Unidentified assailants on Monday shot and severely wounded senior Communist Party of India leader Govind Pansare, who was at the forefront of anti-toll tax campaigns that sparked violent protests in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur.
On Monday evening, the cops detained five suspects and are interrogating them.
The 82-year-old Pansare and his wife were returning home from a morning stroll when he was shot in the neck, hand and waist, evoking memories of the 2013 death of anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar, who was also killed while out on a walk.
The gunmen covered their faces and fled within minutes, leaving no trail behind, similar to Dabholkar’s killers, said an additional superintendent of police. Dabholkar’s case remains unsolved nearly two years after his death with his killers still on the run.
Pansare’s wife also suffered one injury and was reported to be stable.
The Communist leader’s anti-toll tax campaign had triggered violent agitations in the city in recent months, pitting residents against a local firm responsible for collecting the tax.
Around a fortnight ago, the 82-old leader – associated with over 20 trade unions in the region -- faced protests after speaking against the glorification of Nathuram Godse. Sources said he received death threats last week for making certain references to late ATS chief Hemant Karkare’s death in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
The attack was condemned by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who announced 10 teams of investigators had been set up. Police restricted traffic at all the entry points to the city and commercial establishments remained closed through the day.
“The police are probing the attack from every angle. Whoever is behind the attack will be brought to book,” said Fadnavis. Five people were detained for questioning by the police.
Local residents said they initially mistook the gunshot sound as that of crackers burst to celebrate India’s win over Pakistan in the World Cup. Soon, however, the neighbors saw a couple lying in a pool of blood and took them to a nearby hospital.
Workers of the CPI (M) and other organisations took out a march to protest against the attack on Pansare, a respected face in Maharashtra’s progressive movement. Demonstrations were also held in Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nashik and Aurangabad.
Social activist Anna Hazare called the incident unfortunate and said, “Antisocial elements neither fear law nor government.” Former Union minister Sharad Pawar called it a challenging situation in Maharashtra.