India: Hardline Hindu Group May Be Linked to Murders, Police Say

Rohit Wadhwaney

2015-09-17
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150917-IN-pansare-1000 Communist Party of India (CPI) supporters take part in a protest in Kolhapur, Maharashtra state, to condemn the shooting of local party leader Govind Pansare and his wife, Feb. 17, 2015.
AFP

Police in western India say they are probing the “possible involvement” of a hardline Hindu group in the murders of three so-called “rationalists,” or progressive thinkers, after arresting one of its members in connection with one of the cases.

On Wednesday, a special task force of the Maharashtra state police arrested Samir Gaikwad, a member of a right-wing Hindu group Sanatan Sanstha, on suspicion that he was involved in the February 2015 killing of Govind Pansare, a local leader of the Communist Party of India (CPI).

On Feb. 16, two gunmen on a motorbike shot both Pansare and his wife, Sau Uma Pansare, in the head as they were walking near their home in Kolhapur, about 375 km (233 miles) from Mumbai, the state capital. The 81-year-old Pansare died at a hospital in Mumbai four days later. His wife survived the attack but it left her paralyzed.

Gaikwad was taken in for questioning from Sangli, a town near Kolhapur.

Police sources told BenarNews on condition of anonymity that investigators were looking into a “possible connection” between Pansare’s slaying and the murders of Narendra Dabholkar, an anti-superstition activist and author, and M.M. Kalburgi, a scholar.

Kalburgi was shot dead last month at his home in Dharwad, Karnataka, and Dabholkar was gunned down in Pune, Maharashtra, in August 2013.

The men were killed in “strikingly similar” fashion, according to police. All three had angered Hindu fundamentalists by publicly denouncing religious superstitions and blind faith.

Karnataka’s Criminal Investigation Department has sent a team to question the suspect in the Pansare case, Karnataka CID chief Kishore Chandra told BenarNews.

“We have been in touch with the teams probing the Dabholkar and Pansare murder cases. We are still trying to ascertain if there is a common link between the three cases,” Chandra said, adding, “The fresh breakthrough could provide valuable leads.”

Chandra confirmed that Kalburgi was killed “due to his ideological beliefs,” saying his team had ruled out all other possible angles.

Four others detained

Gaikwad, 32, who runs a phone repair shop in Sangli, had been under surveillance for months, police said.

“We picked him up for questioning on Tuesday night. After interrogating him, we formally placed him under arrest at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday,” Inspector General of Police Sanjay Kumar Verma told reporters.

A court in Kolhapur on Wednesday ordered that Gaikwad be kept in police custody until Sept. 23.

“This arrest does not mean the case is solved. There is a strong possibility that Gaikwad knows about or is involved in the murder conspiracy. We are not saying he is the killer or a mastermind. He has been arrested on suspicion. His arrest is based on leads we got through electronic surveillance,” Verma said.

Based on Gaikwad’s initial statement to police, the task force detained four other people, including a woman, for questioning late Wednesday, a police source told BenarNews on Thursday.

“A woman was detained in Mumbai, while one man was held in Pune and two others in Goa,” the source said.

All four detainees belonged to the Goa-based Sanatan Sanstha, police said. But they declined to reveal any names because the suspects had “not been formally charged yet.”

Sanatan Sanstha issues denial

The Sanatan Sanstha stood by Gaikwad’s innocence.

“The police are falsely implicating him under pressure from elements that are against our organization,” Virendra Marathe, the group’s spokesman, told BenarNews.

“They questioned members of our group in the Dabholkar case, too, but nothing concrete came out of it. Even the police say Gaikwad is only a suspect. They don’t have any evidence against him,” he said.

In Hindi, Marathe added: “Our organization is not involved in any (of the three) murder cases.”

The Hindu group, which has been active in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa since 1990, first made headlines when Mumbai police named six of its members as suspects in bombings that occurred in the city’s Thane, Panvel and Vashi areas in 2008. Two of the six were convicted.

In a separate incident in 2009, two activists of the group were killed in the Madgaon area of Goa when a homemade bomb they were carrying on a two-wheeler exploded prematurely.

Security agencies have in the past called on the government to ban the Hindu group, which calls itself a spiritual organization, and declare it a terror outfit. The last such appeal was put forward in 2013 by then Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) chief Rakesh Maria.

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