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Dabholkar murder: lawyer, aide remanded to CBI custody

Policemen escort Sanatan Sanstha lawyer Sanjiv Punalekar in Navi Mumbai on May 26, 2019.   | Photo Credit: Yogesh Mhatre

A special court on Sunday directed advocate Sanjiv Punalekar, counsel for the fringe right-wing outfit Sanatan Sanshtha, and his aide Vikram Bhave to be remanded to CBI custody till June 1 in connection with the murder of eminent rationalist Narendra Dabholkar. They were arrested by the CBI in Mumbai on Saturday.

Earlier in the day, the CBI brought them from Navi Mumbai and produced them before the special court a little after noon.

Punalekar, national secretary of the Hindu Vidhidnya Parishad — a splinter of the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti, and Bhave, who worked in his office, had been alleged by the probe agencies to have participated in the conspiracy to murder Dabholkar, especially in tampering with the evidence and aiding and abetting Sachin Andure and Sharad Kalaskar, named by the agencies as the assailants of the rationalist.

 

In September last, seeking an extension of Kalaskar’s custody, the CBI had told the court that in July 2018, the accused had allegedly dismantled four country-made pistols and thrown them in the creeks of Greater Mumbai and Thane. It suggested that one of the firearms could be the weapon used to kill Dabholkar.

In his statement to the CBI last year, Kalaskar had allegedly said Punalekar, known for his defamatory statements against Dabholkar, had asked him to destroy the weapons.

Planned the reconnaissance

According to the CBI, Kalaskar had said it was Thane-based Bhave who had allegedly planned the reconnaissance, pointed out Dabholkar to the assailants and even planned the getaway route for the shooters after the crime.

Arguing for a 14-day custody, the CBI’s counsel told the court that the agency needed time to probe the specific nature of the duo’s roles in the conspiracy and the aid given to the two sharpshooters in destroying the evidence.

Declaring his innocence and conducting his own defence, Punalekar told the court that if the CBI was convinced about his involvement, then why had it waited so long to arrest him?

 

Bhave’s counsel advocate Virendra Ichalkaranjikar submitted that the CBI was accusing Punalekar based on what Kalaskar had allegedly told the Karnataka SIT which was probing the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh.

“The CBI does not have a shred of evidence that the pistols were indeed thrown into the creek by Kalaskar or that one of them was used to murder Dabholkar. The whole pattern of their investigation is bizarre: they come to know of Kalaskar’s statement to the Karnataka SIT [regarding Punalekar’s alleged involvement] in October, file a supplementary chargesheet in February and arrest Punalekar now,” said advocate Ichalkaranjikar.

Remanded to custody

After hearing the arguments, Additional Sessions Judge S.N. Sonawane remanded Punalekar and Bhave to seven-day custody.

Besides the arrests of Andure, Kalaskar and Dr. Virendra Tawde — said to be the alleged mastermind of the murders of Dabholkar and veteran Communist leader Govind Pansare — the CBI had arrested Amol Kale, Amit Digvekar and Rajesh Bangera in connection with the conspiracy to kill the two rationalist-thinkers.

Kale, Digvekar and Bangera — who were granted default bail in December last year in the Dabholkar case — are presently incarcerated in Bengaluru jail for their roles in Lankesh’s killing.

Sachin Andure’s arrest in August last year was the second major one in the Dabholkar case.

In June 2016, the CBI had effected its first breakthrough in the case by arresting Virendra Tawde, an ENT specialist who was an activist of the radical Hindu Janjagruti Samiti from Panvel near Mumbai.

It had filed its first chargesheet in the case against Dr. Tawde under Sections 120 B (criminal conspiracy) and 302 (murder) among other Sections of the IPC.

After a lull of two years, Sachin Andure’s name cropped up during the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad’s (ATS) interrogation of Kalaskar.

The ATS had arrested him along with right-wing activist Vaibhav Raut from Nallasopara in Mumbai, and Sudhanwa Gondhalekar from Pune on August 10 last year for allegedly planning disruptive activities in several parts of the State.

According to the ATS, Kalaskar and Andure had confessed to being the motorcycle-borne assailants who had gunned down Dabholkar on August 20, 2013 during his morning stroll on the Omkareshwar Bridge in Pune.

The CBI later took over the custody of Kalaskar and Andure from the ATS.

Bhave, a convict

Bhave, a Sanatan Sanstha member, is a convict in the 2008 Gadkari Rangayatan (theatre) blast case in Thane in which he was later granted bail.

The allegations against Punalekar and Bhave were incorporated into the CBI’s supplementary chargesheet filed against Andure and Kalaskar in February.

Earlier, following Tawde’s arrest by the agency in June 2016, there was speculation that Dabholkar’s murder might have been carried out by the two Sanatan Sanstha activists Sarang Akolkar and Rudra Patil, who had been on the lam since the 2009 Goa blast.

From the scrutiny of Tawde’s e-mail and call records, it emerged that he had allegedly masterminded Dabholkar’s murder as he had nurtured a virulent hatred towards him and Pansare.

Like Dabholkar, Pansare and his wife Uma were shot at close range from two 7.65-mm country-made weapons while returning from their morning stroll outside their home in Kolhapur town.

The murder of scholar-rationalist M.M. Kalburgi outside his home in Dharwad in Kanataka and that of Gauri Lankesh fuelled speculation on the part of several activists that the killings were part of a pre-planned fundamentalist, right-wing Hindutva conspiracy. 

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2020 3:25:22 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/dabholkar-murder-lawyer-aide-remanded-to-cbi-custody/article27252976.ece

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