India’s counter terrorism task force NIA (National Investigation Agency) has come into limelight recently – but for the wrong reasons. Neglecting their original task of pursuing serious crimes like terrorism, the NIA personnel have barked up the wrong tree. Incapable of nabbing the real terrorists, they are trying other methods to justify their perpetuation in the present system. They have picked up human rights activists, political opponents of the current regime, and other dissidents, and branded them as terrorists. The most notorious example of the NIA’s misdemeanour is its fabrication of charges against well-known intellectuals and social activists in the Bhima Koregaon case. When challenged in the courts, the NIA’s pique burst out in its full vindictiveness. It opposed the bail of Sudha Bharadwaj, the well-known human rights lawyer who is one of the accused in the above mentioned case, at the Supreme Court on December 6. The judges of the apex court snubbed the NIA by dismissing its plea, and granting her bail.
NIA’s track record
The credibility of the NIA has always been under a cloud due to its dubious track record since its inception in January 1, 2009. Formed after the terror attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, it was meant to be a counter-terrorism task force, equivalent to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). But has the NIA been able to establish its credentials as an independent investigative agency ? Or, is it acting as a tool of the ruling party – whosever is in power in Delhi ?
To come down to the ground reality, till now the NIA has not been able to punish the real culprits who were responsible for major terrorist attacks like the blasts and bombings in Malegaon (2006 and 2008), Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad (2007), Samjhauta Express (2007), and Delhi High Court (2011), among other such cases, which the NIA was entrusted with. It had been dilly-dallying over these cases for more than ten years now.
The most despicable instance of its prevarication is the way it has been handling the two Malegaon bomb blast cases of 2006 and 2008. Due to its procrastination, the trial in the first case is yet to begin, and that in the latter began eleven years after the incident. (Re: Sadaf Modak: `13 years of NIA: How the investigation in key cases has fared in Maharashtra’. Indian Express. September 30, 2021). The tortuous history of these two cases over the last decade or so, exposes how the NIA sleuths and their bosses keep on shifting their loyalties from one ruling power to another.
The two cases were handed over to the NIA in 2011. Investigations relating to the 2006 blasts led to the Hindu terrorist outfit Abhinav Bharat which was found to be the culprit. Following these findings in 2013, a firebrand Hindutva extremist female preacher Pragya Singh Thakur was arrested, after her scooter was found to be carrying the bomb that set off the blast in Malegaon. Along with her, some other activists of the RSS were also rounded up. This was during the UPA regime.
But following the change of regime in 2014, when the BJP took over the reins of power in New Delhi, the NIA’s style of operation also changed. Its process of prosecution of the accused in the Malegaon case went through a curious twist. The NIA, in complicity with the ruling BJP politicians, engaged in a laborious plan over a three year period (2014-2017) to protect their protégée Pragya Singh Thakur, whose bio data is an illustrious example of Hindu terrorism.
When her trial was on, in June, 2015, Rohini Salian, the Special Prosecutor who was appointed by the NIA for conducting the proceedings against the accused in that case, came out with an explosive statement. She said that an NIA Superintend of Police, Suhas Warke asked her to go soft on the accused, and not to appear at the court during hearings. (Re: Indian Express, June 25, 2015). Two years later, the NIA dropped some of the serious charges against Pragya Singh Thakur, thus allowing her to get bail.
The NIA had followed a similar devious way while investigating into the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case. The manner in which it handled the case, ultimately led to the acquittal of the Hindu terrorist leader Swami Aseemananda and four other co-accused in April, 2018. The judge of the special anti-terror court, Justice K. Ravinder Reddy, while delivering his verdict on the Mecca Masjid case justified his decision to acquit them by stating that the prosecution (NIA in this case) failed to prove charges against the accused. Curiously enough, the same judge after his retirement a few months later, came out with a statement expressing his desire to join the BJP. (Re: Economic Times, September 21, 2018). One suspects that there could have been a stealthy collaboration between the NIA (deliberately soft-pedalling the charges against the accused) and the judge (taking advantage of it to acquit them).
