Almost three and half years after Narendra Dabholkar's murder, the CBI has announced a reward of Rs 5 lakh for the two wanted accused and Sanatan sadhaks — Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar. The duo has been absconding ever since they were named in the 2009 Madgaon blast case. Interpol had even issued a Red-Corner notice against them. Meanwhile, SIT has questioned the founder of Sanatan Sanstha — Jayant Athavale.
Dabholkar was shot dead on 20 August, 2013 by two men on motorcycle on Vitthal Ramji Shinde Bridge in Pune. Activists and family members of Dabholkar had demanded a probe into the role of the Right-wing extremist group — Sanatan Sanstha. The case was initially being investigated by Pune police, but they failed to reach any conclusion. They had released the sketches of two suspects based on information from witnesses and CCTV footages. It was Dabholkar's son Hamid who noticed that the sketch of one of the suspects resembled Akolkar. The family moved the high court and filed a writ petition demanding that the investigation takes place under the supervision of the court. The case was then transferred to the CBI. However, there has been no significant development made in the investigation until now.
On 16 February, 2015, Govind Pansare and his wife Uma were shot near their home in Kolhapur when they were coming back from their morning walk. Pansare succumbed to his injuries on 20 February, 2015.
Sameer Gaikwad, a member of the Sanatan Sanstha, was arrested in Sangli by SIT in September. Though this brought the sanstha under scanner, there was no progress made in the case after the arrest. Kannada writer MM Kalburgi was shot dead last year in a similar manner. The families requested the court that all three agencies investigating these cases should work in collaboration. The investigators turned their focus on the Sanatan Sanstha, looking into their call record details, locations of sadhaks, their links etc.
In June last year, the CBI searched the houses of Sanatan sadhaks — Virendra Tawade in Panvel and Akolkar in Pune. They retrieved some data from their emails and hard disks. Following these raids, Tawade who is also a member of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, was arrested in connection to the Dabholkar murder case. This was the first arrest made in the case. Police soon found his links to the Pansare murder case. He became the prime accused in both the cases. A witness from Kolhapur, also a former member of the sanstha, met CBI officials and revealed the links — it was a breakthrough moment in the case.
According to the chargesheet, Tawade — an ENT specialist — was associated with the sanstha since 2000. Tawade first worked as the district coordinator in 2000 and was later appointed as the district head. He went on to work as the state head of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti from 2005. He had organised demonstrations against programmes organised by Dabholkar and Pansare. According to a witness account mentioned in the chargesheet, Tawade had asked Akolkar to show him firearms. He also asked the witness if he can produce similar firearms. He also ordered Akolkar and Pawar to conduct a recce and allegedly conspired the murder of Dabholkar and Pansare. The witness account further said that Akolkar and Pawar (who according to the NIA have been absconding since 2010) were residing in Kolhapur for almost one and half months. The chargesheet also revealed that Tawade has been communicating with the duo via emails and used code words like chocolate for bullets and books for firearms. He had also contacted Gaikwad on the day of Pansare's murder. The chargesheet also mentioned a list compiled by the suspects that included names of people doing 'anti-religious' work and whom they planned to murder. They have been charged under IPC 120(b) and 302.
Akolkar and Pawar were both residing at the santha's Goa ashram before the Madgaon blasts and have been absconding since their names came up in the investigation. According to the chargesheet, they are the ones who fired the shots at Dabholkar and Pansare. Dabholkar's picture with a cross mark on it was published in the Sanatan Sanstha's publication Sanatan Prabhat. A week after the killing, an article applauding the murder was published.
"We are probing into the whereabouts of the absconding accused. We have also questioned the sanstha chief and probed into the operations of the organisation," said Sanjay Kumar who is leading the special investigation team.
It has been a long wait for Dabholkar and Pansare's family. The CBI announcement has given them fresh hope. "We have been demanding that the CBI collaborate with the NIA and expand their search for Akolkar and Pawar. The authorities have finally published a notice. If they had expedited the investigation after murder, then Pansare and Kalburgi might have been alive today," Dabholkar's son Hamid told Firstpost. "We hope the investigating agencies nab them soon. It is an important development and the CBI should act fast. As long as they are roaming free, they remain a threat to the rational thinkers of the country," he added.
Pansare's daughter-in-law Medha said, "We have been constantly following up the case and things are moving because of the pressure from the court. They have finally declared Akolkar and Pawar as absconding in Dabholkar case. But SIT has still not done this in the Pansare case, though both of them have been named as the prime accused in the chargesheet. We hope that they do it soon now." She also expressed concern about the constantly changing investigating officers. " If a dedicated team is appointed, they will be able to concentrate on the investigation," she added.
Sanatan Sanstha has denied these allegations. Abhay Vartak, their spokesperson, said, "The SIT came to the sanstha ashram in Ramnathi (Goa). They held discussions with Virendra Marathe, a trustee of the sanstha. The sanstha has always cooperated with the investigations and will continue to do so."
The sanstha claims to be a non-profit organisation and their main objective is to present spirituality in scientific language and guide the seekers.
The next hearing of the case is scheduled for 17 March. Investigating agencies are likely to submit the details of the probe to the court. But will this lead to any conclusion? Not till these two absconding accused are arrested, say the family members.
Updated Date: Mar 04, 2017 00:45 AM