Sequel of terror

February 20, 2008: A bomb is planted at the Cineraj cinema in Panvel town, about 50 km from Mumbai, during a screening of the film, Jodha Akbar. Fortunately, the bomb caused no more stir than a small firecracker and went unnoticed until the end of the show.

May 31 2008: The Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad (BDDS) from the police department defuses a bomb found in a plastic carrier bag at an auditorium in Vashi, Navi Mumbai. The bag contained batteries, gelatine sticks, detonators and ammonium nitrate. Fortunately again, no damage was done.

June 4, 2008: A bomb explodes in the Gadkari Rangayatan theatre in Thane where a Marathi play, Amhi Pachpute, was due to be staged. Seven persons are injured.

Thane, June 2008

Who was targeting cinema halls and auditoriums on the outskirts of Mumbai with such alarming frequency and why? The ATS team of the Maharashtra police suspected that Hindu extremist organisations were behind the blasts, as some of these groups had been protesting against the film and the play for weeks. Their grouse was that Hindu gods and goddesses were being shown in a poor light and permission to stage such plays or films must not be granted.

Working on their assumption, 16 teams of the ATS checked the records of all vehicles that entered the premises of the Gadkari Rangayatan theatre on June 4. After cross-checking the list with the RTO the police pinpointed a motorcycle that was registered in the name of a Hindu trust, the Guru Kripa Pratisthan. The police then traced the organisation’s office to Panvel where it is located in the premises of another Hindu organisation called the Sanatan Sanstha (SS). Set up in 1999, the SS, a revivalist group run by the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, has an ashram in Sukhapur village near Panvel.

By June 23, the ATS had arrested six Hindu extremists belonging to the Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS). It later learnt that the two organisations were closely associated. The first two to be nabbed – Hanumant Gadkari (50) and Mangesh Dinkar Nikam (34) – belonged both to the SS and the HJS. Two more sevaks (activists) of the Sanatan Sanstha, Santosh Angre (26) and Vikram Bhave (26), allegedly part of the network that reportedly planted the bombs at the Bhave auditorium in Vashi and Thane’s Gadkari Rangayatan, were the next to be arrested by the ATS. Unemployed, Angre and Bhave were full-time residents of the Sanatan Sanstha ashram.

On June 23, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) also arrested Dr Hemant Chalke, a member of Sanatan Sanstha, for conducting a recce of Vashi’s Bhave theatre where a bomb was found on May 31.

The ATS also seized 19 gelatine sticks, 20 detonators, two timers and three circuits, which were dumped in the Balganga river in Pen. The police also seized six batteries, one timer and half a dozen detonators from the Satara residence of another accused, Mangesh Nikam.

"We are proud of what we did to deter those who were trying to show our gods and goddesses in poor light," the accused reportedly told the investigators. "We have extracted the names of the places from where the material used in the bombs was bought by the accused. We know where the circuit material, the ammonium nitrate and the timer were bought. We also know the place from where the soldering work was done for the bomb. In fact, the accused had availed of a 10 per cent discount on the timer," said the ATS chief, Hemant Karkare.

‘Our investigation is raising serious questions’


Hemant Karkare, head of the Anti-Terrorism Squad, Maharashtra, told the media soon after Gadkari and Nikam had been interrogated by the ATS that the bombings were "definitely terrorist acts as they were carried out by people motivated by an ideology". He added that if the organisations to which the men belonged were found to be involved in the planning or the execution of these incidents, the ATS would "certainly write to the centre and seek that they be banned". CC spoke to Karkare in the second week of August on the progress of investigations. Excerpts from the interview:

Q: What stage have the investigations into the Thane-Panvel-Vashi blasts reached?
We are on the verge of filing the charge sheets, which we will accomplish within the legally stipulated 60 days’ time.

Q: Can we expect some major breakthroughs?
Some recovery of material is pending. Also, on the basis of the investigations and confessional statements we are still inquiring into the persons who gave shelter to the accused, those who bought the materials that went into making the explosives, etc, the organisational links.

