Amid speculation that he would be questioned in connection with the Malegaon bombings, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Yogi Adityanath on Tuesday dared Maharashtra's Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) to arrest him though the Uttar Pradesh police said they had no information in this connection.
"There is a dangerous conspiracy afoot to label the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as a terrorist organisation and give a charitable name to Muslim outfits," the MP from Uttar Pradesh's Gorakhpur constituency told reporters in Lucknow.
"I dare the police to arrest me and I will offer no help in their probe," he added, amid reports that he was likely to be questioned in connection with the Sep 29 Malegaon blasts in which six people were killed.
Yogi Adityanath denied having any connection with Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Lt. Col PS Purohit, alleged to be Malegaon masterminds and in police custody.
"I have never met Sadhvi Pragya, but I have all regard for her as a Hindu saint who is being maligned as a part of a conspiracy hatched by the Congress party," he told IANS.
Terming the police action against Sadhvi as "baseless", he said: "She has been framed on trumped up charges."
Asked if the Maharastra ATS had got in touch with him in this regard, he said: "So far they have not, but I have nothing to fear from them. I would suggest that they should bring with them their masterminds - Maharastra Home Minister RR Patil and Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil too."
The BJP expectedly pooh-poohed the line of inquiry being reportedly pursued by the ATS.
"I am not at all surprised by this investigation. Now, I am more and more convinced that it is a political conspiracy to prove that the BJP is a terrorist organisation," said senior party leader Yashwant Sinha.
Adityanath, 36, advised the ATS not to act on instructions from "others" and also questioned why narco-analysis tests were being conducted on Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, when it was not done with Islamic militants accused in other cases of bombings.
His comments came after the ATS Monday filed an application in a Mumbai court seeking permission to interrogate a "high profile leader" and obtain cooperation from the Uttar Pradesh government in doing so.
Though declining to name the leader, the ATS has discreetly conducted operations in Farrukhabad and eastern Uttar Pradesh and found vital leads to the Malegaon bombing.
Investigations into the Malegaon attack have been constantly throwing up new leads since Lt Col Purohit, a serving officer of the Indian Army, was arrested Nov 5. Some of these leads have led to Adityanath, investigative officials said.
Reacting to media reports, a senior official of the Uttar Pradesh police's Anti- Terrorist Squad (ATS) told IANS in Lukcnow: "I think all these reports are baseless as we have not received any such query from our counterparts in Maharastra."
While declining to divulge the name of the "high profile leader", the official said: "We have received certain queries from the Maharastra ATS but there was none so far in connection with any prominent politician's suspected involvement in the blast."
Uttar Pradesh Additional Director General of Police Brij Lal said: "So far, the Maharastra police have not sought any information from us in connection with the September blasts in Malegaon."
He also debunked reports accusing the Uttar Pradesh police of not cooperating with the Maharastra police in probing Adityanath - presumably because Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati wanted to keep her doors open for an alliance with the BJP.
Probe officials said Purohit had allegedly diverted money from funds meant for operational purposes of military intelligence to set up Abhinav Bharat, the little known rightwing Hindu outfit gradually emerging as the alleged fount of several terrorist activities.
Eight people have been picked up by the ATS for their alleged involvement in the terror attack in Malegaon, about 280 km from Mumbai.
Besides Purohit, the other accused include Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Shivnarayan Singh Kalsangram, Shyam Bhawarlal Sahu, Major Ramesh Shivji Upadhyay (retd), Sameer Kulkarni, Rakesh Dattaram Dhavde and Ajay Rahirkar.
The surprise arrests have indicated a change of course for police, who had blamed Muslim operatives for a wave of bombings that have killed more than 145 people across the country since May.
Adityanath, who is unapologetic about his strident brand of Hindutva politics, is widely held as responsible for the BJP's foothold in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Known for his 'Hindu awakening' rallies, Adityanath has also sought to justify the attack on churches in Orissa following the Aug 23 killing of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader.
"The Hindu reaction (after the killing of the priest) is justified and it is high time that the Hindus should pick up weapons just like our gods and goddesses adorn weapons," Adityanath, the successor of Mahant Avaidyanath of the Gorakhpur Temple Trust, had said.
Adityanath has been active in reconverting other religious groups, particularly the low-caste converts to Christianity, back into the Hindu fold.