Two suspected arms dealers, who have been in police or magisterial custody since August last year for their alleged involvement in different crimes, have now been arrested in connection with the murder of anti-superstition activist Dr Narendra Dabholkar exactly five months ago on August 20, 2013.
The suspects are Manish Nagori alias Manya (24) and Vilas Khandelwal (22), both from Ichalkaranji in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra. Dabholkar was shot dead by two unidentified persons around 7.10 am on August 20, on the bridge near Omkareshwar temple in Pune. Police claimed to have arrested Nagori and Khandelwal following the ballistic report.
Interestingly, a few hours before the arrests on Monday, Dabholkar’s family members and activists of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samini (MANS) had a meeting with Pune Police Commissioner Gulabrao Pol. Speaking to the media, Dabholkar’s son Hamid and daughter Mukta had expressed displeasure about the investigation. Without naming any officer, they had also expressed the need for change in “police leadership”, if required, to solve the case. In the evening, the police said they had arrested the two suspects.
Additional Commissioner of Police (Crime) Shahji Solunkhe said: “The ballistic report suggests that the firearms recovered from Khandelwal and the bullets recovered from Dabholkar’s body have similarities. So we have arrested them in the Dabholkar murder case. We have taken permission from the court.” Nagori and Khandelwal were arrested by the Thane police crime branch, along with their aides Rahul Mali (21), Santosh Bagade (22) and Heena Pathan, on August 24, four days after Dabholkar’s murder in Pune, for allegedly demanding Rs 15-lakh extortion money from a Mumbra- based businessman.
In October, the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) arrested this “Nagori gang” in an Arms Act case. Later, on November 28, the Pune police arrested Nagori, Khandelwal, Mali and Bagade (22) for their alleged involvement in the murder of a security guard, Prahlad Jogdandkar, on the University of Pune campus on May 3, 2012.
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Their lawyer B A Aloor had told the court then that though the police arrested the suspects for the murder of Jogdandkar, they were actually investigating their role in Dabholkar’s murder. After the court remanded the suspects in magisterial custody, the Pune police arrested them for the murder of a 30-year-old unidentified man in Hinjewadi area here. The police have now arrested Nagori and Khandelwal in connection with Dabholkar’s murder. Officers said as many as 47 firearms had been recovered from the “Nagori gang”. They, however, refused to comment on the exact role played by the two suspects in Dabholkar’s murder whether they killed him or provided weapons to the killers. “It is a matter of investigation,” said Solunkhe.
Nagori’s father Ramvilas said mobile phone call records of Manish probed by the Thane crime branch showed that he was not in Pune on August 20. “I got a call from the crime branch that my son has been arrested in the Dabholkar case.
When I asked about his role, I got no reply. It is a false arrest under pressure after Home Minister R R Patil expressed displeasure about the investigation and hinted at handing over the probe to CBI. Also, there was more pressure on the police today as five months have passed since Dabholkar’s murder. There were anti-police reaction from Dabholkar’s family and the media. I do not believe in the investigation done by the Pune police. They had earlier falsely arrested the two for the murder of a security guard and a man at Hinjewadi,” said Ramvilas. Family members of Dabholkar and activists of MANS staged protests across the state on Monday, demanding arrest of his murderers. Also, during his recent Pune visit, Home Minister R R Patil had said if the Pune police failed to solve the case, the probe might be handed over to the CBI, without making it a “prestige” issue.
After the arrests on Monday, Hamid Dabholkar said: “When we had a meeting with the police today, they did not tell us that they would be arresting two persons. We were only told that investigation is on. I cannot comment on the arrests now. I would only say that real killers and conspirators should be arrested. If the two persons arrested now are part of the conspiracy, we feel it is the first step towards solving the case.” Earlier, the police had released the sketch of two suspects who had opened fire on Dabholkar. Eyewitnesses had said the assailants, after committing the crime, walked towards their motorcycle parked near Shaniwar Peth police chowki, located a few metres away from the crime scene. Police suspected it was a well planned murder and the assailants could be “contract killers”.
The police had checked CCTV footage, questioned hundreds of history-sheeters and activists of Hindu organisations and probed cell phone calls. As per a ballistic report received in September first week, the four cartridges, including two live cartridges recovered from the crime scene, were fired from the same firearm.