Q: Have any organisational links been established?
A: Our investigation is raising serious questions. The organisations, the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, the Dharmakranti Sena and the Sanatan Sanstha, all have full-timers. Then there is also the Guru Kripa Pratisthan. The SS ashram is large, can house a hundred people, ostensibly learning yoga… The question our investigation is asking is can we charge sheet these organisations? Were these acts furthering the objectives of these organisations? They are all trusts with the charity commissioner. We are investigating the sources of their funding with the charity commissioner. Are there common sources of funding, etc? Can they be linked to the acquisition of violent substances?

The Sanatan Sanstha also publishes a regular newspaper, the Sanatan Prabhat, from four centres – Ponda (Goa), Navi Mumbai, Indore or Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh and North Karnataka.

The ATS is also examining the records of those arrested for the Jalna, Purna and Parbhani mosque blasts to check if there was any connection between the accused in the cases and whether the SS and the HJS have any organisational links.

According to information gathered and made public by the ATS, in early January this year activists of the Sanatan Sanstha, which is known for the ashrams it operates across the state, decided that to stop the ‘wrongful’ portrayal of Hindu gods and goddesses they needed to send out a ‘loud’ message. They tried to put together a crude bomb made of gunpowder and attempted to set it off, using a fuse wire, at a cemetery in Raigad district. The attempt failed. Their choice of location for the trial, a cemetery, is significant.

This was before they met Nikam, who turned out to be the perfect complement to Gadkari. Nikam’s past experience and knowledge in the use of high intensity explosives like gelatine was complemented by Gadkari’s knowledge of electric circuits (he was an electrician). Following some basic research the group assembled its first improvised explosive device (IED) containing two gelatine sticks, 300 gm of ammonium nitrate, detonators and a battery-powered electric circuit as a trigger mechanism. This was the device they exploded at the Cineraj cinema in Panvel on February 20, without much success.

Three months later, according to the ATS, the group had upgraded its skills enough to assemble a second, more sophisticated IED. Though similar in composition to the earlier one, it was operated by a far more refined trigger mechanism – a digital timer controlled by a remote control device. The group planted this IED at Vashi’s Vishnudas Bhave Natyagruha where the play, Amhi Pachpute, was being staged on May 31. But it was found and defused before any damage was done. Gadkari and Nikam are held responsible for the three blasts between February and June. Nikam was allegedly also involved in a February 2006 case in which a bomb was planted outside the home of a Catholic family in Ratnagiri.

The Sanatan Sanstha was quick to deny any organisational responsibility or link to the blasts. At a press conference held soon after the arrests both the SS and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, the latter claiming to be an ‘umbrella organisation of many bodies’, said: "We cannot deny their association with us but we had nothing to do with the blast. Sanatan Sanstha will never support such violent acts," said Abhay Vartak, the organisation’s spokesperson. "Our protests have always been peaceful, through dialogue," said Dr Uday Dhuri, coordinator of HJS’ Mumbai chapter.

The SS also condemned the blast through an editorial in its SS newspaper, Sanatan Prabhat, but with a rider: "Though we condemn the act, the mind-set and the anger of these (arrested) people should be understood and the mocking of Hindu gods should be stopped."
The HJS, whose declared aim is "uniting Hindus globally", has no headquarters or formal membership. But it has a strong online presence. It owes its genesis to an October 2002 meeting where Hindu deities were "blasphemously criticised" and the lone man who protested was attacked. "With a view to protest against this attack, all Hindu organisations came together and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti was established on October 13, 2002 [at the] initiative of seekers of Sanatan Sanstha," says the outfit’s website. Currently, the group’s global agenda is to protest against the "anti-Hindu" Hollywood movie, The Love Guru, and "anti-Hindu textbooks" for schoolchildren in Goa, and to save the Ram Sethu.

Media investigations and reports of a sinister network of hard line Hindu outfits across Maharashtra and Goa pose a particular challenge to investigation and intelligence agencies. According to a report in The Indian Express (June 22):
"The five men were members of the Sanatan Sanstha (SS) and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), hitherto little-known groups operating in the hinterland of Maharashtra and Goa. Two of them are also members of another newly launched outfit called the Dharmashakti Sena, pictures of whose inaugural rally in April show young men dressed in military fatigues.

