Maha CM instructed State ATS to go slow and soft on Hindutva Terror Suspects, alleges ATS official

According to a senior Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) official, the Maha CM Devendra Phadnavis has instructed the ATS to go slow and soft on the arrests of Hindutva hardliners. So far 5-6 persons have been arrested by the ATS in the arms and explosives seizure case.

Sources in the ATS told the orders have come from Delhi and PM Narendra Modi is personally monitoring the case on a day to day basis. While the Modi Government does not want to be seen as supporting any terror activity, they do not want to be seen as anti-Hindu or against Hindutva.

The Devendra Phadnavis government was openly criticized by far-right Hindutva proponents after the arrests. The Sanatan Sanstha and its allied organisations have got very active behind the scenes to protect the interests of their own people.

The Government at the Center is afraid some big names may tumble out. While the persons arrested so far can be considered as “small fry” the government does not want any links to Ministers or other senior RSS and VHP functionaries tumbling out.

The ATS official who spoke to on condition of anonymity said the ATS head has been told in clear terms to get clearance from the CM’s office before making any more arrests.

CM Devendra Phadnavis was unavailable for comment and several attempts to contact the CM or the CM’s office for a quote on the issue went unanswered. The CM is trying to do a balancing act – between the Hindutva hardliners and others who condemn terror in all hues and colors.

Meanwhile, the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) three days ago arrested another suspect in connection with the Nalasopara Explosive haul. The accused, Ganesh Kapale, a DTP operator, is a friend of the accused former Shiv Sena corporator Shrikant Pangarkar and is considered close to several top RSS leaders.

Kapale’s name cropped up during the investigation of Pangarkar and he was picked up for questioning from his residence in Shani Mandir Chowk last Wednesday.

Kapale, a DTP operator, owns a Xerox shop in Jalna and was very close to Pangarkar. The ATS had suspected that Kapale was working with Pangarkar. The latter can be a part of the terror plot hatched by the right-wing terror outfits. This suspicion of the ATS was confirmed after they scoured through Kapale’s computer and recovered certain e-mails. The said e-mails were sent to Kapale by Pangarkar in connection with the bomb blasts, based on which the arrests were made.

The Maharashtra Anti-terrorism Squad’s (ATS) interrogation report in the arms case involving sympathisers of the right-wing spiritual group Sanatan Sanstha once again mentions a certain MD Murali as the mastermind behind all killings and terror plots involving the group’s members or sympathisers.

Hindustan Times reported on September 5 that officers of the ATS were investigating the role of Murali. HT has has reviewed the interrogation report (IR) of the five individuals arrested by the ATS in August 2018.

To be sure, there is no other evidence other than the IR to even show that Murali, who is described as an elusive figure, exists. Still, the report names him as the brain behind several bomb blasts and the murders of rationalist Dr Narendra Dabholkar in Pune, social activist and writer Govind Pansare in Kolhapur, Kannada writer and academic Dr MM Kalburgi in Dharwad and Bengaluru-based activist and journalist Gauri Lankesh.

The IR also adds that he is the chief recruiter for a shadowy organisation spanning Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa that spread terror. The IR was filed in arms cases involving Vaibhav Raut, Sharad Kalaskar, Sudhanva Gondhalekar, Shrikant Pangarkar and Avinash Pawar.

All five were arrested from different parts of Maharashtra last month for allegedly plotting terror activities in various parts of the country, and are currently in judicial custody. Bombs, detonators, and guns were recovered during the operation.

According to the report, Murali headed the unit responsible for the blasts and the killings. Amol Kale, a 37-year-old engineer from Pune who was arrested for murdering Lankesh was his deputy. Virendrasinh Tawde, accused of murdering of Dr Dabholkar, reported to Kale

The report mentions a 2014 meeting of right-wing organisations in Goa hosted by the Sanatan Sanstha which is headquartered in the state as one of the important milestones in the terror organisation built by Murali.

It was here, it claims, that he met Raut and eight others, some of whom have been arrested for their alleged involvement in the murder of Lankesh.

According to the report, Raut speaks of Murali as an inspirational figure who incited his recruits by highlighting alleged atrocities perpetrated by Muslims on Hindus.

The report describes the entire indoctrination and training process: a training session with air guns soon after the 2014 meeting; indoctrination meetings at Belagavi, Aurangabad, Mumbai and Jalna, during which the recruits were shown inflammatory videos; another training session with air guns at Belagavi (and a subsequent session on making Molotov cocktails); a training session with pistols at the Aravalli Hills near Udaipur; and a final training session with pistols at a farm near Ahmedabad .

It isn’t clear how Murali communicated with the recruits.

The report claims that all the accused got to know each other really well during these sessions. The recruits chose Ganesh festivities to test their skills with the explosives at Pangarkar’s farmhouse in Jalna, as they could couch it as crackers being burst.

The IR adds that Murali, who was aware of the growing number of police-monitored closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras in major cities, asked each of the recruits to wear caps and sunglasses to protect their identity.

Under Murali’s instructions, Raut and Pawar conducted reconnaissance in Mumbai earlier this year to target a person (HT has withheld the individual’s identity due to security concerns).

The reconnaissance was to be done in stages of three days each. After each stage, they would lie low for a fortnight before resuming the surveillance.

However, before Raut and Pawar could execute the hit, the Karnataka Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing Lankesh’s murder arrested Kale. After Kale’s arrest, Murali asked his recruits to go into hiding.

The IR states that the recruits were given pseudonyms, and expected to address each other only by that name at all times, including phone conversations.

with inputs from Hindustan Times and Agencies