Accused says bomb attacks on Muslims had blessings of Hindu hardliner
NEW DELHI // A man charged with deadly bomb attacks on Muslims has said they had the approval of the leader of a hardline Hindu organisation linked to India’s main opposition party.
Swami Aseemanand, a self-styled holy man, was quoted by the magazine Caravan as saying that Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), knew and approved of his plans to bomb civilian Muslim targets.
Aseemanand also indicated that Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), front-runners in the upcoming general elections, had supported his campaign of conversions to Hinduism in Gujarat state, where Mr Modi has headed the government since 2001.
Like most BJP members, Mr Modi came to the party from the RSS, where he worked for many years, and Aseemanand’s allegations could damage his bid for power. He is already a divisive figure, accused of having allowed – or even abetted – anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002 in which as many as 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, died.
Aseemanand is in prison facing charges of orchestrating three bomb attacks in 2007: at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad; at the Moinuddin Chishti Dargah in Ajmer; and on the Samjhauta Express, a train running from India and Pakistan. The attacks killed 87 people, mostly Muslims.
His trial in the Moinuddin Chishti Dargah case has begun, while the other two cases have not yet gone to trial.
The journalist Leena Reghunath interviewed Aseemanand four times over the past two years at a jail in Ambala, in the state of Haryana, for the Caravan article. She wrote that Aseemanand told her that, during a meeting in 2005, Mr Bhagwat said of the violence, “It’s very important that it be done. But you should not link it to the Sangh.”
After the article was published in the February issue of the magazine, Aseemanand at first denied that the interviews ever happened, then claimed that while some of the interviews occurred, he never implicated Mr Bhagwat.
In response, Caravan this week released excerpts of transcripts and recordings of the interviews, including the sections where Aseemanand mentions Mr Bhagwat.
“I think Aseemanand must be feeling pressure from the RSS, which is why he’s trying to backtrack in this fashion,” Vinod Jose, Caravan’s executive editor, told The National.
Prakash Javadekar, a BJP spokesman, cast doubt on the authenticity of the recordings, saying audio files could easily be doctored. He also alleged that the article was published at the behest of the ruling Congress party.
“The Congress, with its dirty-tricks department, is known for all these things during” elections, Mr Javadekar said. But Abhishek Manu Sanghvi, a Congress spokeman, rejected Mr Javadekar’s accusation.
“If even a tenth of what is written [in the article] is true, it is extremely serious,” Mr Singhvi told the news channel NDTV. “Not only does this give a bad name to the great religion of Hinduism … but it also breeds other fundamentalism and terrorism.”
An RSS source close to Mr Bhagwat, who asked to remain anonymous, told The National that he did not believe the interview was fabricated, but refused to comment on whether Mr Bhagwat had sanctioned terrorist attacks by Aseemanand.
Meanwhile, a mob of about 150 people gathered outside the Caravan offices in Delhi yesterday and burned copies of the magazine to protest against the article. They said they were members of the Hindu Sena, or the Hindu army.
The magazine’s offices in Mumbai had also been threatened, Jose said. Family members of Caravan’s publishers had been phoned by the Shiv Sena, a Mumbai-based Hindu right-wing party and threatened with violence, he said.
Updated: February 7, 2014 04:00 AM