Mumbai: Maharashtra police on Tuesday night arrested 32-year-old Sameer Gaikwad in connection with the 16 February murder of rationalist and Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Govind Pansare. Gaikwad is a member of the right-wing group Sanatan Sanstha, police said.

Gaikwad was arrested from Sangli district, which neighbours Kolhapur district where Pansare was shot dead. He was produced before a magistrate on Wednesday, who allowed the police to keep the suspect in their custody for seven days.

Special inspector general of Kolhapur range, Sanjay Kumar told reporters, “Gaikwad, who runs a mobile phone repair shop in Sangli, is an activist of Sanatan Sanstha since 1998 and his entire family is associated with Sanatan Sanstha." The Sanatan Sanstha is one of several right-wing groups active in southern Maharashtra, northern Karnataka and Goa.

The two assassins had shot Pansare and his wife in Sangli’s neighbouring district of Kolhapur, when they were returning from their morning walk. Pansare succumbed to injuries five days later.

“Based on the surveillance over the last few months on the activity of Gaikwad and analysis of his phone records, we arrested Gaikwad as a suspect in the Pansare murder case," Kumar added.

However, he refused to divulge details regarding the motive and suspected role of Gaikwad in the murder, saying, “Whether Gaikwad was the one who fired bullets on Pansare or he was part of the conspiracy and played supporting role and such other details are a matter of investigation."

Pansare’s murder sparked an uproar, especially in the background of the earlier unresolved murder of rationalist and anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar who was killed in a similar fashion in Pune.

Right wing groups were suspected in the assassinations of Dabholkar, Pansare and scholar and rationalist M.M. Kalburgi as all three were vociferous critics of the politics and activities of these groups.

The pressure on the state government to arrest assassins of Dabholkar and Pansare increased after Kalburgi was shot dead in Dharwad town in Northern Karnataka.

Replying to questions about a possible link between the Dabholkar and Pansare murders, Kumar said, “We will be exploring this angle also during our investigations."

Activists of Sanatan Sanstha were previously investigated by the state police in connection with the Dabholkar murder as the Sanstha had published a crossed-out photograph of Dabholkar on its website, calling him an enemy of Hindu religion. An editorial published by Sanstha’s mouthpiece after Dabholkar’s murder said, “It is better that the good doctor who was 68 years old died in such manner as it helped him to escape from sufferings related to old age."

Pansare had reportedly received threats after he said there was no surprise in the attempts to glorify Nathuram Godse, Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin, after Bharatiya Janata Party-led governments took power in both Delhi and Mumbai.

Pansare also angered groups promoting the image of Maratha warrior king Chattrapati Shivaji as a protector of Hindus when he said Shivaji was a secular king who protected all castes and employed Muslims in his army. Pansare also led the agitation in his Kolhapur against road tolls.

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