The Pragya bailout
The special court has rightly dismissed a plea seeking a bar on Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur from contesting the Lok Sabha election on the ground that elections did not come under its ambit. However, it pulled up the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which reiterated that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute Thakur in the 2008 Malegaon blast case.
The court said it framed charges against Thakur and other accused because it “found some prima facie evidence in the chargesheet filed by the ATS (Anti-Terrorism Squad) though investigation was taken over by the NIA”.
The stand-off between the court and the NIA on the evidence raises a question mark over what course the law will take. The court and the NIA seem to disagree on the quality of the evidence gathered by the ATS. The NIA, in its supplementary chargesheet in 2017, had found the evidence weak whereas the court held it was sufficient to proceed against the accused.
Beginning with the prime minister, the ruling party’s leaders have been arguing that Thakur is innocent and the case has been foisted on her. As if to restate its claims of her innocence, the BJP has fielded Thakur as a candidate and upheld the NIA submission as proof. Such open canvassing for an accused on bail after the court has repeatedly stated that she needs to be proceeded under the UAPA sends a message: Party and ideological interests are above the considerations of law and due process.
The defence of Thakur by the Sangh Parivar has to been seen in the larger political context. The BJP and Sangh Parivar have for long attributed political motives to terror cases in which members of Hindu groups have been arrested. Investigators had claimed that Hindutva groups and activists were behind some of the terror incidents reported in the last decade and booked many of them on terror charges.
Since 2014, when the government at the Centre changed, there has been a marked change on the part of the prosecution towards these cases. One after another, the cases have fallen apart in the courts. In high profile cases, including blasts at the Mecca Masjid, on Samjhauta Express, in which 68 persons died, the courts held that the prosecution could not prove the charges against the accused. On its part, the prosecution seems untroubled by the lack of convictions in the terror cases, while being lenient towards the bail pleas of the accused. It shows how political will subverts due process. The court needs to step in to uphold it.