Since the BJP’s coming to power in New Delhi, the NIA has been shifting its focus from terrorists (who were eventually found to be members of Hindu extremist organizations) who now enjoy protection from the ruling BJP, to targeting citizens who protest against the BJP government – human rights activists, political dissidents, journalists and lawyers who defend them. The NIA’s fabrication of the Bhima Koregaon case is the latest example of its total surrender to the political interests of the ruling party.
Is the NIA emerging as an Indian version of the Gestapo – a state within a state ?
The NIA’s style of functioning, as described above, bears an ominous resemblance to the operations carried out by the German intelligence agencies that were set up by Hitler’s Nazi regime in the 1930-40 period. I am not suggesting that the present NIA bosses have read the Nazi text books and are deliberately following their model. Given their low level of intelligence and poor knowledge of history, I don’t expect the NIA top brass to have even heard of the SS and the Gestapo – the notorious secret intelligence agency and the secret police that were created by Hitler’s deputy Hermann Goering to hound and kill the Fuhrer’s opponents. The SS (abbreviation of `Schutzstaffel’ meaning protective echelon) was founded in 1931, and its sister organization, the Gestapo (acronym of the first letters of Geheime Staatspolizei, or secret police) came into existence two years later. Both operated in close collaboration with, and protected the Nazi party’s para-military wing SA (`Sturmabteilung’ – the lynch gang of storm troopers) which unleashed a reign of terror against Jews, Communists, Social Democrats and dissident intellectuals.
But isn’t it curious that despite their ignorance of this past history of persecution by Nazi intelligence agencies in Germany, the ill-educated bosses and the uneducated sleuths of India’s NIA, are replicating the same Nazi pattern of operation in our country today ? The explanation lies in a revealing statement made by Goering , in an interview that he gave in public on April 18, 1946, when he was facing the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials. Explaining the secret of the popularity of his Nazi party among the German people, he said that its message to them was: “…denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and (their attempt to) expose the country to danger.” (Re: Gustave Gilbert: Nuremburg Diary. http://www.mit.edu>fuller>peace>war_goering
This stress on patriotism generated in the German public a mood of anger against those who were opposing the Nazi war plans, and fear that they were exposing their country to danger.
Don’t we see a similar pattern followed by our NIA ? It is hyping up among the Indian people a sense of supra-patriotism and a paranoia about danger to national security, and is directing this manufactured anger and fear of theirs against Indian human rights activists and political dissidents. Like Goering, the NIA officials accuse them of `lack of patriotism’ (the Indian term being `anti-national’). Like Goering again, his the NIA counterparts are accusing them of `exposing the country to danger’ (the words used by Goering, which have been translated into the NIA term as `threat to national security’).
How do we explain this similarity ? Once again, let us go back to Hermann Goering’s above mentioned interview. At the end of it, he added this significant observation about the universal efficacy of his tactics : “It works the same way in any country.” True to Goering’s prediction, it is working well in India today – as evident from the NIA’s record of persecution of anti-government protestors and human rights activists.
The other important order that Goering issued to his agents was: “Shoot first and inquire afterwards, and I will protect you.”
The NIA appears to have faithfully carried out this order that came from a distant past and a far-away country. Let us turn our attention to a particular incident in north-east India. Since the NIA is empowered to investigate into cases relating to counter-terrorism operations, we expected that it would inquire into the killing of sixteen innocent citizens in Nagaland’s Mon district on December 4, 2021, which happened in the course of a counter-insurgency operation by the Indian armed forces. Till now, the NIA has remained silent on the killing. So, the trigger-happy soldiers are allowed to “shoot first,” and be ‘‘protected” by the present day Indian Goerings.
Orchestration of bomb blasts and false allegations
The way Indian intelligence agencies have dealt with the cases of the two bomb blasts in Malegaon (September 8, 2006) and Mecca Masjid (May 18, 2007), resembles the German Gestapo’s fabrication of the story behind the Reichstag fire of February 27, 1933.
