Dabholkar, Gauri Lankesh Murders: Tip of the ‘Hindutva’ Iceberg

Those threatening are not merely “small” or “fringe” organisations, but part of a larger dangerous conspiracy.

6 min read
Hindi Female

Five long years after rationalist Dr Narendra Dabholkar was assassinated in Pune while on his morning walk, and a few days before the first anniversary of journalist Gauri Lankesh’s assassination outside her home in Bengaluru last September, the conspiracy behind these cold-blooded murders may finally be unravelling.


Evidence Points to Hindu Extremist Organisations

The clues and evidence point to individuals who are, or were, directly or indirectly associated with far-right Hindu organisations, according to investigating agencies. But who is / are the mastermind(s) of this conspiracy? Are the 26 writers and intellectuals identified as ‘threats to Hindu society’ safe?

Investigations picked up pace in the last few weeks largely due to the work of the Karnataka Police following the Gauri Lankesh case.

The trails in these two assassinations, and similar murders of Leftist leader Govind Pansare and writer-rationalist Dr MM Kalburgi in 2015, are leading to members who were associated with (or still may be) with organisations that claim to espouse Hindu dharma. These organisations have not yet been named in the current round of investigations, but they point to the Sanatan Sanstha and its offshoot ‘Hindu Janajagruti Samiti’ (HJS), ‘Shri Shiv Prathisthan Hindustan’, and ‘Hindu Govansh Raksha Samiti’.

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Demands have come from various quarters to ban them. Congress leaders in Maharashtra like Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil called for a ban on Sanatan Sanstha and for the arrest of its Founder-Chief Dr Jayant Athavale. Activists under the banner of ‘Bharat Bachao Andolan’ including journalist Nikhil Wagle and peace activist Tushar Gandhi, have called for immediate action against the ‘rabid right-wing organisation’. Union Minister and Dalit leader Ramdas Athawale too demanded that Sanatan Sanstha be “completely banned if necessary”.


Ideological Links Between 4 Murders

As the ideological and logistical links between the four cold-blooded murders begin to fall into place, demands for outlawing the organisations or proscribing their activities are gathering momentum. Predictably, the push-back has begun. The ‘Sanatan Sanstha’(SS), and other organisations declared “no association” with the men arrested in the assassination and arms haul cases, the earlier references to Dabholkar – where the SS website carried his photograph with a large ‘X’ on it – are not available any more.

Their spokespersons threatened defamation cases against anyone making references to the organisations.

“The Sanstha is a spiritual, charitable trust,” its spokesperson Chetan Rajhans told a news conference in Mumbai on Monday, 27 August: “There has been a demand to ban us, but for what?... We are being targeted by people for their political aspirations.”

He also demanded that the Constitution of India be amended to exclude the word “secular” from the Preamble and that the ‘Sanstha’ would work for a Hindu rashtra.


The Saffron Web

Their saffron-clad and tilak-wearing appearances suggest benign spirituality. But investigations show a different picture. What the agencies – local police in three states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Goa, their anti-terrorism squads, and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) – have shown – makes up a veritable web of ideologically-driven young Hindu men, their handlers, affiliate organisations, and mastermind or masterminds at the helm of it all.

In the web, there are sharpshooters like Sachin Andure and Sharad Kalaskar (both followers of HJS) accused of shooting Dabholkar and perhaps Pansare too.

In addition there’s Vaibhav Raut of the ‘Govansh Raksha Samiti’ from whose house in Nala Sopara in suburban Mumbai, the ATS seized eight crude bombs, ammunition for at least 20 more, and detonators; there’s engineer and stock market player Amol Kale, arrested in Bengaluru and identified by Karnataka SIT as linked to all four assassinations; there’s Dr Virendra Tawde, with past or present affiliations to HJS, accused by the CBI as “key conspirator” in Dabholkar case and by Maharashtra SIT as “main conspirator” in Pansare case; there are others like Sudhanva Gondhalekar, Rajesh Bangera, Amit Degwekar and former Shiv Sena corporator Shrikant Pangarkar who provided logistical and financial support, or conducted arms training.

