An India Today investigation aired on October 8 shows men linked to Sanatan Sanstha, a right-wing Hindutva organisation, confessing on camera that they were involved in a blast in Navi Mumbai in 2008.
That year, two blasts, injuring eight people, were carried out in Maharashtra — outside a Panvel theatre and another at a Thane auditorium, for staging the Marathi play Aamhi Pachpute, which had fallen foul of various right-wing groups. A bomb outside a Vashi theatre was diffused by the police.
India Today Special Investigation: The men admit on camera that they planted the bomb in Vashi. (Photo: India Today)
Men arrested for both the blasts allegedly belonged to the Sanatan Sanstha. In 2011, two Sanstha members were convicted for the blasts.
That is the only time the group’s members have been actually convicted in a case (the convicts are now out on bail).
However, in the years since, Sanatan Sanstha’s name has cropped up in several, more serious crimes, including the murders of journalist Gauri Lankesh (2017), rationalist Narendra Dabholkar (2013), author MM Kalburgi and communist leader Govind Pansare (2015).
The Sanstha's name has cropped up in the Gauri Lankesh (2017), Narendra Dabholkar (2013), and MM Kalburgi murders. (Photo: DailyO)
Heat on the organisation has become especially strong in 2018, and cries for banning it have been growing, but the Maharashtra government has pointed out that those arrested in all these cases don’t have definite links with the organisation — they have mostly been seen to participate in or support its programmes — and the Sanstha has not been named in the FIRs in these cases.
While this has been cited as proof of the Sanstha’s innocence by some, others claim that the authorities have handled the body with kid gloves. Indeed, the second part of India Today’s investigation tackles that point — policemen have reportedly spoken on camera about how they are under pressure to go soft on the organisation.
The Sanatan Sanstha claims to preach the values of “sanatan dharma” in a scientific manner. However, for too long, it has been on the sidelines of various violent events, escaping the establishing of a direct link often by a hair’s breath.
Here’s a brief timeline of the occasions when the Sanstha’s name cropped up in investigations into several crimes.
2018 — Rewind:
Earlier this year, the Karnataka’s Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing Gauri Lankesh’s murder arrested Pune resident Amol Kale, a former convener of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), an affiliate of the Sanathan Sanstha.
The Karnataka team shared some phone numbers and entries found in Kale’s diary with the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad. These findings helped the ATS zero in on Vaibhav Raut, also linked with the Sanathan Sanstha.
What they recovered from his Nallasopara house in August was shocking: 12 more crude bombs, two gelatin sticks, four electronic detonators, 22 non-electronic detonators, safety fuse wires, 150 grams of a white powder wrapped in newspaper, two one-litre bottles labelled 'Poison', 10 batteries, a six volt battery, a cutter, a hacksaw, soldering equipment, three switches, two complete PCB circuits, a partially completed PCB circuit, six battery connectors, two battery containers, four relay switches, eight resistors, six transistors, lengths of wires, a multimeter, hand gloves, adhesive solution and a hand-drawn, partially complete circuit.
A huge cache of country-made bombs and other explosives were seized from the house of Vaibhav Raut, who has links to the Sanstha. (Photo: India Today)
This ammunition was allegedly to be used to carry out bomb blasts across Maharashtra.
Raut was arrested, along with one Sudhanva Gondhalekar, a member of the Shri Shivpratishthan Hindustan, and Sharad Kalaskar, linked to the HJS.
Kalaskar is said to have confessed that he, along with one Sachin Prakashrao Andure, shot dead Dabholkar. Andure has also been arrested.
The police is probing the roles of the other accused in the murders of Pansare, Kalburgi and Lankesh.
Rewind to 2009. In Goa in October that year, two Sanstha members were killed when the IEDs they were carrying on a scooter detonated accidentally. The bomb was meant to disrupt a Narakasur burning competition that takes place in Goa a day before Diwali. The Sanstha believes such practices are against the Sanatan version of Hinduism.
Several members of the Sanstha were arrested in the case — but were acquitted in 2015. The acquittal was blamed by many on a faulty probe by the NIA.
In 2008, the Santha’s members had already been implicated in the Thane and Panvel theatre blasts.
In 2011, the Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka governments asked the Centre that the Sanatan Sanstha be declared a terrorist organisation. The then-Home Minister P. Chidambaram turned down the plea, terming the request “cryptic”.
This year in August, then-Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and then-Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan sparred about it, with Shinde saying the state didn’t probe the Sanstha seriously enough, while Chavan said his government “had given a detailed report, backed by evidence”, to the Centre, seeking a ban on the group, but the demand was rejected.
Today, the Devendra Fadnavis government is facing the heat for failing to ban the organisation.
But amidst this political mudslinging, one thing is clear — the authorities have gone too soft, given too many benefits of doubt, to an organisation whose name features in too many violent crimes for it to be a mistake or co-incidence.