Narendra Dhabolkar. Image Courtesy : The Indian Express
August 20 will mark six years since the Maharashtra-based rationalist Narendra Dhabolkar was assassinated by bike-borne men while returning home in Pune from a morning walk. As the investigation has evolved over the years, many questions still remain pending, the biggest being, when will the key conspirators be nabbed as the masterminds in the case still remain scot free.
Speaking to NewsClick, Hamid Dhabolkar from the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (MANS), an organisation founded by the rationalist, said, “It's almost a year since the suspected shooters have been arrested and it has become quite evident from Gauri Lankesh, Kalburgi and Pansare’s case that the murders were a coordinated effort and a conspiracy to eliminate the voices of dissent.” Dhabolkar’s family has been highlighting that the process of the investigation has been extremely slow. Despite the fact that Sanatan Sanstha (SS) and its many splinters have been named in the killings of rationalists by the investigative agencies, these organisations continue to function and are not being investigated properly.
Currently, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has arrested over six people in the case. However, no substantial leads to the key conspirators have been established. Out of the six, the central investigating agency has also taken custody of three, Amol Kale, Amit Digwekar and Rajesh Bangera — who are also accused in the murder of journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh. Lankesh was killed near her residence in Bengaluru in September 2017. In December last year, a court in Pune granted “default bail” to these three suspects in the Dabholkar murder case as the CBI did not file a chargesheet against them within the stipulated period of 90 days. However, they continue to be in jail for their alleged involvement in the Lankesh murder case. Hamid added, “First and the most logical thing that needs to happen is to reach out to the mastermind and the conspirators, otherwise they will keep bringing up people like this.
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In June 2016, in a major breakthrough, the CBI had arrested ENT surgeon and Sanatan Sanstha member Virendra Tawade, alleging that he was the mastermind of the conspiracy to kill Dabholkar. In the chargesheet against Tawade, the CBI mentioned the involvement of other Sanatan Sanstha activists Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar and stated that they had shot Dabholkar. But later, the agency claimed that the arrested had accused Sachin Andure and Sharad Kalaskar of shooting Dabholkar.
More names surfaced in May this year, as the CBI arrested Sanatan Sansthan counsel Sanjeev Punalekar in connection with the case. Punalekar, who is currently out on bail, was arrested along with his aide Vikram Vinay Bhave based on an alleged confessional statement by Sharad Kalaskar, who has been named in a CBI chargesheet as one of the two shooters who killed Dabholkar. Kalaskar had allegedly issued the statement to the Karnataka special investigation team (SIT) investigating journalist Gauri Lankesh’s murder. A decision on the bail application of Vikram Bhave is also pending in the court and is likely to be pronounced soon.
Despite the progress being made on the arrests of the persons involved, six years later there is still no probe on the weapon used to murder Dhabolkar. Hamid added, “There are statements that are available from Sharad Kalaskar saying that he has dismantled the gun near Thane. This has been available with the investigating agencies for over seven to eight months now (the chargesheet against the shooters were filed in February 2019), still they have not managed to get a clearance to probe the site. The High Court has also pulled them up a lot of time on this as well saying that the delay can be potentially dangerous. Despite this information being available with the agencies, the permission to probe the assault weapon has been granted recently.”
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He added, “On August 10, CBI has also informed the Pune court that it has obtained the necessary clearance from the state environment ministry to conduct a search operation in the Arabian Sea to find out the weapon used to assassinate rationalist Narendra Dabholkar. A foreign company has been given a contract to conduct the operation.”
Every year on August 20, MANS observes a day of protest against the political murder of Narendra Dhabolkar. This year, however, the society, in order to facilitate discussions on science and rationality, has decided to organise a Dr. Narendra Dhabolkar memorial lecture to pay homage to the rationalist.