A judicial magistrate’s court in Karnataka’s Belagavi district has allowed state police to reopen investigations into a January 25, 2018, petrol bomb attack on Prakash Theatre in Belagavi that was screening Bollywood film Padmaavat.
The move comes in the wake of findings from the investigation into the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh that suggested that members of a radical Hindu group involved in the murder were also involved in attacks on theatres screening the movie in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Based on a requisition filed by Belagavi police, a judicial magistrate this week granted permission to “further investigate’’ the petrol bomb attack “under section 173 (8) of the criminal procedure code’’.
Two petrol bombs were hurled on the premises of Prakash theatre in Belagavi on January 25 last year while people were queuing up to see the film. The attack created panic and resulted in the cancellation of shows.
Police later arrested three local persons, Sambhaji Maruti Patil, Prathik alias Pandit Prakash Ogale and Santosh Tulajappa Gurav, and chargesheeted them.
The investigation by a Karnataka Police SIT into the murder of Lankesh — especially the arrests of several persons linked to radical Hindu groups in Maharashtra — has now revealed a new set of suspects for the theatre attacks.
According to sources, the SIT probe has found that the attacks on theatres were ordered by prime accused in the Lankesh case, Amol Kale, a former convenor of the radical Sanatan Sanstha group. The SIT probe, it is learnt, has found entries in a diary belonging to Kale where he recorded details of how the attacks were to be carried out.
“Throw stone at the entrance. Use petrol bomb on the vehicle. Use crackers and rods at the ticket counter. Make fake call and throw pamphlet. Theatre audience and producer will have loss,’’ says a noting in Kale’s diary made ahead of the attacks on theatres.
Two persons arrested from Maharashtra last year in connection with the Lankesh murder case — Sharad Kalaskar and Sudhanva Gondhalekar — are learnt to have told investigators during the probe into the journalist’s murder that Kale roped them into the plot to attack theatres since the film was deemed to be “projecting Hindu kings in a bad light”.
The SIT investigation has found that Gondhalekar, 39, a businessman from Satara with affiliations to radical groups like Shiv Prathistan Hindustan and Sanatan Sanstha, who is also accused of involvement in terrorism by the Maharashtra ATS, allegedly played a central role in the attack on Prakash Theatre.
The organised crime syndicate linked to radical Hindu groups that was involved in Lankesh’s murder turned its attention to Padmaavat after aborting a plan to carry out blasts at Sunburn music festival in Pune. The plot to attack the Sunburn festival in December 2017 was aborted after members of the extremist group feared they were caught on CCTV cameras outside the venue, the SIT probe has found.
Statements given to the SIT by Kalaskar and Gondhalekar suggest that the attack on Prakash Theatre was carried out under the supervision of Gondhalekar by youths who were part of a group recruited from Belagavi and trained by Kale to carry out attacks and murders, said sources.
Gondhalekar, who was in Belagavi ahead of the attack, has said that he entrusted the job to one Praveen Masalawala and two others, sources said.
Police sources said that findings of the SIT probe indicated that the three persons arrested earlier for the attack on the Belagavi theatre were not involved.