regret over the killings of innocents by the Hindutva terrorists. At least one had expected that the RSS Sarkaryavah would ‘own up’ the crimes of the terrorist pracharak, Devender Gupta, one of the executioners of the Ajmer dargah and Mecca Masjid bomb blasts (whom Joshi himself acknowledged as a fanatic), and had said that henceforth we will see to it that none from our ranks becomes another ‘Devender Gupta’. Also there is no word of remorse for the deeds of those who were trained in the RSS shakhas—whether it was Sunil Joshi, Ramji Kalasangra, Sandeep Dange, Aseemanand and several others,—and who left the organisation (‘long back’), according to the RSS, and who later metamorphosed into terrorists.

Any sane person would want that if activists getting trained in a ‘cultural organisation’ were turning out to be fanatics (may be in much small numbers) and terrorists, then it was high time that the top leadership decided to go for serious introspection of the phenomenon.

To cut a long story short, anybody can notice that the more RSS is trying to wriggle itself out of the ‘terror turn in Hindutva politics’ it is getting enmeshed in it further. Perhaps it is easier for them to debunk a story which has appeared in a magazine, but slowly they should realise that unless and until they come clean on different nuances of the whole ‘saga’ it will come back to haunt them again and again.

[For details on the phenomenon of Hindutva terror, see the author’s Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in

India, Pharos Media, 2013, IInd edition]

The author is a writer and social activist; he was publishing a Hindi periodical, Sandhaan, sometime ago.