October 27, 2008 9:38:47 am
The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) has conducted fresh raids across the state and neighbouring Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat and picked up at least two more Hindu activists, including a woman, for questioning in connection with the Malegaon and Modasa bomb blasts last month as links emerged between the Sangh Parivar and a retired army Major who is also being questioned for his suspected role. The ex-Army officer is said to have once headed a BJP ex-servicemen cell in Mumbai.
While sources said that the woman who had been picked up for questioning was suspected to be a member of the Durga Vahini organisation in Madhya Pradesh, the state’s police chief S K Raut said that a man named Sameer Kulkarni had also been picked up by the ATS on Saturday night. He said Kulkarni was suspected to have been a member of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and is believed to have organised an exhibition against terrorism at Gandhi Bhavan in Bhopal a few months ago.
Kulkarni is also believed to be linked to a Pune-based voluntary organisation called ‘Abhinav Bharat’, Raut added. The working president of Abhinav Bharat, retired Major Ramesh Upadhyay, is already being questioned by the ATS for his suspected links with Sadhvi Pragyasingh Thakur and two other Hindu activists, arrested last week in connection with the September 29 twin-blasts, which together killed six Muslims during Ramzan. According to the website of Abhinav Bharat, the outfit was formed in June 2006 with the aim of combating terrorism and rebuilding the nation around Bharatiya and Hindu culture.
Another junior army officer is also being questioned but ATS sources refused to disclose his name. Both officers are said to be associated with the Bhonsala Military School in Nashik, which also has a branch in Nagpur. ATS chief Hemant Karkare said that three people from Indore had been detained, numerous others being questioned but added that there were no fresh arrests. The detentions come on the back of the arrest of the sadhvi from near Surat and two Hindu activists from Indore last week.
While the ABVP, the Hindu Jagran Manch as well as other Sangh Parivar outfits such as the BJP and the RSS have denied any links with the blasts or the three people arrested in connection with them, fresh information emerged today that Major Upadhyay headed the Mumbai unit of the BJP’s ex-servicemen’s cell. Serving office-bearers of the cell, who did not want to be identified, said that Upadhyay was removed from the post “after he committed some mistakes”. One office-bearer said that Upadhyay had also been paid by the party for his work but he was not connected with the BJP after his removal from the post.
Sources in Pune said that Kulkarni was also suspected to be associated with Sadhvi Pragya, other Hindu groups and was active in the Pimpri-Chinchwad area. His name had come up during the attack on Pastor Peter David Silway of Vineyard Worker’s Church in Dapodi in August last year. Abraham Mathai, Vice-Chairman of the State Minorities Commission and General Secretary of the All Indian Christian Council, had then named five people, including Kulkarni, as allegedly associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and involved in the attack. Pastor Silway’s car was stoned by motorcycle-borne youth on a bridge linking Dapodi and Bopodi.
Mathai had alleged that Kulkarni was one of those who orchestrated the attack. Sources said that Kulkarni was a science graduate. Ranjeet Natu, Pune city leader of VHP, denied Kulkarni was an active member of the organisation. “I don’t know Sameer Kulkarni,” he said.
At the Rail Residency Cooperative Housing Society in Akurdi in Pune, where Upadhyay resides, there is complete silence. Police officers don’t deny they are keeping a watch on the Upadhyay residence despite the fact the ATS has still not arrested him.
Police Inspector Gaurav of Special Branch, who was at the Upadhyay home, said he was there on a routine inquiry. “We have come on a regular inquiry after we got to know that Maj Upadhyay was picked up by the Mumbai ATS. But it does not mean he is linked to the Malegaon blasts,” he said. Upadhyay’s daughter Madhu said: “We don’t wish to speak to the media right now but if needed, we will definitely contact you.”
— (With inputs from Dhaval Kulkarni in Mumbai, Tarun Nangia in Pune)
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