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Alleged RSS terror links: Congress guarded in response to magazine report

Sources say the Congress feels that the BJP can benefit if the issue is allowed to become bigger as it can polarise the Hindu votes in its favour.

D P Satish | dp_satish

Updated:February 6, 2014, 2:40 PM IST
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Alleged RSS terror links: Congress guarded in response to magazine report
Sources say the Congress feels that the BJP can benefit if the issue is allowed to become bigger as it can polarise the Hindu votes in its favour.

New Delhi: Barely three months ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, a magazine has dropped a bombshell. In its February cover page, The Caravan has carried a story 'The Believer' on Swami Aseemanand, an accused in several terror cases across India between 2006 and 2008.

The article by Leena Gita Reghunath traces the journey of Swami Aseemanand from his village in West Bengal to the jail in Ambala where he is presently lodged.

The author mentions several details about the monk's early life such as his affiliation to the RSS's tribal wing Van Vasi Kalyan Ashram where he was a top leader.

Aseemanand was arrested in 2010 on charges of abetting terrorism. He is a main accused in the Samjhauta Express (February 2007), Hyderabad Mecca Masjid (May 2007), Ajmer Dargah (October 2007) blasts and two attacks in Malegaon (September 2006 and September 2008) - which together killed 119 people.

The Caravan's cover story makes some startling revelations, quoting Aseemanand to say that the RSS top brass including its current chief Mohan Bhagwat and another top leader Indresh Kumar, had sanctioned the three 2007 blasts.

The report has sent shock waves across the Sangh Parivar and its political wing, the BJP. However, they have questioned the timing of the article. The RSS has labeled the report "baseless and motivated".

What is surprising many is the stunning silence of the Congress party. After a week, External Affairs minister Salman Khurshid reacted on Thursday demanding that the claims should be investigated. Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said that he will look into the matter. But not much political noise has been heard over the case.

According to insiders, the Congress does not want to make it a big issue. The party fears that it may help the BJP's PM nominee Narendra Modi polarize the Hindu votes in his favour.

A press release issued by the magazine said that Aseemanand granted four exclusive interviews to Reghunath inside Ambala jail, the total duration of which ran into 09 hours and 26 minutes. In the last two interviews, he repeated that his terrorist acts were sanctioned by the highest levels of the RSS - all the way up to Bhagwat.

Aseemanand repeated to Reghunath what Bhagwat said of the violence, "It is very important that it be done. But you should not link it to the Sangh." (A list of questions was sent to Bhagwat, but he has not responded)

The article said, "Aseemanand told me (Reghunath) about a meeting that allegedly took place, in July 2005. After an RSS conclave in Surat, senior Sangh leaders including Bhagwat and Indresh Kumar, who is now on the organisation's powerful seven-member national executive council, travelled to a temple in the Dangs, Gujarat, where Aseemanand was living - a two-hour drive. In a tent pitched by a river several kilometres away from the temple, Bhagwat and Kumar met with Aseemanand and his accomplice Sunil Joshi. Joshi informed Bhagwat of a plan to bomb several Muslim targets around India. According to Aseemanand, both the RSS leaders approved of it, and Bhagwat told him, 'You can work on this with Sunil. We will not be involved, but if you are doing this, you can consider us to be with you'."

Aseemanand continued, "Then they told me, 'Swamiji, if you do this, we will be at ease with it. Nothing wrong will happen then. Criminalisation nahin hoga. If you do it, then people won't say that we did a crime for the sake of committing a crime. It will be connected to the ideology. This is very important for Hindus. Please do this. You have our blessings'."

Chargesheets filed by the investigative agencies allege that Indresh Kumar provided moral and material support to the conspirators, but they don't implicate Bhagwat. Although Kumar was interrogated once by the CBI, the case was later taken over by the NIA, which has not pursued the conspiracy past the level of Aseemanand and Pragya Singh. (Joshi, who was allegedly the connecting thread between several different parts of the conspiracy-including those who assembled and those who planted the bombs-was killed under mysterious circumstances in December 2007.)

Sixty-three-year-old Aseemanand dedicated almost his entire adult life to the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA). At the time he planned the terrorist attacks, he had been the national head of the VKA's religious wing, the Shraddha Jagran Vibhag-a position created especially for him-for a decade.

In honour of Aseemanand's service to the Sangh, in December 2005, he was awarded a special Guruji Samman on the occasion of the birth centenary of MS Golwalkar. The award came with a Rs 1 lakh cash prize and the veteran BJP leader and former party president Murli Manohar Joshi gave the ceremony's keynote address. Not only have the RSS and the BJP ever disowned Aseemanand for his role in the terrorist attacks, or taken back the awards, they have even been providing his legal aid, as Aseemanand confessed to The Caravan.

Aseemanand's lawyers have already rubbished the report saying that the interview has never taken place. The Hindustan Times reported that Aseemanand's lawyer JS Rana had issued a statement on Wednesday categorically stating that the content of the article was a bundle of lies. The lawyer also said that his client denied having given any such interview and threatened to take legal action against the magazine and its correspondent.

Sources in the National Investigation Agency (NIA) have said that Aseemanand can give a statement before the court.

The Caravan says it will stand by its story and there is no need for any clarifications. Only time will tell if the issue becomes bigger as the elections approach or dies a silent death.

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