"These groups, which work like wheels within wheels, have been quietly mobilising Hindus on a cocktail of Ramrajya (Rama’s rule), Hindu dharma and ‘dharmakranti (religious revolution) in and around Mumbai for a few years now.
"While the SS and the HJS are both registered in Goa as charitable organisations, the Dharmashakti Sena was set up in 16 Maharashtra towns and cities on Gudi Padwa day this April. Its stated aim: establishing ‘Ramrajya’ and to make Hindus ‘capable of action’.
"Publications linked to the three groups say the Dharmashakti Sena offers free training in self-defence and the training involves inculcating ‘mental courage’. It also reminds readers of the ‘armed battle of revolutionaries and saints’, RSS guru Golwalkar’s work on ‘protecting Hindus’ and his teaching that ‘weapons should be countered with weapons’.


Thackeray: Hindu suicide squads needed

A Hindu fidayeen band is necessary to combat Muslim fundamentalism, Shiv Sena mouthpiece, Saamna, edited by party boss Bal Thackeray, said on June 19.

In a leader comment, the paper said a "Hindu bomb" was needed to combat the "Muslim bomb", in response to the arrest of those allegedly involved in the bomb blasts in Vashi and Thane.

"Think big", advised the editorial, describing the low intensity bombs as "phuskya" (timid") and targeting of fellow Hindus by the extremists as "ridiculous and stupid".

"The need of the hour is to plant a strong bomb in Bangladeshi bastis that have mushroomed in Thane and elsewhere in Maharashtra," it added.

Responding to the outrage over the Saamna editorial, Thackeray convened a press conference two days later to reiterate his appeal to militant Hindus to form suicide squads to counter Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. He said that he was not worried about the legal implications of his appeal.

BJP vice–president Gopinath Munde said no case could be made against Thackeray since the Sena chief had spoken against terrorism and not against any section of the population. What Thackeray preached was nothing but pure patriotism, he added.

"‘Conversions of Hindus’, ‘genocide’, the Congress government’s alleged poor track record against Islamic terrorism, ‘persecution at the hands of anti-Hindus’, are recurrent themes alongside a call for Hindus and Hindu organisations to unite. Unlike leaders of the RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal, the men and women behind these new outfits are low-profile activists who have been quietly chipping away at the mind-set of Hindus in Maharashtra and Goa. The founder of the SS, the oldest of the three groups, is Dr Jayant Athavale, a clinical hypnotherapist who practised for two decades and also set up the Indian Society of Clinical Hypnosis and Research. A former resident of Goa, Dr Athavale is now a resident of New Bombay. His students are quick to exonerate his role in present activities, however.

"HJS and SS leaders are also cagey talking about Dharmashakti Sena chief Vinay Panvalkar, thought to live in the Dadar area of Central Mumbai and who has travelled extensively across Maharashtra after the outfit was launched. At a ‘dharmajagruti sabha’ (religious awakening conference) in Pune in mid-May 2008, Panvalkar is quoted as saying: "Hindus are cornered from all sides but there is no retaliation from them." At a later meeting in Thane he said, "The war in future will be a dharmayudh (religious war) and Dharmashakti Sena will be the guiding force."

The Indian Express investigation shows that the linkages to these groups from Maharashtra and Goa go all the way to Australia and the United States with centres in New Jersey, Brisbane, Melbourne and Dubai.
The top leaders of these organisations are: Dr Jayant Balaji Athavale, founder of Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, Virendra Marathe, managing trustee of Sanatan Sanstha, Vinay Panvalkar, chief of Dharmashakti Sena, Dr Durgesh Samant, national spokesman of HJS, Abhay Vartak, Mumbai spokesman of Sanatan Sanstha, and Shivaji Vatkar, Mumbai convenor of HJS.

Archived from Communalism Combat, July-August 2008. Year 15, No.133, Maharashtra, Cover Story 7



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