Shock as top Indian Army officer arrested over bomb attack – From The Times November 8, 2008
From The Times November 8, 2008
Shock as top Indian Army officer arrested over bomb attackJeremy Page in Delhi
The Indian Army has been shocked by the arrest of a senior Military
Intelligence officer on suspicion of involvement in a bomb attack by
Hindu extremists in western India in September.
Colonel Srikant Prasad Purohit is the first serving officer in
India's Army — seen as a bastion of secularism since the country's
independence in 1947 — to be arrested on terrorism charges.
His detention is prompting calls for a ban on Hindu nationalist
groups accused of stirring political violence, including recent attacks
on Christians in eastern India, before national elections next year.
It may also force Indian authorities to investigate whether Hindu
radicals were behind other recent bomb attacks, many of which have been
blamed on Islamic extremists backed by Pakistan's intelligence service.
Colonel Purohit, 37, was arrested in Bombay on Wednesday on
suspicion of involvement in a bomb attack that killed at least six
people near a mosque in the western city of Malegaon on September 29.
The Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) of the surrounding state of Maharashtra
is now questioning him at its headquarters in Bombay, according to
Dinesh Agarwal, an ATS spokesman.
Inspector Agarwal denied Indian media reports that Colonel Purohit
had confessed to masterminding the explosions, and that the ATS wanted
to question other serving military officers.
"The investigation is progressing," he told The Times. "Questioning other serving officers is not on the cards now."
However, he confirmed that the ATS had arrested eight other
civilians, including a retired army major, Ramesh Upadhyay, on
suspicion of involvement.
Investigators say that Colonel Purohit and Major Upadhyay were both
members of Abhinav Bharat (New India), a Hindu nationalist organisation
founded in the western city of Pune in June 2006.
Abhinav Bharat's President is Himani Savarkar, the niece of the
Hindu radical who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian independence
leader, in 1948.
She accuses India's ruling coalition — led by the Congress Party —
of trying to smear Hindu nationalists and has offered legal aid to all
the arrested members of Abhinav Bharat.
She admits meeting Colonel Purohit, but says that he could not have
been a member of Abhinav Bharat because army officers are forbidden
from joining political organisations.
"It's a political conspiracy, led by the Congress," she told The Times.
Her group is regarded as one of the more radical in the Hindu
nationalist movement, which also includes the Bharatiya Janata Party —
India's main opposition party.
The BJP, anxious not to undermine its own anti-terror platform,
initially distanced itself from Colonel Purohit and the other Malegaon
But in the past two days, it has defended and offered legal support
to Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, a Hindu holy woman who is also among those
"Whoever is connected with cultural nationalism and Bharatiyata Indian-ness
cannot be a terrorist," said Rajnath Singh, the BJP chief, who has been
photographed with the Sadhvi (the female equivalent of a Sadhu, or
"Without sufficient evidence there is no reason to term Pragya Thakur a terrorist,'' he said.
Secular parties point to this as further evidence justifying a ban
on Hindu nationalist groups they say were behind violence that killed
at least 60 Christians in the eastern state of Orissa this year.
The Government has so far shied away from a ban, fearing that it
would provoke a backlash from other radicals and rally support for the
BJP ahead of national elections, due by May.
The concern now is that Colonel Purohit's arrest will damage the
reputation of the Army, which is generally seen as apolitical and is
often deployed to quell communal violence.
"This incident is a matter of serious concern for all of us. We are
very determined to go to the root of the whole thing," said A.K.
Antony, the Defence Minister. "We are waiting for a report from the
Maharashtra police and I can tell you, we are taking it seriously."
Lieutenant General S. P. S. Dhillon, the Deputy Army Chief, said:
"The Indian Army's prestige has been hurt after our officer's name came
up in the Malegaon blast case."
He called Colonel Purohit's case "a freak incident".
However, military and terrorism experts said they expected that he
was probably just one of several Hindu extremists within the ranks of
the Army, which will now have to overhaul its internal monitoring
"There's been a process of political radicalisation going on for
some time," said Dr Ajay Sahni, executive director of the Institute for
"At some level a handful of people in the army will have become
infected. As far as the institution of the army is concerned there is
no danger of radicalisation — army traditions are far too strong. But
there will be the odd bad egg."