On February 24, 1933 Herman Goering raided the headquarters of the German Communist Party, seized `seditious’ material, and alleged that the Communists were planning to attack buildings. (Doesn’t it sound similar to the NIA operatives raiding homes of Indian human rights activists and discovering `seditious` material on their laptops ?). Three days later, on February 27, the German parliamentary building Reichstag went up in flames. Hitler immediately rounded up the Communists, blaming them for the fire. Later disclosures however revealed that it was the Nazis themselves who set it on fire, and put the blame on the Communists to brand them as unpatriotic arsonists. (Re: Willi Munzenberg ed. `The Brown Book on the Reichstag Fire and Hitler Terror.’). In confirmation, Goering was to boast later, during his trial at Nuremberg: “The only one who really knows about Reichstag is I, because I set it on fire.” (Re: Gustave Gilbert: `Nuremburg Diary.’
Let us now fast forward to India today. We find ominous echoes of the same Nazi plot behind the Reichstag fire of 1933, in the conspiratorial operations that were carried out by the Hindutva brigade which set off two bomb blasts in Malegaon in 2006 and in Hyderabad in 2007.
In Malegaon on September 8, 2006, immediately after the bomb blast, the intelligence agencies put the blame on a Muslim organization, Students Islamic Movement of India. But later investigations revealed that right-wing Hindu elements aligned to the BJP were behind it, and the main accused was granted bail in 2017 after the BJP came to power – as discussed earlier in this article. Similarly, soon after the Mecca Masjid bomb blast on May 18, 2007, Muslims again were targeted by the state when some seventy Muslim youth were arrested, and during their illegal confinement pressure was brought upon them to own up to the blast. Later, it was revealed that it was the BJP-aligned Hindu extremist Swami Aseemananda who was behind the blast. I have already pointed out earlier in this article how the NIA diluted charges against him, thus allowing his acquittal by a judge, who later after his retirement, expressed his yearning for joining the ruling BJP.
These are instances of an unholy collaboration between the (i) ruling BJP politicians, (ii) the NIA (which is legally required to carry out investigations into cases, without being partisan towards the accused who are linked to the BJP), and sadly enough, (iii) certain members of the judiciary who are ready to acquit criminals who enjoy support from the BJP and the Sangh Parivar.
The BJP regime is thus emerging as a mirror image of the Nazi regime – with the same dangerous trend of complicity between the ruling party, the investigative agencies and the judiciary. In Germany, the Nazi party formed its para-military wing of storm-troopers called the SA (colloquially known as brown shirts because of the colour of their uniform), who went around killing Jews, Communists and dissidents. In India today, on the same model, the BJP has organized its para-military wings – Bajrang Dal and other similar Hindutva vigilante groups which are on a lynching spree against Muslims, other religious minorities, and rationalists. While the German Nazi storm troopers flaunted the colour of their brown shirts, the lynching gangs of the Hindutva brigade flaunt the saffron colour of their caps, scarfs and robes.
As in Hitler’s Germany where the Nazi storm-troopers indulged in hate-speech against Jews and yet enjoyed impunity, in Modi’s India the Hindutva brigade leaders in a congregation in Haridwar from December 17-19, 2021, gave an open call to Hindus to arm themselves to kill Muslims. Doesn’t this call fall within the ambit of terrorism – the area demarcated for counter-terrorist operations by the NIA ? Yet, till now, the NIA has not taken up this case of atrocious public terrorist provocation.
The final seal to the NIA’s policy of protecting Hindutva terrorists, and targeting instead human rights activists in civil society has been given by the National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval. Addressing the passing out parade of a batch of IPS (Indian Police Service) probationers at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy in Hyderabad in November, 2021, he urged them to shift their attention to social activists in civil society as their targets, and start a new war against them : “The new frontiers of war, what you call the fourth generation of warfare is the civil society…that can be subverted, suborned, divided, manipulated to hurt the interests of a nation.” The frontiers of war are thus being shifted from the borders of China and Pakistan to the internal corridors of Indian civil society.
Sumanta Banerjee is a political commentator and writer, is the author of In The Wake of Naxalbari’ (1980 and 2008); The Parlour and the Streets: Elite and Popular Culture in Nineteenth Century Calcutta (1989) and ‘Memoirs of Roads: Calcutta from Colonial Urbanization to Global Modernization.’ (2016).