Sanatan head questioned in Pansare murder case

Alka Dhupkar

The Kolhapur police team investigating the murder of rationalist Govind Pansare has reportedly questioned Dr Jayant Athavale, the founder of Sanatan Sanstha, in a major development in the case.

The grilling took place this week at the ultra-right-wing group’s headquarters in Ramnathi, Goa, Mirror has learned. To avoid any drama or ruckus by his supporters, three officers dressed in plain clothes went to the ashram and recorded 75-yearold Athavale’s statement.

This is the first time he has been formally quizzed in connection with the 2015 fatal shooting of Pansare. A man linked to the Sanstha, Dr Virendra Tawde, is the prime accused in the case and is in custody.

Police sources claimed Tawde and the wanted suspects who shot dead Pansare were acting on Athavale’s orders. “Unlike the common perception that Dr Athavale is living a retired life, he is very much active,” a source said, without elaborating.Lawyer Sanjeev Punalekar, who represents the Sanstha, said several people were quizzed at the ashram, but refused to confirm whether Athavale was among them. “Yes, three members of the Special Investigation Team made enquiries at the ashram on Tuesday and Wednesday. They made enquiries with a large number of people and might have recorded their statements. I have not spoken with Dr Athavale for months so I have no idea if he was interrogated. I cannot speak on his behalf.”

Suhail Sharma, additional police superintendent (Kolhapur) led the three-member team. He could not be reached for a comment on Wednesday. The other two officers, assistant inspector Ramesh Khune and subinspector Ramesh Dhane, were also unavailable.

Apart from Athavale’s, the team is believed to have recorded statements of Sanstha followers and trustees who live at the Goa ashram.

Pansare was killed near his house in Kolhapur on February 15 last year. Investigators, from the SIT and the CBI, believe the same set of right-wing elements were behind his murder and the killings of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar and prominent activist MM Kalburgi.

On September 5 last year, the Kolhapur SIT raided the Sanstha’s Panvel ashram, where Tawde was a regular visitor, and seized a large quantity of psychotropic drugs. There is suspicion that Tawde and other sadhaks were given mind-altering pills at the Sanstha’s ashrams. Medical experts say if such drugs are given to people who have no apparent condition, it can make them agreeable to new ideas and instructions.

The Sanstha has categorically rejected the claims, but Tawde’s estranged wife, Nidhi, has alleged in her statement to the SIT that the two were routinely administered drugs used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The couple was apparently told the pills were necessary for the purification of their souls.

Punalekar claimed on Wednesday that the SIT was trying to defame the Santha as investigators had failed conduct a proper probe in Pansare’s murder.

Sharma is investigating the case under the supervision of SIT chief Sanjeev Kumar. The team has already filed a chargesheet against Tawde and identified the shooters as Sarang Akolkar (35) and Vinay Pawar (37).

The two suspects are absconding.

Courtesy: Mumbai Mirror