‘In Nanded blast, CBI found that the accused Bajrang Dal man was not involved with any groups.’
The Sunday Guardian spoke to retired bureaucrat R.V.S. Mani who served in the Ministry of Home Affairs in the tumultuous period of 2006 to 2010 when the term “saffron/Hindu terror” was tried to be made a part of the narrative by the UPA government, an attempt that unravelled this week with the acquittal of Aseemanand in the Mecca Masjid blast case. He also talks about 26/11. Excerpts:
Q: Did you come across saffron/Hindu terror when you were with the MHA from 2006 to 2010?
A: I never came across any instance of saffron terror. I have been saying this consistently that we received no such input (from agencies) ever. There was one small case in April 2006 of Nanded, which was discussed (among MHA officials, insinuating the existence of Hindu terror) in June-July 2006. A local garage owner, who was a member of Bajrang Dal, was involved in a blast. In small towns, it is very normal for people to destroy their own property to claim insurance fraudulently. Later, the CBI and other organisations found that he was involved with no groups and was not working to carry out any terror blasts. And since the CBI did not find anything incriminating, Nanded was not pursued further. The question is: Why did they try to give it a Hindu terror angle?
In the Aurangabad arms case of May 2006, the arms that were seized were adequate to wage a war. The whole network was spread across Indore, Khandwa, Aurangabad and Malegaon where SIMI was based. Later, on 1 June 2006, there was an attack on the RSS headquarters in Nagpur. That very day certain things happened.
Q: What happened?
A: In February 2007, the Samjhauta blast happened. Bharti Arora, the SP of Crime and Railway, was the first responder and was the first officer to reach there along-with an inspector. All the signs (at the blast spot) were pointing to a particular terror organisation, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT). Even the inputs received from the United States and from SAARC on terrorism pinpointed that Arif Qasmani from Karachi (LeT operative) was responsible for the attack. All these inputs are on record. These inputs are in the MHA files. Later, the narrative changed (it was turned into an act of Hindu terror) after the NIA came into being on 1 January 2009, following a presidential assent for the same in December 2008.
Since we are on the topic of NIA, I would like to tell you something which is not related to saffron terror. After Parliament approved the formation of NIA, we did a clause by clause vetting of the Act in cooperation with Law Ministry officials, before it was submitted to the President. I left the Law Ministry in my personal car, with a gentleman from the ministry at 9.40 pm on 30 December 2008 and handed over the documents to the staff at the Rashtrapati Bhavan for Presidential assent at 10 pm. This can be verified. Then I, along with the Law Ministry staffer, drove away in my car. I dropped him near Dwarka Mor Metro station. Soon after I dropped him, I was chased by youths who were on two motorcycles. There is a police post at Sector 13, Dwarka and when I rushed there, I received no help. I somehow managed to dodge them and reach home. This is all on record. Next day I reported all of this to the MHA. It was also communicated to P. Chidambaram (then Home Minister). Till then I was not aware why I was chased that other night.
If you go back, till the first week of January 2009, Pakistan did not accept Ajmal Kasab as one of its citizens. They accepted it later. During this time, some back channel things, which we were not aware of at the time, were happening. We don’t know what was happening. But citizenship of Kasab was definitely a topic.
Now let me take you to the interrogation of terrorist and Mumbai attack plotter David Coleman Headley, who very clearly said that attempts were made to take people hostage so that they can be used to secure the release of Kasab.
My report (of being chased and no policemen being present at the police chowki) was taken up by Delhi police formally only on 19 January 2009, 20 days after the incident and two weeks after Pakistan had accepted Ajmal Kasab as their national. Later, the police, after investigating my complaint, stated that all constables and officials, who were supposed to be there at the police post, were “away” on duty or were removed from the post at the time of the incident. After six months (of the incident), I learnt in a casual closed door meeting with MHA officials that the plan was to kidnap me so that Kasab could be set free. All this is a matter of record. I knew sensitive details about the whole attack, had monitored it while it was happening in Mumbai. Even the “sarkar” was aware of it and maybe was a party to it. I am not making any allegations; all this can be corroborated from official records.
Q: Former Home Secretary and now Union minister, R.K. Singh had at the time admitted the presence of Hindu terror.
A: What will R.K. Singh do? You need to understand how things move in the bureaucracy. On the basis of whatever inputs are received from intelligence agencies, we make our reports and present it to the minister. But if the minister takes a contrary call, then we are bound to follow the decision taken by the minister and make it public. No officer has the power to go against the narration that has been decided by his minister or the top leadership. Once the top leadership and the minister decided it was “Hindu terror”, R.K. Singh had no choice but to communicate the same to the public. There was no input about “Hindu terror”, but once the communication was received that it has to be “Hindu terror”, Singh had no choice. If he did not, he would have suffered. If the minister says that an affidavit needs to be changed, it has to be changed, nothing can be done. This also happened during the time of G.K. Pillai.
