The CBI on Saturday arrested an advocate and his aide, both of whom have links with the radical outfit Sanatan Sanstha, in connection with the murder of anti-superstition activist Dr Narendra Dabholkar in Pune in August 2013.
The advocate, Sanjiv Punalekar, is an officebearer of the lawyers’ body Hindu Vidhidnya Parishad, and has been representing some of the accused arrested earlier in the Dabholkar murder case. He often appears on TV and is quoted in the news media speaking for the accused. He also provides legal support to Sanatan Sanstha activists and other Hindutva activists accused in several other cases.
The other arrested man, Vikram Bhave, is a member of the Sanatan Sanstha, who was convicted in the case of blasts at some theatres and an auditorium in Thane in 2008. He was given bail by the Bombay High Court in 2013. Bhave has been assisting Punalekar in his legal work, sources said.
The CBI will produce Punalekar and Bhave before a special court in Pune on Sunday and seek their custody for further interrogation, CBI spokesperson Nitin Wakankar said. Dabholkar was shot dead while on his morning walk in Pune on August 20, 2013. Eight individuals have now been arrested for the murder.
The names of Punalekar and Bhave had come up during interrogation of some of the accused arrested earlier, a CBI officer said. “The two are suspected to have played a role in the destruction of evidence, and in aiding the absconding suspects on various occasions,” the officer said. Investigators suspect Bhave also helped the shooters identify Dabholkar.
In June 2016, the CBI arrested ENT surgeon and Sanatan Sanstha member Dr Virendra Tawde, the alleged mastermind of the conspiracy. In its chargesheet against Tawde, the CBI alleged that Sanatan Sanstha activists Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar had shot Dabholkar.
However, in 2018, the CBI said that arrested accused Sachin Andure and Sharad Kalaskar had killed Dabholkar. The CBI also took three others — Amol Kale, Amit Digwekar, and Rajesh Bangera — into custody. These men are also accused in the September 2017 murder of Bengaluru journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh.
In December 2018, however, a court in Pune gave these suspects “default bail” in the Dabholkar case after the CBI failed to file a chargesheet within the stipulated 90 days.
Investigators say Kale, a resident of Pune’s Pimpri Chinchwad, was a key conspirator in the Dabholkar murder. Bangera is alleged to have trained the shooters, Andure and Kalaskar, in the use of firearms. All the accused have links with the Sanatan Sanstha or its affiliate, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, says the CBI.
Sanatan Sanstha spokesperson Chetan Rajhans accused the CBI of “bowing” to “progressives”, even when a “pro-Hindutva” government was in power. In a press release, Rajhans said: “Arrest of the National Secretary of Hindu Vidhidnya Parishad Adv Sanjiv Punalekar and RTI activist of Parishad Vikram Bhave by CBI in the case of the killing of Dr Narendra Dabholkar is strongly protested. To arrest advocate Sanjiv Punalekar and Vikram Bhave when the pro-Hindutva Government is in power shows that there is some conspiracy behind such an action. The CBI has bowed before the demand of the progressives, who was to pressurise Sanatan Sanstha. It is very serious to arrest advocate Punalekar who proved the falsehood of saffron terrorism behind Malgaon explosion case, filed several Public Interest Litigations.”