India Today caught on tape two members of Sanatan Sanstha. Both men have the designation of saadhaks or seekers in the organization. Mangesh Dinkar Nikam confessed on camera to planting the bomb that luckily failed to explode at the Vishnudas Bhave Auditorium in Vashi on May 31, 2008. The Marathi play Amhi Pachpute was being performed there.
“I had kept the bomb. We had protested against the depiction of gods and goddesses in a play that was being performed at the theater. When they refused to stop the performance, we decided to scare people,” confessed Nikam. But it did not stop there. This was the second bomb attack in 2008. Earlier on Feb 20, a bomb had exploded at a Panvel theater screening Jodha Akbar. Unaware that he was being recorded on a hidden camera, he spoke with greater impunity and said, “We just wanted to scare them. If we wanted, we could have even killed people!”
Nikam said that he had been with the Sanatan Sanstha since 2000 and that he would often visit their ashram in Panvel. “That is how I stayed in touch with the others who planted bombs,” he said explaining how the ashram played a key role in the planning and coordination of the bomb attacks. Interestingly, though Nikam had been implicated in the case, he was acquitted by the court in the absence of any evidence.
Meanwhile, another saadhak Haribhau Krishna Divekar revealed something even more sinister. On June 4, 2008 another bomb had exploded at Thane's Ghadkari Rangayatan theater's parking lot during the performance of Amhi Pachpute. Divekar was a key accused in this case. “After the blast the police came to my house to conduct a search. So I turned over all weapons and explosives I had to them. There were one or two revolvers, 23 gelatin sticks, 20 detonators and some digital meters.” However, interestingly the ATS that was investigating the case stated in its official documentation that nothing was recovered from Divekar’s house. This is why despite being implicated in the case, he too, like Nikam, was acquitted by the court… due to ‘lack of evidence’.
The Sanatan Sanstha was quick to dismiss India Today’s investigation. “These tapes have no evidenciary value under the IT Act. Moreover, the two men in these videos have come to us and claimed that they were given Rs 2 crores each to make false statements against the Sanatan Sanstha,” said spokesperson Ramesh Shinde.
Senior journalist Nikhil Wagle wondered how the Sanatan Sanstha was still allowed to run despite mounting evidence against it. “They have planted bombs, their men have been caught with explosives in their homes. They are involved in murders of journalists and rationalists. How is this secret assassin society allowed to operate,” he demanded to know.
Meanwhile, Deepak Kesarkar Minister of State for Home, Maharashtra assured that action would be taken. “You have provided us with new evidence. We will inform the central government and take necessary action.” But it was clear that he had been caught off guard and was playing on the backfoot. He also steered clear of specifying what action will be taken or comment on whether the Sanatan Sanstha will be banned.
Meanwhile, the second part of India Today’s investigation revealed that investigators in cases where men from Sanatan Sanstha were allegedly involved were under tremendous political pressure. CL Patil a police officer of the rank of Station House Office, who investigated the Margao blast, confirmed the existence of political pressure. The Sanatan Sanstha had planned the blasts to trigger communal violence, but the plan backfired when the explosives went off prematurely killing the handlers! Patil said, “Had it not been for political pressure Sanatan men responsible would be behind bars. I had also recommended that the Sanatan Sanstha be banned, but that recommendation was not acted upon.” He further elaborated on the kind of political pressure saying. “Even the police are not allowed to enter the Sanatan Sanstha premises in Ponda. The political pressure is so strong that the moment it is about religion, there is complete silence. Mantri to santri everyone is involved.”
But in more shocking revelation India Today discovered that Amit Degvekar who is one of the key accused in the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, had stated the Sanatan Sanstha ashram in Ramnathi, Ponda as his residential address in his voter ID and bank documents. Patil also revealed that Degvekar once shared a room with Malgonda Patil who was one of the men who was handling explosives in the Margaon blast and died when the bombs exploded prematurely. He suspects that these men were brain washed by Sanatan Sanstha founder Dr Jayant Athawale who lived in a room next to them.
ATS Inspector Salim Sheikh also spoke about the Sanatan Sanstha’s close association with political power brokers. Both Patil and Sheik point to an as yet unnamed powerful politician who is a minister in the Manohar Parrikar government as a key player. Though India Today is withholding his identity, they say his wife and sister-in-law are both senior office bearers in the Sanatan Sanstha.