Sudhanwa Gondhalekar (39), a resident of Karanji Peth in Satara who was among the three men arrested by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) for allegedly planning major terror attacks in different parts of the state, was once an active member of Hindutva outfit Shri Shivpratishthan Hindustan, who is known to have developed close links with the Sanatan Sanstha later. Gondhalekar was also an avid reader of Sanatan Prabhat, a fortnightly published by Sanatan Sanstha, said a family member of the arrested accused. Sanatan Sanstha spokesperson Chetan Rajhans said Gondhalekar was a regular reader of Sanatan Prabhat, but he didn’t hold any formal posts in the Sanstha.
Gondhalekar was arrested along with Vaibhav Raut (40), the prime accused who is also said to be a sympathiser of the Sanatan Sanstha, and Sharad Kasalkar (25). Police said they have recovered 20 crude bombs, two gelatin sheets, a note on how to prepare bombs, one six-volt battery, a few loose wires, transistors and glue from Raut and Kasalkar.
Sources said Gondhalekar had knowledge of explosives and had trained the other two men on assembling them. The trio have been remanded to police custody till August 18.
On the website of Sanatan Sanstha, there are images of Gondhalekar supporting and participating in activities and agitations of the outfit, as well as those organised by Hindu Janjagruti Samiti (HJS), since 2014. He is referred to as a member of the Shri Shivpratisthan Hindustan, a right-wing outfit led by Sambhaji Bhide. Bhide has been accused of instigating violence in Koregaon Bhima on January 1, during which one person was killed and several others injured. However, police have said they don’t have sufficient evidence to arrest Bhide
Gondhalekar’s name appears in a news article about Hindutva activists preventing cow slaughter in Satara in April 2014. The website also has information on an agitation in Satara — ‘Rashtriya Hindu Andolan’ — in August 2016. Gondhalekar had participated in it, along with members of Sanatan Sanstha and HJS, and shouted slogans such as ‘Amhi sare sanatani’ (we all are sanatanis). He had also appealed to people to subscribe to Sanatan Prabhat.
Gondhalekar was also active in agitations against Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti, an outfit founded by rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, who was murdered in Pune in 2013. In September 2016, Gondhalekar participated in a press conference in Satara, along with Sanatan Sanstha spokesperson Abhay Vartak, and levied charges about the alleged mismanagement of Dabholkar’s trust.
A report in Sanatan Prabhat, on June 26, 2017, had called Gondhalekar’s daughter Saumya ‘a girl with 61 per cent spiritual level’. Nitin Chougule, a leader of Shri Shivpratisthan Hindustan, said, “Sudhanwa never held any responsibility of Shri Shivpratishthan Hindustan and we never asked him to represent our organisation during any programme of the Sanatan Sanstha. He could have participated in these programmes in his individual capacity. But he had not actively participated in our programmes in the last four years”.
A local Hindutva activist said, “Sudhanwa was a supporter of outfits that worked to further the cause of Hindutva and was seen as close to persons who had links with Sanatan Sanstha”. Gondhalekar lived with his parents, wife and two children at his residence in Karanaji Peth in Satara. Among residents of the locality, he was known as a religious person. His father Sudhir Gondhalekar told mediapersons that his son was innocent and would never do anything wrong. A family member, who did not wish to be named, said, “Sudhanwa completed his diploma in mechanical engineering from Pune. He later did a computer animation course and started his own business. He has been running his business for 12 years and many architects were among his clients. He had taken an apartment on rent in Pune, from where he operated his business…he visited Pune often”.
“He was involved in Hindutva work and social activities in Satara. His business suffered due to demonetisation and since then, he started focussing a lot on it. We have never heard about his communication with any Vaibhav Raut. He mostly discussed business issues. It is hard to believe that he was involved in any bomb-making activity…. the ATS has not communicated with us, but local police officials visited our home after getting to know about his arrest. We are co-operating with police,” he said.
Sources in Satara Police said while Gondhalekar had no criminal record in the district, they were trying to get information about an old murder case during his college days, in which he was suspected to be named as an accused, but was acquitted in 2003.