On Friday, which marks exactly eight years since rationalist Dr Narendra Dabholkar was shot dead in Pune, the prosecution and defence lawyers in the murder case are expected to begin their arguments about framing of charges against the five accused who have till now been chargesheeted by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Dr Dabholkar, founder of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), was shot dead by two assailants while he was on a morning walk on the V R Shinde bridge near Omkareshwar temple in Pune, on the morning of August 20 in 2013. He was 67.
The CBI, which took over the probe from Pune City Police in 2014, has till now chargesheeted five accused, all of them allegedly linked to the radical outfit Sanatan Sanstha. These include ENT surgeon Dr Virendrasinh Tawade, two alleged assailants Sachin Andure and Sharad Kalaskar, Mumbai-based lawyer Sanjeev Punalekar and his aide Vikram Bhave, who have been arrested at different times between 2016 and 2019. Of these, Tawade, Andure and Kalaskar are currently in jail while Punalekar and Bhave are out on bail.
Special Public Prosecutor for the case, Prakash Suryavanshi, said, “On Friday, a hearing is scheduled in the case. Arguments about the framing of charges are expected to begin. Meanwhile, the defence has filed two bail applications for Virendrasinh Tawade — one in the High Court and another in a Pune court. The defence is expected to withdraw one of the applications and argue the other in the respective court.”
After the arguments conclude on draft charges, the court is expected to frame the charges against the accused, after which the trial will begin.
The CBI had arrested Tawade in 2016 and termed him the mastermind behind the murder conspiracy. In its September 2016 chargesheet against Tawade, the agency named absconding Sanatan Sanstha members Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar as the two assailants who shot Dabholkar dead. But in August 2018, Andure and Kalaskar were arrested and contradicting its earlier claim, the CBI said they were the shooters. The contradictions in the agency’s claims have time and again been cited by the defence.
In May 2019, CBI arrested Mumbai-based Sanatan Sanstha lawyer Sanjeev Punalekar and his aide Vikram Bhave. Both are currently out on bail. CBI has also arrested three others — Amol Kale, Amit Digwekar and Rajesh Bangera – who, along with Kalaskar, are also accused in the 2017 murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru. However, Kale, Digwekar and Bangera have not been made accused or chargesheeted in the case.
On Thursday evening, a candlelight vigil was organised on the V R Shinde bridge in Pune, where some MANS workers and Pune residents gathered to remember the slain rationalist.