THE MAHARASHTRA Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) has alleged that M D Murli, a right-wing activist from Aurangabad, was the mastermind behind the killings of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, social activist and writer Govind Pansare, Kannada writer and academic M M Kalburgi as well as activist and journalist Gauri Lankesh.
Murli’s name had cropped up in August 2018 after the ATS raided the Nalasopara residence of a Sanatan Sanstha sympathiser, Vaibhav Raut, and recovered a huge cache of arms and ammunition. Later, the roles of Sharad Kalaskar, Sudhanva Gondhalekar, Shrikant Pangarkar and Avinash Pawar — also Sanatan Sanstha sympathisers — were identified and they were subsequently arrested. Weapons were also seized from their residences.
After busting the module, the ATS alleged that some of the accused were involved in the murders of Dabholkar in Pune, Pansare in Kolhapur, Kalburgi in Dharwad and Lankesh in Bengaluru.
During their interrogation, when the five spoke initially about Murali, the investigators believed that they were being taken for a ride. The accused claimed that while they had not seen Murali, a person named Amol Kale used to convey his messages to them. Kale was later arrested by the Karnataka Special Investigation Team (SIT) for allegedly killing Lankesh.
Later, it was when the ATS got the custody of the five accused for more than 20 days that they revealed that they knew Murli. “He used to get them together and hold meetings regularly,” said an investigator, adding that Murli has been coordinating attacks since 2008 and is the brain behind several blasts.
He was aware of the presence of increasing number of CCTV cameras in and around the city and had asked the attackers to wear caps and sunglasses to hide their identities, said another officer. In 2017, the group even planned to plant explosives at Sunburn — an annual electronic dance music festival in Pune — as they believed it was against Hindu culture.
Following the revelation, the ATS started scrutinising the call data record of the mobile number Murli used. An officer said, “All of Murli’s phone numbers are registered on the names of other people. This has made it all the way more difficult to locate him.”
In 2018, following tip-offs, teams were sent to Goa and Aurangabad to find Murli but to no avail. “Those arrested had claimed that they met him in Aurangabad. Accordingly, a team was sent to there but we could not find any concrete information on the absconder,” the officer said.
While Murli has managed to evade arrest, ATS sleuths said they now had his picture but were still awaiting crucial information for him.
In March, Bombay High Court had pulled up the CBI — investigating the Dabholkar’s murder — and SIT — probing Pansare’s killing — saying that the agencies must be serious to complete their investigations.