“My ex-ABVP association has nothing to do with my role as a special prosecutor. I did my job by placing before the court all the evidence on record.” Amid growing concerns that the Modi government is trying to pressure the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to “go soft” on cases related to Hindutva terror, it has been learnt that N. Harinath, the special prosecutor in the Mecca Masjid blast case was associated with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP).

ABVP is the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The latest revelation has raised serious questions about conflict of interest clouding the investigation.

On Monday, a special NIA court in Hyderabad acquitted the five Hindutva activists accused in the 2007 bombing which left nine dead and nearly 60 severely injured. Barely hours after the verdict, K. Ravinder Reddy had tendered his resignation citing “personal” reasons.

The NIA had pursued investigations against the accused for more than seven years – after taking over the case from the CBI. N. Harinath was appointed as NIA prosecutor when the trial began in 2015. A lawyer for the economic offences wing of the Enforcement Directorate in the past, Harinath represented the CBI in bank fraud, attempt to murder and abetment to suicide cases.

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According to NDTV, Harinath had little experience in criminal law. However, he insisted that he was qualified to fight the case. Other special prosecutors, on the other hand, are of the opinion that knowledge of a murder trial is a prerequisite in terror investigations such as the Mecca Masjid blast one.

Harinath told the Indian Express: “When I was pursuing my second year in law, I joined ABVP, but have never been associated with the BJP.” He said that since then, he has continued to donate to and help the RSS-linked body to organise events.

The Mecca Masjid blast case has taken several twists and turns before it led to the acquittal of all the accused. Swami Aseemanand, a former RSS activist, who had had been named the kingpin of the blast, was among the five accused who were acquitted on Monday.

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The investigating agency, on its part, has declined to comment on the empanelment of Harinath, who told the daily that he did not face any pressure from anyone to dilute the case. He also told NDTV that: “My ex-ABVP association has nothing to do with my role as a special prosecutor. I did my job by placing before the court all the evidence on record.”

He further said that from the very beginning, they “were working to secure the conviction in the case” and while acquitting the accused, the NIA court had observed that the confession of Aseemanand recorded before a magistrate in Delhi was not fair.

On December 18, 2010, Aseemanand told the magistrate in the court, “I know I can be sentenced to the death penalty but I still want to make the confession.” He had also talked about the role of prominent RSS leaders like Indresh Kumar in mentoring those who eventually executed the blast. Aseemanand had confessed in front of the media as well.

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“The entire prosecution case was based on the confession of Aseemanand, which was recorded before a magistrate in Delhi. In his deposition to court, the magistrate said Aseemanand was in police (CBI) custody when he was brought before him and after recording his statement he was taken into the police custody. The court concluded that it is not a fair confession,” Harinath told the Indian Express.

According to section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, a confession cannot be recorded before a police officer.

“The court observed that the case pertained to Hyderabad and the CBI could have got Aseemanand’s statement recorded before the magistrate here when he was in jail,” he said, adding that the magistrate who recorded the statement was a prosecution witness in the case.

According to Harinath, witnesses turning hostile was another reason behind the court failing to secure the conviction. #KhabarLive