New Delhi: The Supreme Court’s decision to hand over the suicide case of actor Sushant Singh Rajput to CBI has turned the spotlight on another case that the central agency is investigating — the murder of doctor-rationalist Narendra Dabholkar.
Seven years since the death of Dabholkar — who was gunned down on 20 August, 2013, by two bike-borne assailants while he was on his morning walk — the CBI is no closer to nailing the perpetrators.
Radical Hindutva organisations have been blamed for the murder and while the CBI has made a slew of arrests, it is yet to zero in on the main accused.
The case has dragged on as Dabholkar’s family and friends continue to wait for justice. His son, Hamid, has said it was painful that a reputed investigation agency like the CBI was not able to complete the probe.
Dabholkar’s daughter, Mukta, told ThePrint that it was important to understand that after his death three other people were murdered in a similar manner — Communist leader Govind Pansare in February 2015, Kannada scholar M.M. Kalburgi in August 2015 and the Bengaluru journalist Gauri Lankesh in 2017.
“It has been more than 7 years since the killing of my father. We will only be happy with the investigation and be at peace once justice is delivered and the real source of the murders is revealed,” she said.
“An organisation has even been identified (Sanatan Sanstha). Still nothing has been found,” she added. “While arrests have been made, the main source of these killings and the reason why they took place have not been revealed,” she said.
Dabholkar’s successor at the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS) and the executive director of the organisation, Avinash Patil, told ThePrint that since his death, the case had gone to five investigative agencies.
“In Maharashtra it was with the CID, ATS and SIT. And in the central agencies, the probe had gone to the NIA and was now with the CBI,” Patil said.
In 2014, the Bombay High Court transferred the case to the CBI. And in August 2015, both the CBI and Maharashtra government announced a Rs 10 lakh reward for any person providing information regarding Dabholkar’s assailants.
After taking over the investigation, the CBI in 2016 arrested ENT surgeon Dr Virendrasinh Tawade, with alleged ties to the radical outfit Sanatan Sanstha, based on a witness statement by Hindutva activist Sanjay Sadvilkar. The CBI, at the time, said Tawade was the mastermind behind the killing. Tawade was also arrested by the Maharashtra Police for the murder of communist leader Govind Pansare.
The Sanatan Sanstha is a radical Hindutva outfit that seeks the creation of a Hindu rashtra. The outfit has been accused of links to the 2008 blasts in Thane and Panvel and the 2009 blast in Goa. It is also accused in the murders of Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi.
Investigative agencies and family members of the victims say the killings are linked.
Arrests made in the case
The CBI has said the Sanatan Sanstha had long-standing hatred against Dabholkar and his organisation MANS, which he founded in 1989 to eradicate superstitious practices and blind faith.
In its charge sheet in 2016, the central agency named Sanatan Sanstha members Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar as the two people who shot Dabholkar. But in August 2018, it arrested Sachin Prakashrao Andure and Sharad Kalaskar and told the court that these two had opened fire on Dabkholar.
Less than a year later in May 2019, the CBI then arrested the Sanatan Sanstha lawyer Sanjeev Punalekar and his friend Vikram Bhave. All five have been charge-sheeted — four are in prison while Punalekar is currently out on bail.
Aside from them, the central investigative agency also arrested three others — Amol Kale, Amit Digwekar and Rajesh Bangera — who have also been accused of murdering Lankesh. The three have not been chargesheeted till now.
The state of investigation
In November 2019, the CBI further filed a supplementary charge sheet against Punalekar and Bhave in connection with Dabholkar murder.
Continuing with the probe, in early March this year, the CBI said it had recovered a pistol from a creek near Thane, which it believed was used in the murder of Dabholkar. It said that Kalaskar had dismantled the pistol and threw it in the creek in July 2018. The pistol was sent to forensic and ballistic experts to be examined and check if there was a link to the murder. However the outcome of the tests is unknown.
In mid-August CBI officers working on the Dabholkar investigation were awarded the ‘Union home minister’s medal for excellence in investigation’.
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar Wednesday said that he hoped the probe into Hindi film actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s “unnatural death” would end with a logical conclusion and not like the Narendra Dabholkar murder case, which still remains unsolved.