A day after Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis gave a 48-hour ultimatum to the police to nab the culprits, the Navi Mumbai Police on Tuesday arrested four persons, including a gambling den owner, in connection with the attack on St. George Catholic Church in New Panvel and ruled out any political motive.
The police claimed that preliminary investigations revealed that the arrested men suspected that a complaint by church authorities was behind a police raid on an illegal gambling den being run by the accused and hence targeted the church.
‘No complaints filed’
However, church officials The Hindu spoke to ruled out any such complaint to the police.
Those arrested were identified as Rahul Patil, 39, Anilchandra Chavan, 27, Lakshman Sugwekar, 21, and Mohammed Tabrek Shaikh, 20, and booked under Sections 295 (injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class), 427 (mischief), and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code. Patil operated the gambling den which was busted by the police.
The raid was conducted on March 19, two days before the attack, following a tip-off received through an anonymous letter, said Navi Mumbai Police Commissioner K.L. Prasad. He ruled out any political motive behind the attack when asked if it was linked to the series of vandalism at churches in Delhi, Haryana and other places, triggering insecurity among the Christian community.
Patil, a resident of Sukapur, was running the gambling racket in the vicinity of St. George Catholic Church. He also runs an online lottery business in the area.
Under the impression that the police raid was conducted at the behest of the church, Patil decided to attack the church for which he roped in his son-in law Lakshman Sugwekar and two others, the police claimed. The attack was carried out by Lakshman and the two other accomplices — Anil Chavan and Mohammed Shaikh — who used a motorcycle for the job.
It, however, remains a mystery what led to the attackers pointing the needle of suspicion towards the church authorities. St. George Church comes under the Syro-Malabar Diocese of Kalyan. When contacted, Father Justin, the chancellor of the Syro-Malabar Diocese of Kalyan, said none of the church officials had either lodged a formal complaint about the gambling racket or had conveyed their displeasure to those running it.