Acquitted of their alleged role in bomb blasts outside Maharashtra theatres in 2008, two sadhaks of the Goa-based right-wing organisation Sanatan Sanstha have made startling confessions to India Today TV’s special investigation team about their involvement in the terror attacks.
Set up by a hypnotherapist, Jayant Athavale, in 1999, the organisation ostensibly identifies “spirituality” as its primary goal.
“…[The] aim of the sanstha is to impart spiritual knowledge to the curious in society, inculcate religious behaviour in the masses and providing personal guidance to seekers for their spiritual uplift,” it declares on its website.
The Sanatan Sanstha, with centres spread across Maharashtra, Goa and elsewhere in India, is, however, no stranger to controversy. Its name figured in the Maharashtra Anti Terror Squad’s charge sheet for bomb attacks outside theaters and cinema halls in 2008 — allegedly over ‘objectionable’ depiction of Hinduism in certain films and dramas.
All these years, the Sanstha has vehemently denied the accusations.
But now, India Today TV’s SIT has secured evidence suggesting it might have played a role in the attacks.
Suspect in Vashi attack admits role
Mangesh Dinkar Nikam, who was acquitted by the trial court seven years ago in connection with the 2008 bomb attacks in Thane, Panvel and Vashi, admitted on camera that he did plant the explosives.
Identified as a Sanstha sadhak, or a seeker, in police records, Nikam, 45, admitted that the bomb, which was defused by disposal squads, aimed to avenge what he called was “wrongful depiction of Hindu gods and goddesses” in a Marathi play running at the targeted Vashi theatre.
“I was at Vashi. I planted it [the IED] and came out. That was my role,” he confessed to the undercover reporters who met him at his home in Satara district.
“I had planted that one.” Nikam said referring to the explosive planted in Vashi. “In the [Vashi] case in which we were involved, people were parodying our gods and goddesses [in the play]. So we tried to stop it, nothing else.”
“You yourself were involved in it?” the reporter asked Nigam.
“Yes, I was involved in it,” he said. “We had protested over it [the play] but nothing happened so we tried to scare them away and did it this way.”
Nikam also accepted his association with the Sanatan Sanstha, saying he has been its follower since 2000.
“Yes, I am a seeker,” he said, adding that he was a visitor at the Sanstha’s Panvel ashram.
“I used to visit the Panvel ashram but stayed at home. There, I came in touch with others,” Nikam said.
He confessed that the execution of the attack plan was carried out at the sanstha facility in Panvel, Maharashtra.
Another suspect makes explosive claims
But Nikam is not the only accused from the Sanatan Sanstha to admit to his role in terror plots.
Haribhau Krishnna Divekar, a 58-year-old sanstha follower, revealed that his involvement in the 2008 bomb attacks was much larger than what he had been unsuccessfully prosecuted for.
According to the ATS chargesheet, he was a close aide of one of the two convicts in the case. Divekar, however, was acquitted three years after the attacks on grounds of insufficient evidence.
At his home in Raigad, he confessed to India Today TV’s SIT that he had been in possession of explosives — something that the ATS didn’t record in its chargesheet.
“When I went there, police came here and conducted searches and investigation, I handed them what I had with me,” Divekar said.
“What all did you hand over? What did they recover?” asked the reporter.
“That time, there were one-two revolvers and detonators, it is called detonator right, gelatin [sticks] and digital meters. Around 20 gelatins were there and 23 detonators. They took away all those things,” the acquitted suspect revealed.
“Since when did you have it?” the reporter asked.
“It [the explosives] was there for 5-6 days,” Divekar said.
According to the ATS chargesheet, six suspects — Ramesh Hanumant Gadkari, Mangesh Dinkar Nikam, Vikram Vinay Bhave, Santosh Sitaram Angre, Haribhau Krishna Divekar and Hemant Tukaram Chalke — conspired to “strike terror” through planned bomb attacks between January 2008 and June 2008.
On their target were theatres showing Aamhi Pachpute, a Marathi play, and Bollywood film Jodha Akbar, the prosecution said.
In 2011, the trial court convicted Gadkari and Bhave while acquitting the four other suspects.