The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) on Sunday arrested a former Shiv Sena corporator, Shrikant Pangarkar, as part of its investigation into plans to carry out attacks in five cities of Maharashtra by radical Hindu groups. Three persons were earlier arrested in the case, with Pangarkar’s being the first political arrest.
Sources said during interrogation, the other accused said Pangarkar had helped assemble the explosives and store them. While the Shiv Sena said it didn’t have any links with Pangarkar now, senior leader and Minister of State Arjun Khotkar admitted several party leaders were in touch with him, and that he had talked about his Sanatan Sanstha links and even “explosion” plans.
Twenty-two crude bombs and 21 country-made weapons have so far been recovered from the accused in the case, who were allegedly planning to carry out attacks in Mumbai, Solapur, Satara, Pune and Nalasopara.
Pangarkar was a corporator in Jalna Municipal Council for two terms, from December 2001 to December 2011. The Shiv Sena said he had not been with the party for many years and was not an office-bearer. “He had not been in touch with the Sena for almost eight years,” said Khotkar, MoS, Textiles, Animal Husbandry and Dairy Development and a senior Sena leader from Jalna. Party sources said Pangarkar had rebelled after being denied a Sena ticket in 2011.
However, Khotkar admitted meeting him “twice or thrice in the past few years”, and hinted that Pangarkar had links with the controversial radical Hindu outfit, Sanatan Sanstha, and had even dropped hints of carrying out some blasts.
“During our conservations, when I asked him what he was doing, he said he was working for the Sanatan Sanstha in Assam, Goa and a few other states and was addressing big gatherings and holding workshops,” said Khotkar. “Around 10 days ago, he had met Bhaskar Ambekar, the Jalna city unit chief of the Sena. Later, Ambekar told me about the conversation, in which Pangakar said to watch out for something in the future and talked about explosions. But Pangarkar didn’t say anything specifically about where and how. Also, we don’t know whether he was speaking the truth. Police may be able to ascertain that.”
Ambekar’s phone remained switched off and he was unavailable for comment.
The other three arrested by the ATS in the case are Vaibhav Raut (40), an alleged member of the Hindu Govansh Raksha Samiti, who is also said to be a sympathiser of the Sanatan Sanstha, Sudhanwa Gondhalekar (39), who hails from Satara and is a member of the Shri Shivapratishthan Hindustan, and Sharad Kalaskar (25), who was arrested along with Raut from Raut’s Nalasopara residence.
Sanatan Sanstha activists are believed to have links with the murders of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M M Kalburgi and senior journalist Gauri Lankesh.
Pangarkar’s name first cropped up during the questioning of Kalaskar, and he was called to join the investigation on Saturday. “He is being probed in connection with the explosives recovered. We suspect he was aware of the conspiracy of the blasts and also the previous killings executed by the group. We are questioning him on the same,” a senior ATS official said.
Sources in the CBI, which is investigating the Dabholkar killing, said, “So far Pangarkar’s name hasn’t emerged in the case and therefore we haven’t summoned him.”