A former co-ordinator of a right-wing Hindu outfit, recently arrested by a Karnataka Police SIT in connection with journalist Gauri Lankesh’s murder, allegedly played a pivotal role in the 2018 attacks in Karnataka and Maharashtra on theatres screening Padmaavat, the SIT’s probe has found.
Rushikesh Deodikar alias Murali, 44, a former co-ordinator of Sanatan Sanstha-affiliate Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, allegedly co-ordinated the petrol bomb attacks on the theatres in January 2018, the investigation has found. The SIT has intimated police in Karnataka’s Belagavi about Deodikar’s alleged involvement in an attack on Prakash Theatre there in 2018 and Belagavi police is likely to arrest him, police sources said.
Deodikar was arrested from Dhanbad on January 9. He is learnt to have gone underground after the arrests of several persons linked to a right-wing group allegedly involved in murders of Lankesh, scholar M M Kalburgi, rationalist Narendra Dabholkar and Leftist thinker Govind Pansare.
He was produced in a special court on Monday at the end of a 15-day police remand and sent to judicial custody. He is likely to be taken into custody by police from Belagavi and Maharashtra in connection with his alleged involvement in the theatre attacks and an aborted attempt to attack the Sunburn music festival in Pune in 2017, sources said.
According to statements provided to the SIT by others allegedly involved in the conspiracy to attack theatres — like Sharad Kalaskar and Sudhanva Gondalekar who are also accused in the Lankesh case — they were tasked by Amol Kale, former convenor of Hindu Janajagruti Samiti to attack the theatres since Padmaavat was deemed to be projecting Hindu kings in a bad light. Kale too has been arrested in the Lankesh case.
The task of co-ordinating the attacks to be carried out in Mumbai, Pune, Kohlapur and Belagavi was given to Deodikar, according to statements by Kalaskar, who is also an accused in the Dabholkar murder, and Gondhalekar.
Deodikar allegedly deputed Gondhalekar to carry out the attack at Prakash Theatre in Belagavi. Kalaskar and Vaibhav Raut, arrested in Nallasapora arms case, and Shrikant Pangarkar, arrested in the Lankesh murder case, were tasked with attacks in other places.
The petrol bombs used were prepared in Satara and tested in a forest near Belagavi, and Deodikar was allegedly present during the testing, the probe has revealed.
Two bombs were hurled at Prakash Theatre on January 25, 2018. Police initially arrested local residents Sambhaji Patil, Prathik and Santosh Tulajappa Gurav. The SIT’s probe into Lankesh’s murder, however, revealed a new set of suspects in the theatre attack case.
Belagavi Police were permitted by a court in January 2019 to re-open investigations into the attack on the theatre on the basis of findings in the Lankesh case. They subsequently named Bharat Kurne, Gondhalekar and Kalaskar and Belagavi youths Praveen Chatur, Ganesh Remanache, Parashuram Kakatkar and Sunil Maruti Patil as accused in the theatre case. While Kurne, Gondhalekar and Kalaskar are accused in the Lankesh murder case, Chatur is an accused in Kalburgi’s murder.
Deodikar is among 18 accused in the Lankesh murder case and is alleged to have been the custodian of two guns used in the murders of Lankesh and others between 2013 and 2017. The SIT probing the Lankesh case stated in a chargesheet in 2018 that Deodikar was a key member of a syndicate created in 2010-11 by former activists of the Sanstha. The SIT will now file a supplementary chargesheet against him, sources said.
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