In the 11 months since anti-superstition activist Dr Narendra Dabholkar was murdered in Pune, police have questioned some 2,000 persons, probed eight crore phone calls and even had the Anti-terrorism Squad join the investigations, but have made very little headway in solving the murder. The two suspects they arrested, whom they accused of various other crimes and finally the murder, have got bail with the police having failed to file a chargesheet within the time limit.
There has even been a report that a desperate police once tried something Dabholkar had spent his lifetime opposing — black magic, believed to be the very reason he was murdered. Outlook magazine reported last month that they had approached a guru and got him to “call” Dabholkar’s soul with a planchette hoping to get some leads. The Pune police and the then commissioner of police, Gulabrao Pol, have denied it.
Ahead of a press conference Pol has called called Monday on this allegation, a look at the way the police have handled the probe.
The murder Dr Dabholkar, 68, was the founder of the anti-superstition Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (MANS) and editor of Sadhana magazine. On August 20, 2013, the mild-mannered activist was on a morning walk when he was gunned down on the Omkareshwar Bridge in Pune, a few feet from two police chowkis — Shaniwar Peth and Balgandharva — and when there was heavy police deployment in the area because of a nakabandi operation.
An eyewitness told the cops that he saw the shooters flee on a motorcycle that bore the number 7756. CCTV footage too was obtained but turned out to be grainy and unclear.
The police checked hundreds of vehicles with the number 7756. Given the professional way the murder was carried out, they also questioned hundreds of gangsters and known contract killers. They picked up and interrogated some 2,000 persons including 200 criminals from Pune, 900 from other parts of the state, and several activists of Hindu outfits such as the Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti, which were opposing Dabholkar and the anti-superstition bill proposed by his MANS. Also under the scanner were black magicians who dealt in illegal firearms, religious gurus, traders of gems and stones, astrologers, and bogus doctors against whom Dabholkar had been campaigning. The eight crore cell phone calls probed were from various places where Dabholkar had been in the last few days before the murder.
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Later, the state Anti-terrorism Squad (ATS), then led by Rakesh Maria (now Mumbai police commissioner), joined the probe.
The suspects Manish Nagori alias Manya, 24, and Vikas Khandelwal, 22, are alleged arms dealers who were in custody since the very day of the murder but charged with it only in January.
The day Dabholkar was murdered in Pune, Thane police had arrested the two from Mumbra. This was in connection with the extortion of Rs 15 lakh from a businessman. Mumbra police recovered firearms from them.
In October 2013, the ATS took custody of Nagori, Khandelwal and others of the “Nagori gang” in an Arms Act case and seized 27 arms which they traced back to the gang. All firearms seized by Mumbra police and ATS were sent for ballistics tests and the report on one of these, seized from Khandelwal, showed a match with the “markings” on a cartridge seized from Omkareshwar Bridge after Dabholkar’s murder.
On November 28, the Pune police arrested Nagori and Khandelwal and two of their aides, but it was not yet in connection with the Dabholkar murder, but for the murder of a guard, Prahlad Jogdandkar, in the University of Pune on May 3, 2012. Their lawyer B Aloor, however, told the court that the police were interrogating them for Dabholkar’s murder. Later, Pune police arrested the two for yet another murder, that of an unidentified man in Pune on July 24, 2013.
It was only on January 20 that police arrested Nagori and Khandelwal for Dabholkar’s murder under sections 302, 34, 120(b) of the IPC and sections 3(35), 27 of the Arms Act.
This was, however, followed by the two getting bail. Police had to file an affidavit in the court stating they hadn’t deliberately avoided filing the chargesheet. They said they do have incriminating evidence in the form of the weapon that was used for committing the crime. “But the main conspirators and other accomplices are not yet traced. So they are unable to understand the role and fix charges against the two accused. The chargesheet will be filed when there is further progress in the investigation,” the affidavit stated.
“There are a lot of missing links in the investigation,” a CBI officer said. The CBI had been called into the investigation in May this year. This was after Satish Mathur, who had replaced Pol as police commissioner, started fresh investigations and strengthened the special investigation team (SIT) with more officers.
“The two arrests are based on a ballistics report that finds a similarity between the marks on the bullets used in the crime and a weapon sold by suspects in the past,” the CBI officer said. “Besides none of the eyewitnesses have identified them.”
As the probe moved along in fits and starts and Dabholkar’s family held protests against the police failures, the magazine report put fresh pressure on a struggling force.
The religious guru whom the police reportedly had use a planchette is Manish Thakur, a former policeman himself. He has refrained from replying to the allegations but one of the two suspects, Khandelwal, told The Indian Express that a religious guru did visit them when they were in jail. Shown a photograph, he identified Thakur as the visitor.
“We were taken into custody by Pune police on November 27, 2013, from Thane Central Prison and were arrested on November 28. After our arrests we were kept at the Crime Branch of Unit IV at Khadki,” Khandelwal said, adding they were being questioned about the Dabholkar murder although that arrest had been for the 2012 university campus murder.
“On the second or third days, we were visited by a guru who questioned both of us about our dates of birth, sun signs and kundalis. At least four police police officials were present in the room.We answered all his questions. Two months after this meeting with the guru, we were booked in Dabholkar’s murder,” said Khandelwal.
Assistant commissioner of police Rajendra Bhamare, who is investigating the murder, denied any such visit. “Khandelwal is a hardened criminal and will say anything to defame police. They are obviously angry with us because we arrest them, beat them up, interrogate them,” said Bhamare.
Maharashtra Home Minister R R Patil has directed the police to investigate the allegation and submit a report to him. MANS has submitted a request to joint commissioner of police Sanjay Kumar to investigate, while its members have also, along with Dabholkar’s son Hameed, met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Delhi asking him to look into use of a planchette for detecting the murder of a man responsible for the anti-superstition bill being passed in the Maharashtra assembly.