Indeed, the accused shooters worked in small teams, but did they work independently?

From what’s known so far, they were organised and motivated by Hindutva ideology, they had received training in how to use arms and ammunition, they had been brainwashed into believing that the four rationalist-writers were dangerous to Hindus or the concept of a Hindu nation. The key aspect here is for investigating agencies – some, or all of them – to identify and nab the mastermind(s) and then present a water-tight case in the court. Else, the investigation has limited consequences.


The Legal and Political Test

This has been said before but it bears repetition. If Dabholkar’s assassins and their mastermind had been nabbed immediately after the heinous act, perhaps Pansare, Kalaburgi and Lankesh would still be with us. But the investigation has been meandering, tardy, and riddled with lapses and contradictions.

Between the Pune Police, Thane Police, Maharashtra ATS and the CBI, there are differing versions and different accused in the case.

The CBI chargesheet mentions Dr Tawde as a “key conspirator”, and Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar as the shooters with eye-witnesses to back the claim. The Maharashtra ATS now says Andure and Kalaskar were the shooters. How does this square up? There was similar bungling with the forensics too; the Kalina Forensic Laboratory report to Maharashtra Police and Gujarat Forensic Laboratory report to the CBI state contradictory points about the gun used in the killing.

The breakthroughs in Lankesh’s case gave a fresh impetus to Dabholkar’s case in recent weeks and led to the new set of possible killers. Amol Kale has been identified as the head of a covert group and diaries seized during the investigation allowed us a glimpse of the deadly maze, a lethal web, out to finish anyone who the masterminds consider inimical to Hindu dharma. But was Kale working independently? Investigators suspect that Degwekar, then a resident of Ponda (Goa) ashram of the Sanatan Sanstha, was possibly in touch with him but it has not been established.


This criminal conspiracy across three states has to be taken apart and established in a legally fool-proof manner to show that the trail leads to the radical organisations for any ban to be justified. This is a political act too. Even after the 2008 and 2009 minor blasts cases in Thane and Goa, “seekers” of the Sanstha were indicted but the organisation escaped all censure, let alone a ban. Dr Athavale was untouched by the long arms of law.

The then Congress government in Maharashtra and the Congress-led government at the Centre were not able to push through a ban on the Sanatan Sanstha during 2011-14. If anything, the present BJP state governments in Maharashtra and Goa, and at the Centre, would be ideologically less inclined to create the case for a ban or declare one.


A Larger, Dangerous Conspiracy

The diary seized by investigators in Karnataka reveal that the mastermind or masterminds, through their organisations or independently, had a hit list of at least 26 other influential intellectuals, writers, activists, journalists, police officers and opinion-makers to be eliminated. Some have been threatened too. The sooner that multiple agencies across three states join forces to conclude the investigations, the better. The cases can then be presented in courts and this would hopefully have deterred other trained shooters.

What is of equal concern is the response by sections of society to recent arrests of Vaibhav Raut and others.

In Nala Sopara, thousands came out on the streets within days of his arrest on August 10 in his support, chanting slogans such as “Desh ka neta kaisa ho, Vaibhav Raut jaisa ho”. They were unmindful of the fact that he had bombs and ammunition stored in his house, under his bed, ostensibly while going about his work of gau raksha (cow protection).


Similarly, in Satara, there were marches in support of Hindutvawadis who have been arrested in these cases and marchers denouncing the “anti-Hindu” stance of investigators. It shows the extent to which the viral thought “Hindu khatre mein hai” has unfortunately seeped into civil society.

A tiny ray of hope came in from Sawantwadi, on the border of Maharashtra and Goa, where the local nagar parishad passed a unanimous resolution condemning radical Hindu organisations for threatening a local intellectual and provided him enhanced security.

But till the masterminds of the larger conspiracy are brought to book, the threat to identified individuals – and the society at large – prevails. Those threatening are not merely “small” or “fringe” organisations, but part of a larger dangerous conspiracy.

(Smruti Koppikar is a Mumbai-based independent journalist, columnist and commentator on politics, cities, gender and media. She can be reached at @urjourno. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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