August 21, 2018: As more and more skeletons tumble out of the closets of the terror accused, it seems that several senior Shiv Sena (SS) leaders including boss Uddhav Thackeray were aware of former SS Jalna corporator Shrikant Pangarkar‘s terror links and his plans to carry out ‘bomb blasts’ in parts of Maharashtra.
Uddhav Thackeray was not available for comment. But the Shiv Sena’s silence on the entire issue and particularly after MoS Arjun Khotkar’s comments went viral on Monday, speaks volumes.
Thackeray refused to comment or speak to other publications on the arrest of his former corporator.
Even 48 hours after Pangarkar was arrested and his terror activity became public, there was no official condemnation of his actions from the Shiv Sena, though party spokespersons tried their best to wash their hands off the episode and refused to speak to media persons on the topic.
According to an Indian Express report, Minister of State Arjun Khotkar confessed that several party leaders were in touch with Pangarkar regularly, and that he had talked about his Sanatan Sanstha links and even “explosion” plans.
Pangarkar’s family now claims that though he was not in the party, he was in touch will almost all senior Shiv Sena leaders and kept them in the know of what he was up to.
“The Shiv Sena was fully aware of what Pangarkar was doing and even promised to support him,” a family member told IndiaScoops.com on Tuesday.
One of the Sena leaders had brought Pangarkar’s activity to the notice of Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who had asked him to ‘keep an eye’ on Pangarkar and report to him if he was up to any trouble.
However the leader forgot the instructions given by the SS boss, resulting in the accumulation of a huge cache of arms and explosives by Vaibhav Raut at his Nala Sopara home and office for the use in terror activities in Maharashtra during Eid and Ganapati.
Senior Shiv Sena leaders thought Pangarkar was ‘bragging as usual’ and didn’t give him any importance or think seriously about his ‘explosions’ and bomb blasts plans.
Pangarkar is learnt to have contributed Rs 12 to Rs 13 lakh over the last six months to procure gun-powder, 25 pistols, detonators, timers, material to make about 40 bombs, etc. The plan was to manufacture 40-50 bombs and have an arsenal of over 50 weapons and ammunition.
According to a Mid-day report, Pangarkar, was the main financier of the right-wing terror group suspected of making crude bombs and country-made guns seized in Nalasopara on August 10.
However, sources in the anti-terrorism squad (ATS) said that Pangarkar was a mere ‘puppet’, and they are trying to identify the real mastermind. The sources added that Pangarkar was being questioned since August 18, and officers had searched his residences at Aurangabad and Jalna as well.’
According to MoS Arjun Khotkar’s interview to the Indian Express, Pangarkar met Bhaskar Ambekar, the Mumbai chief of the Sena recently , about ten days earlier, and appraised him of his plans, including the plot to carry out explosions.
Ambekar shared the information with Khotkar, who was not sure if Pangarkar was lying and merely ‘bragging’. However, Ambekar sent word of Pangarkar’s ‘claims’ to the Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s office and was instructed to ‘keep an eye on Pangarkar’.
The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) on Sunday arrested a former Shiv Sena corporator from Jalna, Shrikant Pangarkar, as part of its investigation into the plot to carry out attacks in five cities of Maharashtra by radical Hindu groups.
Three persons Vaibhav Raut, Sharad Kalaskar and Sudhanwa Gondhalekar were earlier arrested earlier in the case, but Pangarkar’s is the first political arrest.
The others were linked to far-right organisations Sanatan Sanstha and the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) and were associated with other hardliners across the country.
According to a Mumbai Mirror report, Pangarkar, who was produced in the sessions court on Monday, is also suspected to have funded the weapons training of Raut and his aides, Sharad Kalaskar and Sudhanva Gondhalekar, who were arrested on August 10 for allegedly conspiring to carry out terror attacks in the state.
The investigating agency believes that Raut, Kalaskar and Gondhalekar also planned to target the rally sites of Maratha Kranti Morcha, the agitation by the Maratha community to get reservation in jobs and education. Besides, Kalaskar and Gondhalekar are suspected to have been involved in Dabholkar’s killing.
Sources said during interrogation, the other accused claimed that Pangarkar had helped assemble the explosives and store them, reports The Indian Express.
ATS sources told IndiaScoops.com that Pangarkar wanted to set off explosions in 12 to 14 places in Maharashtra and shake up the government machinery.
The aim of this group was to create a fear psychosis in the minds of the people, creating fear among Hindus and pointing the finger of suspicion towards the minority community, an officer told IndiaScoops.com.
While the Shiv Sena said it didn’t have any links with Pangarkar now, senior leader and Minister of State Arjun Khotkar admitted several party leaders were in touch with him, and that he had talked about his Sanatan Sanstha links and even “explosion” plans, reports the Indian Express.
Twenty-two crude bombs and 21 country-made weapons have so far been recovered from the accused in the case, who were allegedly planning to carry out attacks in Mumbai, Solapur, Satara, Pune and Nalasopara.
Pangarkar was a corporator in Jalna Municipal Council for two terms, from December 2001 to December 2011.
The Shiv Sena said he had not been with the party for many years and was not an office-bearer.
“He had not been in touch with the Sena for almost eight years,” said Khotkar, MoS, Textiles, Animal Husbandry and Dairy Development and a senior Sena leader from Jalna.
Party sources said Pangarkar had rebelled after being denied a Sena ticket in 2011.
However, Khotkar admitted meeting him “twice or thrice in the past few years”, and hinted that Pangarkar had links with the controversial radical Hindu outfit, Sanatan Sanstha, and had even dropped hints of carrying out some blasts in the State, reports the Indian Express.
“During our conversation, when I asked him what he was doing, he said he was working for the Sanatan Sanstha in Assam, Goa and a few other states and was addressing big gatherings and holding workshops,” said Khotkar.
“Around 10 days ago, he had met Bhaskar Ambekar, the Mumbai chief of the Sena. Later, Ambekar told me about the conversation, in which Pangakar said to watch out for something big in the future and talked about explosions. But Pangarkar didn’t say anything specifically about where and how. Also, we don’t know whether he was speaking the truth. Police may be able to ascertain that.”
Ambekar’s phone remained switched off and he was unavailable for comment.
The other three arrested by the ATS in the case are Vaibhav Raut (40), an alleged member of the Hindu Govansh Raksha Samiti, who is also said to be a sympathiser of the Sanatan Sanstha, Sudhanwa Gondhalekar (39), who hails from Satara and is a member of the Shri Shivapratishthan Hindustan, and Sharad Kalaskar (25), who was arrested along with Raut from Raut’s Nalasopara residence.
Sanatan Sanstha activists are believed to have links with the murders of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M M Kalburgi and senior journalist Gauri Lankesh.
Pangarkar’s name first cropped up during the questioning of Kalaskar, and he was called to join the investigation on Saturday. “He is being probed in connection with the explosives recovered. We suspect he was aware of the conspiracy of the blasts and also the previous killings executed by the group. We are questioning him on the same,” a senior ATS official said.
Sources in the CBI, which is investigating the Dabholkar killing, said, “So far Pangarkar’s name hasn’t emerged in the case and therefore we haven’t summoned him.”