A day after a controversy emerged in Maharashtra Congress, with pictures circulated on social media of a party candidate in support of arrested Sanatan Sanstha activist Vaibhav Raut, Navinchandra Bandivadekar, the Congress candidate from Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg, on Friday said he had attended events to protest the arrest “under pressure” from members of his community, as Raut belongs to the community and was involved in “community work”.
He denied any link with the Hindutva outfit, whose members are accused in the killings of rationalists Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar.
“Let them show evidence showing my links with the Sanstha. I have never been associated with them and do not support their radical ways,” Bandivadekar, 63, said on Friday.
While the Congress, which has sought a ban on the Sanstha and is faced with demands for withdrawing his candidature in the wake of the controversy, said the party will look into the issue and take “appropriate decision”, Bandivadekar issued what can be deemed a mild threat. “The fight will be between Congress and Shiv Sena if I contest. If the Congress withdraws my candidature, there may be a backlash from the community,” he said.
Bandivadekar, who was “BJP’s district vice-president between 1995 and 2004” and joined Congress in 2005, “when Narayan Rane quit Shiv Sena to join the party”, belongs to the Bhandari community, which has nearly 3.5 lakh voters — roughly 24 per cent of the constituency’s electorate strength of 14.40 lakh.
Faced with a backlash, Maharashtra Congress president Ashok Chavan on Friday said, “Some TV channels have carried news about alleged links between Bandivadekar and Sanatan Sanstha. The Congress is opposed to radical groups such as the Sanstha. We will take appropriate decision about his candidature after further inquiry.”
After Raut’s arrest in Nallasopara, near Mumbai, in August 2018, Bandivadekar had taken part in a protest rally. Asked about it, Bandivadekar said: “I knew Vaibhav Raut…. Since there was pressure from within the community, considering reports of presumably prejudiced police action, I had attended a rally and another meeting in his support. My actions were based on initial feedback from community leaders that he was innocent and had been framed.”But after learning about Raut’s alleged involvement, he said, “I stopped attending (such) meetings”.
Admitting having issued a statement in Raut’s support at the time, he said, “Our demand even then was that he (Raut) should not be subjected to media trial, and should not be treated as a criminal until legally proven.”
Brushing aside allegations of his links with Raut’s cow protection outfit — the Hindu Govansh Raksha Samiti — Bandivadekar said, “I was born a Hindu and am proud of that identity. In Hinduism, cows are considered sacred. I am a staunch supporter of cow protection, but I do not subscribe to violence in the name of cow protection.”
Accusing political opponents of “planting” the recent controversy, Bandivadekar said: “It only shows my candidature has upset their calculations.” Bandivadekar, who owns a chain of hotels in Mumbai, claims to be Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s “college friend”. He said, “We were students at JJ School of Arts (in South Mumbai) and often hanged out together. In 2014, he (Uddhav) had asked me to help (Vinayak) Raut’s election campaign, which I did. But he went back on his assurance that the Sena will offer candidature in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg seats to our community members in the subsequent Assembly polls.”