Q: Are you referring to the second affidavit that was filed in the Ishrat case? (The MHA, after stating that she was a part of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, denied this in the second affidavit.)
A: Yes. And I don’t know why R.K. Singh is avoiding the media. He should come out and say what exactly happened. So many things were happening which should not have.
A: On 11 December 2008, after the Mumbai attack, the Home Minister gave a suo-motto statement in Parliament on Mumbai attacks regarding a suspected Lashkar boat in the Pakistani water being cited by the Indian Navy before the actual attack. He also said that in the absence of any further inputs, no action was taken. Ask him did the Indian Navy abandon the search for the boat (which eventually entered India with the terrorists) sou-moto or was it asked to abandon it? If they were asked to abandon it, who asked them to abandon it?
Indian Navy does the job of surveillance in its normal course. They don’t wait for intelligence input. Intelligence inputs act as force multipliers. Hence, they would not have abandoned their surveillance unless any direction comes from the top.
We also got credible and strong inputs that the 10 terrorists were helped by Indian nationals. They came from Colaba area, heavily armed and they just walked into Mumbai and no one noticed? Would that have happened without local assistance? There was an Indian hand and intervention, but it was never investigated since it was stopped at the top level.
Pakistan had communicated that a call had been made to Asif Zardari by Ministry of External Affairs on the day of the attack. Pranab Mukherjee had made no such call. So who did it? What was the call about? Why was it made?
A top bureaucrat of the rank of Additional Chief Secretary (Home) was in the Taj Hotel when the attack took place. The inputs about the possible terror attack on the Taj were shared with these officials too. After the Chief Secretary, such sensitive information lands on the table of the Additional Chief Secretary (Home). What were they doing there?
These are the questions about 26/11 attack that need to be answered.
You should also recall that in a reply to a starred question in the Lok Sabha No. 78, on 2 March 2010, the Home Minister replied that the investigating agencies were informed by Kasab that they (terrorists) were assisted by an Indian. Was Kasab’s admission not found to be substantiated by investigators or they were asked not to pursue it? A Bollywood personality’s name had also come up during the post attack investigation after which a letter was received from the personality explaining his position.
Somewhere in March 2010, the relatives of this personality met a Union minister in Delhi in the Haley Road area, to seek help in the matter—the meeting was facilitated by a TV journalist.
The Bollywood personality could have used a legal route of recording the statement before a magistrate to get his exoneration if he was innocent. Any lawyer would have guided him on this.
You must also keep in mind that all the senior officials involved in the internal security were in Pakistan when the 26/11 attack took place. They were taken to Murree in Pakistan, a travel plan, that was not originally in the itinerary and do understand that Murree does not have a good communication system (weak mobile network). This all was part of a well planned design.
A: Normally, Additional Secretary (Border management) has no role there—conventionally, he was not supposed to go. But he was included in the delegation at the behest of a political leader at the last minute. Later on, when the proposal to extend the stay and go to Murree was made, it was he (Additional Secretary, Border Management) who prevailed over the Home Secretary and extended the tour. And we know what happened after that.
Q: The Mumbai attacks?
A: Yes, and when it was happening, the internal security apparatus that could have handled it was not in place. I was there in the control room and working under the guidance of two Joint Secretaries who were doing their best to do whatever they could. Everybody was calling us up, the MEA, the PMO, the Home Minister, the embassies and we had no answers. We sent a proposal that since CISF and CRPF units were there, we should move them as first responder since both, especially CISF, are trained in securing buildings and vital installations (just like Taj Hotel) but Shivraj Patil (then Home Minister) would not respond. It was well past midnight on 26/11 that our officers, who were in Pakistan, were able to come back, after a BSF aircraft was sent to pick them up. For 18 hours (since the attack started) the top bureaucrats, who were assigned the job, were not there to take decisions and internal security was directionless. These 18 hours gave the terrorists enough time to entrench themselves securely. The attack could have been avoided, should have been avoided, the subsequent loss of life could have been avoided.
Q: Do you suspect individuals were working on the directions of Pakistan?
A: In April 2007, a student was arrested from Pune for spying for ISI. His father was in the Army. He was honey trapped by a Pakistan based girl through social media. He later converted, got married and after investigations we found that the boy, who had access to sensitive information due to his father’s post, had revealed everything to her. She was a Karachi based “call girl”.
In 2008, we received inputs that politicians from UP and Bihar, bureaucrats, policemen, top officers in PSUs, defence personnel and people working in the media were either honey trapped or were forced to work for ISI for other reasons. This is all available with the MHA. The names were not there. Some of them had even converted and married, which was solemnised by a Pakistani cleric in Mau, the details of which are maintained by him in a separate register. Some of these politicians are still active.
Since the conduct rules of IAS and IPS officers are not our domain, this report was sent to Inderjeet Kaur (who was the director, police, at that time) and S.S. Shukla (Under Secretary, DoPT). I don’t know if any action (based on the report) was taken or not. I am not imputing anything, just stating what had happened.