Free Press Journal

Maharashtra: Sanatan Sanstha claims those arrested for arms possession and killing of rationalists are not its members


Photo by BL SONI

Mumbai: Rightwing outfit Sanatan Sanstha claimed today that the people arrested in connection with seizure of explosives and arms from various parts of Maharashtra and those allegedly involved in the killing of rationalists were not its members. Its spokesperson Chetan Rajhans told reporters that a few people with “progressive mindset”, along with political parties such as the Congress and the Left block, were putting the Sanstha in the dock without providing any evidence of wrongdoing.

The outfit is facing renewed calls of ban, after the arrest of several people in the state recently threw up the possibility of them having links with the Sanstha. The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad carried out raids in Nallasopara in neighbouring Palghar district and Pune between August 9-11, and arrested five people for allegedly stockpiling crude bombs, explosives and firearms.

Vaibhav Raut, Sharad Kalaskar, Sudhanwa Gondhalekar, former Shiv Sena councillor Shrikant Pangarkar and Avinash Pawar were arrested between August 10 and 24 and are in ATS custody. The CBI, investigating the August 2013 killing of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, recently arrested Aurangabad resident Sachin Andure and has told a court he was the main shooter along with Kalaskar.

The central agency also told a special Pune court yesterday that there was a link between the killing of Dabholkar and journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru in September last year. Karnataka Police’s Special Investigation Team, which is probing the killing of Lankesh, had met Maharashtra ATS officials in Mumbai last week to exchange information on their respective investigations.

“Our Sanstha is being targeted without any reason. The charges against us are baseless and mindless. None of the nine arrested accused is affiliated with our organisation. We have not even heard the names of Kalaskar, Andure, Surale brothers and Rege before this,” Rajhans said. Shubham Surale and his relative as well as Rohit Rege have been charged by the CBI with hiding a 7.65mm pistol allegedly belonging to Andure.

The Karnataka SIT is probing whether this weapon matches the bullet casings found outside Lankesh’s Bengaluru home. Rajhans claimed four others, including cow protection outfit functionary Vaibhav Raut, were “relatively known” to his organisation. “But they belong to different Hindu organisations. There are over 320 Hindu outfits across the country. So how can someone say that they all belong to Sanatan Sanstha?” he questioned.

He said the accused participated in some programmes of the Sanstha on their own. The spokesperson also hit out at the media for running what he claimed were news based on “unauthentic sources” and added that the Sanstha planned to move court over this. Rajhans claimed the Sanstha was a spiritual organisation and not a single allegation about its links to such cases had been proved in court nor any chargesheet filed against it.

Responding to a query on the Sanstha’s founder Jayant Athavale not coming forward to answer charges, he said Athavale did not hold any post in the outfit and was busy compiling “granths”. When asked whether the outfit sought to make India a “Hindu Rashtra”, Rajhans said, “Every sanstha has a motto. We have ours. We want to fulfil our motto by following non-violence, spiritual enlightenment and making an amendment in the Constitution.” Explaining his statement, Rajhans said the Sanstha wanted the term “secular” to be dropped from the Constitution.

“This word is very vague and has no specific definition or meaning. This was not in the Constitution initially and was added during Emergency by the Indira Gandhi government in 1976,” he said. The spokesperson claimed the word “secular” should be removed by Parliament by exercising Article 368(B). Article 368 regulates the procedure for amending the Constitution.