Days after the Maharashtra government decided to send a reminder to the Union government to fast-track its pending proposal on banning the radical right-wing outfit Sanatan Sanstha, its Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) has started preparing a fresh dossier on the organisation.
The ATS has already sent a status report on the recent terror case made out by it under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), against five people, sources told The Sunday Express. Members of various fringe Hindu radical groups, they were believed to be planning to carry out attacks in Mumbai, Pune, Satara, Solapur and Sangli. “The focus of the dossier would basically be to establish links between the accused and the Sanstha,” said an officer. “The dossier will be a detailed one to fast-track the pending proposal of the state government to ban the outfit.”
The fifth arrest in the case, of Avinash Pawar, was made by the ATS on Saturday. A resident of Mumbai suburb Ghatkopar, the 30-year-old is alleged to be associated with the Shri Shivapratishthan Hindustan.
Earlier, Vaibhav Raut, Sudhanva Gondhalekar, Sharad Kalaskar and ex-Shiv Sena corporator Shrikant Pangarkar had been arrested. An official said, “Pawar’s name cropped up during the interrogation of Gondhalekar, as the two are associated with the same group.” Officials said they had called Pawar, who works at Mazgaon dockyard, for questioning, and he was arrested after he “refused to cooperate in the probe”.
A family member told The Sunday Express, “Pawar is a Shiv bhakt, but not a terrorist.”
The ATS officer said they believe the arrests strengthen their case against the Sanstha. “While there are no overt links between the five and the Goa-based outfit, their social media profiles, emails, Call Data Records, bank accounts and other related documents could establish the links. Even if they are covert in nature, it makes our case stronger that the outfit is involved in terror activities and therefore needs to be banned under the UAPA.”
The Maharashtra government had sent two proposals earlier, in 2011 and 2015, making out a case to ban the Sanatan Sanstha. Based on the recommendations of a state government, the Centre can ban an outfit, provided it is convinced the outfit is carrying out terrorist activities and waging war against the State, as mentioned in the Act.
Last week, Minister of State (Home) Deepak Kesarkar said the state government would apprise the Centre about the investigations in the case. “We have ensured compliance on the queries raised (by the Centre on the Maharashtra government’s proposal) earlier,” he said.
An ATS official said, “Since a case was registered under the UAPA, we had to sent a status report to the Home Department, detailing the facts of the case and what is mentioned in the FIR registered by us. A status report makes a mention that the accused have links to the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), an offshoot of the Sanatan Sanstha, and in a few cases we have also found that they are closely associated with the Sanstha.”
The 2011 report, prepared when former IPS officer Rakesh Maria was heading the state ATS, had detailed the three cases registered against the Sanatan Sanstha in 2008 — an IED attack on February 20, 2008, at Cineraj Cinema in Panvel during the screening of the movie Jodha Akbar; the hurling of a bomb at Vishnudas Bhave Auditorium on May 31, 2008, while the play Aamhi Pachpute was on; and a bomb blast on June 4, 2008, in the parking lot of Ram Ganesh Gadkari Auditorium during a performance of the same play. Six people had been arrested by police during the investigation.
“Of the six arrested, five were seekers (sadhaks) of the Sanatan Sanstha and one was their servant,” the report is believed to say. It adds that Sanatan Prabhat, a mouthpiece of the Sanatan Sanstha, had carried articles saying Jodha Akbar and Aamhi Pachpute desecrated Hindu gods, religion and Hindu epics The 2011 reported added, “From the incidents in Vashi, Panvel, Thane and Goa, it is evident that the arrest and wanted accused formed an unlawful association to encourage and aid the other members to carry out subversive activities of sabotage (terror act) for promoting enmity between different groups of religion with the intent to disrupt maintenance of communal harmony, to threaten the sovereignty of the state or to strike terror in the minds of people by indulging in terrorist acts using IEDs… and thereby attempted to wage war against GOI (government of India).”
After a lukewarm response from the Centre on the 2011 request, Maharashtra made a fresh attempt to have the Sanatan Sanstha banned in 2015, when Himanshu Roy, who died earlier this year, was heading the Maharashtra ATS. An official said, “When both the CBI and a Special Investigation Team probing the murders of Maharashtra-based rationalists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare named Sanatan Sanstha members as accused, the ATS wrote back to the Centre detailing these cases and seeking a ban. That request is still pending.”
The official added, “Post that, many queries have been raised by the Centre. During one such queries, the Maharashtra ATS expressed the reservation that banning one outfit wouldn’t serve the purpose as it is registered under different names.”