August 11, 2018: Among the three accused persons, arrested by the Maharashtra ATS on Friday, for possession of 20 crude bombs, explosives, timers, detonators, bomb fuses and other material, Vaibhav Raut, a member of the Hindu Govansh Raksha Samiti and the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti (HJS), is also believed to be a sympathizer or worker of the right-wing Sanatan Sanstha which is allegedly involved in the murder of three rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M M Kalburgi and the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Karnataka.
Another arrested accused, Sudhanwa Gondhalekar from Satara is a active member of the Shri Shiva Pratishthan Hindustan whose chief Sambhaji Bhide had been booked in two criminal cases in connection with the violence near Bhima Koregaon on January 1 by the Pune police.
Gondhalekar was actively involved as an activist with several far-right Hindutva groups including the HJS and is a known sympathizer of the Sanatan Sanstha.
Bhide who has a huge following in interior Maharashtra is held in high respect by PM Narendra Modi as well as Uddhav Thackeray and several RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders. Modi has openly and publicly admitted that he considers Bhide his ‘guru‘.
Gondhalekar who was arrested on Friday by the ATS after a tip from the Karnataka SIT investigating the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh is reportedly Bhide’s close confidante and an active member in his outfit.
All the arrested accused or the outfits they work for are involved in 4-5 murders – those of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, M M Kalburgi and journalist Gauri Lankesh. Their outfits have been involved in bomb blasts at Panvel, Thane and Margao.
Sanatan Sanstha members have been arrested in four bombings in Vashi, Thane, Panvel (all in 2007) and Goa (in 2009) and in the murders of Narendra Dabholkar (in 2013), Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi (both in 2015).
The third accused, Sharad Kasalkar was arrested along with Raut from his residence in Nallasapara. Live crude bombs, detonators, electronic equipment and parts and gelatin sticks were allegedly recovered from the accused.
The ATS arrests materialized after information passed on by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Karnataka police probing the murder of Gauri Lankesh revealed the names of 10-12 persons who were actively involved in terror activities, including plots to eliminate anti-Hindu voices. In all a total of 20 persons are under the Maharashtra ATS scanner.
Two names that stood out in the Bhima-Koregaon violence that left one dead and several injured, were Sambhaji Bhide, a former RSS worker and Milind Ekbote, a former BJP corporator from Pune.
The heavyweight leader from Sangli who was earlier a senior RSS leader, heads a self-formed organisation Shiv Pratishthan in Kolhapur which enjoys huge support from the public.
Bhide’s aura is such that he is admired by several heavyweight political figures including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and several senior RSS and VHP leaders.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Sangli during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, he specially met Sambhaji Bhide and said that he had come to see Guruji not on his request but on his order.
Another instance which proves the steel of Bhide is when the current Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis halted his helicopter convoy to meet with Guruji and discuss an imperative political matter.
According to media reports, Narendra Modi and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray have high respect for Bhide. Modi during his campaign in 2014 elections had visited Bhide’s home at Sangli to seek his blessings. Moreover – according to the fact checking website Boom Live, in a campaign speech at Raigad, Maharashtra Bhide said, “mein Bhide guruji ka bahut abhari hoon. Kyunki unhone mujhe nimantran nahi diya tha. Unhonhe mujhe hukum kiya tha. Aur aap lok aathi guruji ka hukum, sunhe ke aur palan karne ke. Mein bhide guruji ko bahut saalon se jaanta hoon….”
“I am extremely grateful to Bhide Guruji as he did not give me any invitation. He ordered me. And all of you are aware of his orders and to hear them and follow them. I know Bhide Guruji from many years now and when we were learning about public service, we were given Bhide Guruji’s example…” – Narendra Modi
Modi addressed Bhide as a mahapurush (great personality) and tapasvi (sage) in his speech and praised him for his devotion, hard work and discipline that he displays in life.
Boom Live states that both Narendra Modi and Uddhav Thackeray had approached Bhide for blessings and support in 2014 Lok Sabha elections as quoting a report by the Indian Express. Bhide showed his displeasure to both the parties for the split in the saffron alliance at that time and stressed that the Shiv Sena and the BJP must stay together.
At his 2014 election rally in Sangli’s Tasgaon Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to staunch Hindutva activist Sambhaji Bhide (Guruji) as one of his inspirations, reports the Indian Express.
The same reports says the former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) activist, Bhide is the founder president of the Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, an outfit with sizeable clout in Sangli, Satara, and Kolhapur districts of Western Maharashtra.
At the Tasgaon rally, Modi had said he had come to seek blessings of Bhide Guruji, who had been an inspiration during the early days of his life. Modi also reminded crowds that “at the instance of Bhide Guruji, he had visited the Raigad fort to gain inspiration from Maratha warrior king Chatrapati Shivaji, before accepting the responsibility of leading the BJP to power at the centre.”
The Indian Express report terms Bhinde a rabble-rouser with a huge fan following among the poor, jobless youth in interior Maharashtra.
Several senior RSS and VHP leaders have prostrated themselves before Bhide, seeking his blessings. Sources claim he has a hotline to the PM and can call the PM anytime, anywhere.