Sanatan Sanstha, a right-wing organisation whose alleged workers are accused of the murders of rationalists Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar, has put up photographs of the event and a statement by the candidate on its website.
Ratnagiri: Controversy erupted in the Maharashtra state Congress over Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg Lok Sabha constituency candidate Navinchandra Bandivadekar, who is allegedly associated with the radical right-wing organisation Sanatan Sanstha.
Bandivadekar, who has been associated with the Congress since 2005, was seen participating in protest rallies last year opposing the arrest of Vaibhav Raut, a member of the Hindu Govansh Raksha Samiti. The state Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) had arrested Raut and his associates in August last year for allegedly assembling explosives at his residence in Nalasopara, north Mumbai.
Bandivadekar, in September last year, had come out in support of Raut and claimed that he was wrongly implicated in the terror case. He had participated in protest rallies organised in Nalasopara, where over 6,000 people had gathered in support of Raut.
Sanatan Sanstha, a right-wing organisation whose alleged workers are accused of the murders of rationalists Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar, has put up photographs of the event and a statement by Bandiwadekar on its website.
Friends of Democracy, a forum of activists, condemned the candidature of Bandivadekar by Congress and demanded his immediate replacement. “We have written to the Congress against the candidature of Bandivadekar and have also warned them about us withdrawing support if he is not replaced,” said Ashutosh Shirke, who is the convenor of the organisation.
“We always take a stand that to defeat the model of BJP and RSS, all like-minded parties must join hands, and Congress should lead the battle. But this decision hurts the idea of Congress as well as the idea of secularism. So, we demand the immediate removal of the candidate,” their statement read.
In a statement issued on the HJS website on September 9, 2018, Bandivadekar is quoted as supporting Raut both as someone who belongs to the Bhandari caste and also for the work he has done to “protect cows” in his vicinity.
“We are proud of Vaibhav Raut, not only because he belongs to Bhandari community but also because he works for the protection of cows and protection of ‘Hindutva’. He has our full support, stated Shri. Navinchandra Bandiwadekar, the President of ‘Akhil Bharatiya Bhandari Samaj Mahasangh’; while addressing public ‘Janasamvad Sabha’ held at Dhanajay Talkies Hall at Nalasopara on 9th September,” the website states.
State Congress chief Ashok Chavan said they will probe the allegations against Bandivadekar. Bandivadekar, however, said he was not even remotely related to the Sanatan Sanstha. “Being the head of the Akhil Bhartiya Bhandari Samaj Mahasangh, I shared the dais in support of Raut as he belongs to my community. He is just an accused and I am not opposed to him being punished if found guilty. It was not a Sanatan Sanstha forum and I have never been associated with the organisation. My opponents are targeting me as they realised that it is going to be a tough contest for them,” he said.
The state Congress has defended him, saying Bandivadekar has no connection with Sanatan Sanstha. “He shared the dais out of pressure from the community considering rumours of presumably prejudiced action by the police. He had been demanding justified action,” said party spokesman Sachin Sawant.
Avinash Patil, executive president of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti – an organisation founded by Dr Dabholkar – called this decision ‘unfortunate’. “Congress must clear its stand on the Sanatan issue. This candidature is not coming as the right decision. In such an important battle, it is the job of the Congress to be more sensitive,” said Patil.
Meanwhile, sources from the Congress indicate that the party leadership has taken cognisance of the controversy. “The candidate of Ratnagiri-Sindhudurga will be replaced, the process has started at the top level. In a matter of maximum 24 hours, hopefully, a change could be announced,” sources told Newsclick.