Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Controversy over Congress candidate’s Sanatan Sanstha link
A controversy is simmering with pictures of Congress’s Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg candidate Navinchandra Bandivadekar supporting Vaibhav Raut, a Sanatan Sanstha activist arrested in August last year, making rounds on social media. Bandivadekar had participated in a rally organised to support Raut after his arrest by the anti-terrorism squad of Mumbai Police for possessing a large cache of arms and explosives in Nalla Sopara.
Sanatan Sanstha, a right-wing organisation whose alleged workers are accused of the murders of rationalists Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar, has put up photographs of the event and a statement by Bandiwadekar on its website.
Friends of Democracy, a forum of activists, has condemned the candidature of Bandivadekar by Congress and has demanded his immediate replacement. “We have written to the Congress against the candidature of Bandivadekar and have also warned them about us withdrawing support if he is not replaced,” said Ashutosh Shirke, who is the convenor of the organisation.
State Congress chief Ashok Chavn said they will probe the allegations against Bandivadekar. Bandivadekar, however, said he was not even remotely related to the Sanatan Sanstha. “Being the head of the Akhil Bhartiya Bhandari Samaj Mahasangh, I shared the dais in support of Raut as he belongs to my community. He is just an accused and I am not opposed to him being punished if found guilty. It was not a Sanatan Sanstha forum and I have never been associated with the organisation. My opponents are targeting me as they realised that it is going to be a tough contest for them,” he said.
The state Congress has defended him, saying Bandivadekar has no connection with Sanatan Sanstha. “He shared the dais out of pressure from the community considering rumours of presumably prejudiced action by the police. He had been demanding justified action,” said party spokesman Sachin Sawant.
Bandivadekar, who is in the restaurant business in Mumbai, was associated with Congress between 2005 and 2008 as a Narayan Rane supporter. He belongs to the Bhandari community, which reportedly accounts for more than three lakh votes in the constituency.