Mumbai: As the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) closes in on the operations and operatives of Sanatan Sanstha, a political debate over banning the radical Hindutva outfit has taken centre stage. The opposition Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) demanded a permanent ban on Sanatan Sanstha. Maharashtra minister of state for home Deepak Kesarkar told reporters last week that the state had sent a revised proposal to the centre recommending a ban on the rabid Hindutva outfit.
Senior Congress leader and former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan also issued a statement saying that the Congress-NCP government had in April 2011 sent the original proposal to the centre recommending a ban on the organization.
The ATS had recently arrested five members of the Sanstha and its offshoot, the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti (HJS), on suspicions that they were plotting to carry out low-intensity terror attacks in Maharashtra.
Besides, the ATS has also arrested Sachin Andure, an alleged Sanatan Sanstha member, and HJS activist Sharad Kalaskar for the murder of rationalist thinker Narendra Dabholkar, who was shot dead in Pune on 20 August 2013.
The ATS later handed Andure over to the Central Bureau of Investigation which is investigating the Dabholkar murder. The ATS also picked up former Shiv Sena corporator Shrikant Pangarkar from Jalna in Marathwada for allegedly facilitating logistical support for the reconnaissance and training activities of the Sanstha and HJS operatives.
Founded in 1999 by hypnotherapist Jayant Athavale, the Sanatan Sanstha first shot into limelight in June 2008 when it was discovered to have masterminded a low-intensity bomb blast in the basement of an auditorium in Thane which injured 7 persons. The blast was triggered in protest against a Marathi play being staged at the auditorium which the Sanstha claimed was offensive to the Hindus.
Later, in October 2009, a Sanastha operative Malgonda Patil died in a freak blast at Madgaon in Goa when he was assembling a bomb.
In June 2016, the CBI arrested HJS member Virendra Tawde on the suspicion that he was the mastermind in the Dabholkar murder case. Besides, a CBI charge-sheet filed in September 2016 named two alleged Sanstha members Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar as the two assailants who had killed Dabholkar.
The Maharashtra ATS swung into action after the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Karnataka police probing journalist Gauri Lankesh’s murder in 2017 passed on some key leads which hint at a larger connected conspiracy to kill rationalists and intellectuals like Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M.M. Kalburgi, and Lankesh. Rationalists Govind Pansare and M. M. Kalburgi were killed on February 20, 2015 and August 30 2015, respectively, in Maharashtra and Karnataka. Journalist Gauri Lankesh was killed on September 5 last year in Karnataka.
An ATS official, who did not want to be named, told Mint that the investigating agencies may probe Sanstha founder Jayant Athavale who is Goa-based.