He was praised by his neighbours as a soft-spoken and virtuous young man and commended by superiors in the army as a bright and diligent recruit.
NASHIK: He was praised by his neighbours as a soft-spoken and virtuous young man and commended by superiors in the army as a bright and diligent recruit. But Lt. Col. Prasad Shrikant Purohit's involvement in a homegrown terror conspiracy and dubbed the "mastermind" behind the Malegaon bombing in September has caused untold embarrassment to the Indian Army.
Born in a cultured, middle-class Maharashtrian Brahmin family in Pune and educated in the reputed Abhinav Vidyalaya and Garware College in the same city, Purohit joined the army in order to serve the nation in the best possible manner rather than making a fabulous career, says his spiritual mentor Shaila Dighe.
"Imbued by patriotic spirit and fired by a desire to do something 'extra-ordinary' for the country and the society, Purohit had first thought of joining politics but I goaded him to join the army," Dighe said.
Lt. Col. Jayant Chitale (retired), who headed the services selection board centre in Pune for several years, describes Purohit, the son of a bank officer, as a bright, hard-working student overflowing with patriotic fervour.
"He met me several times after completing his training and I kept getting a very favourable feedback about him all through his stint, particularly the long one in Jammu and Kashmir," Chitale said.
In 2002 Purohit participated in 15 Maratha Light Infantry's counter-terrorism operations in Jammu and Kashmir and his tenure ended in January 2005 while serving in the Awantipura based intelligence unit of the Military Intelligence Directorate.
"My impression is that Purohit was highly respected by his juniors and also appreciated by his officers because of his outstanding qualities," he said. "Had it not been for his extra-ordinary merit and dedication, the young man would not have risen through the ranks."
Though reticent, Purohit was articulate about his political views and firmly believed that the state was doing little to protect Hindus.
"I can tell you on good authority that several officers are thoroughly disenchanted with the rulers of the country for their lack of political will to sternly deal with terrorism and are itching to do something... Lt. Col. Purohit could be the one who perhaps did it in a manner that he thought right," Chitale said.
It was during his posting in the Army's Deolali Camp near Nashik that Lt Gen Purohit came in contact with Abhinav Bharat, the radical Hindutva group, set up among others by retired major Ramesh Upadhyay, who is also in the Anti Terrorism Squad's custody for his alleged involvement in the Sep 29 bomb blast.
Apart from giving lectures at the Abhinav Bharat meetings in Nashik and Pune in the last two years, Purohit is believed to have imparted arms training to the group's members and to the activists of the Bajrang Dal, the youth brigade of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Purohit is suspected to have donned many aliases - Rajendra, Srikant and Pramod, apart from his official name Prasad - during the time he allegedly imparted training in handling arms and explosives to the cadres of the two organisations.
ATS investigators are believed to have information that Purohit also donned the name 'Mithun Chakraborty' when he imparted training to the Abhinav Bharat and Bajrang Dal youth near Sinhagad Fort in Pune in 2006.
Among the cadres obtaining training in making bombs was Himanshu Panse of Nanded, who died in an explosion while attempting to make a bomb.
His friend in whose house the exercise was conducted died in the explosion. The explosives being used were allegedly supplied by Purohit, who had hidden them in a gymnasium in Pune that he regularly visited, the ATS investigators believe.