The arrest of an Indian Army officer for his suspected involvement in a terror blast by Hindu extremists has been a big blow to the army. Defence Minister A.K. Antony said it was "a matter of serious concern".
Just a one-off case? The Indian army's reputation is at stake
The anti-terrorism squad in the western Indian state of Maharashtra arrested Lt. Col. Srikant Purohit this week for his links with a bomb blast in the town of Malegaon in September, which killed five people and was blamed on a Hindu militant group.
Links with Hindu extremists
Purohit, who was doing a foreign language course from the Army Education Corps, is a founding member of Abhinav Bharat, a radical Hindu rightwing group, say the police. He has been remanded to judicial custody till November 15 and further investigations are going on to determine if more serving officers were part of the conspiracy.
Members of this group have been linked to the deadly bombing near a mosque in Malegaon. The police say that Purohit helped those accused of the blast - Hindu missionary Pragya Thakur, a retired army major Ramesh Upadhyaya and his associate Sharad Kulkarni - in procuring explosives used in the blast. The three are already in police custody.
The incident has shocked the Indian public and some see it as an infiltration of the army by Hindu radical groups.
Tapan Palti, a retired colonel says this arrest has come as a rude wake up call to the army. "Having somebody in uniform involved in terror charges is a very serious issue. On the face of it, it seems to be a one-off case but there may be many others who would be ideologically inclined. The entire system needs to be alert after this sensational revelation," says Palti.
Army image endangered
The Indian Army conceded that the Lt. Col. Purohit episode - the first case of a serving military officer taken into custody on terror charges - has hurt its image.
It is believed that Purohit who was with the Military Intelligence, came into contact with Abhinav Bharat and retired Major Upadhyaya during his earlier postings in Nasik and Pune in Maharashtra.
Purohit’s lawyer, Avinash Bhide says he has not been in touch with his client after he was arrested.
"He has made some confession before the investigating officers. But on 5th (November) when he was produced before the court, what he said was he was not involved in the case but was roped in. But after he was remanded to police custody there is no contact with him nor have his relatives contacted him,’’ says Bhide. Purohit will now be produced before the court on November 15.
The surprise arrests have indicated a change of course for police, who had blamed Muslim activists for a wave of bombings that have killed more than 145 people across the country since May.
After the current round of arrests of Hindu radicals linked to the army, the men in uniform are just hoping this is a one-off case that does not prise open another can of worms.