A tangled web of political interests
As every week brings a new arrest by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of people allegedly associated with the Sanatan Sanstha (which was planning to bomb temples and Ganpati Mandals), not just the horror of their sinister designs but the political protection to these elements in the past as well as the present becomes more and more apparent.
At a ‘Save Constitution’ rally in Nashik last week, the president of the Maharashtra unit of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Jayant Patil put chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on the mat by demanding some straight answers to hard questions about his party’s alleged cover up of the Sanatan Sanstha’s (SS) activities. Ridiculing Fadnavis’ propensity to hold a press conference or tweet on every trivial issue, he demanded the chief minister to hold another press conference to come clean about the people the SS was planning to kill after Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh, the latter two in Karnataka.
Police in the neighbouring state have released a list of 22 people, including writer and actor Girish Karnad, who are on the alleged hit list of Sanatan Sanstha. While Maharashtra ATS has not come out with a full disclosure, it is widely known that journalists Kumar Ketkar, now a Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament (MP), and Nikhil Wagle have long been on target and the names of historian Shrimant Kokate and police officer Gauri Hiremath have surfaced in a list of ‘Dharmadrohis’ on computers seized from the alleged members of the Sanstha. Patil has demanded a full disclosure of the hit list of the SS and now with many Maratha organisations demanding police protection for their members who might be on target, the NCP has upped its ante and demanded a ban on the organisation.
But the NCP itself has much to blame for the growth of the Sanatan Sanstha since 2013 when police first suspected its hand in the murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar but were stayed by then home minister the late RR Patil from taking any action. According to informed sources, RR Patil, who like Jayant Patil, hailed from Sangli, had reason to go soft on the Sanstha because of his alleged proximity to Sambhaji Bhide of the Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan whose members have now been arrested for their involvement in the plot to carry out blast at Ganpati mandals, along with other alleged sadhaks of the SS.
Bhide is the person identified and named as one of the provocateurs of the Bhima Koregaon violence on New Year’s day this year. He has been extended protection by the current dispensation and Fadnavis gave him a clean chit even ahead of a police investigation. It is now obvious that despite the NCP’s current combativeness, they cannot be blameless in the matter of the growth of the Sanatan Sanstha. For a huge 1000-page dossier was sent by then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to the Centre to ban the Sanstha but no action was taken even by then union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde. Chavan later said he was not kept in the loop by his own home minister and another belonging to his own party. And with Lok Sabha elections, which were due a few months later, the dossier fell through the cracks and the Sanstha was emboldened to indulge in more killings — that of Pansare, Kalburgi and Lankesh.
In that sense, Kokate is right when he blames all governments and political parties for the murders of the four rationalists. But I also remember some rationalists claiming that even Fadnavis was on the alleged hit list of the Sanatan Sanstha (which would explain why he would not hold a press conference only to earn the ridicule of detractors). But why should that be so, given the fact that his government has done nothing to upset these right wing extremists? However, if that is true, it not just reveals how all the political interests with regard to the SS are intertwined, but also how poisonous and dangerous the Sanstha really is in targeting even one on the right side of their ideology in a sinister move to shift the blame on other sections of society and cause mayhem in the country. For who would believe that Fadnavis, a loyal RSS pracharak, would be targeted by one of his own? That gives credence to the police revelation that the alleged Sadhaks were set to target Ganpati pandals near Muslim areas with that very cold blooded motive.
So while the police may or may not eventually defang the Sanstha, politically, the threads seem all intertwined and a tangled web of vested interests that might prove impossible to unravel.