- The Oct 16 blast in Margao at a Diwali function has caused alarm
- Bomb could have killed more people if the Sanatan Sanstha activists it killed had managed to plant it
- The Sanstha is a Hindu outfit linked to blasts in Thane, Navi Mumbai
- A bomb the Sanstha allegedly planted on a truck carrying a Narakasur effigy was defused
Goa is quite a paradox. For tourists, it’s a place known for fun and feni. But below the surface, there’s a communal divide that runs deep, and it is in its undercurrents that the Sanatan Sanstha has flourished since 1990 at Ramnathi, near Ponda, some 20 km from Panaji. On October 16, there was a blast in Margao, Goa’s commercial capital and constituency of chief minister Digambar Kamat. Three days later, reacting to news reports, Sanstha spokesman Abhav Vartak said in Panvel (Maharashtra), “We are not a terrorist organisation. There is a conspiracy to implicate us. We teach the Hindu religion scientifically.” But the fact remains that both the deceased, Malgunda Patil and Yogesh Naik, were Sanstha members. They died when the crude ammonium nitrate bomb they were transporting on a scooter went off. Patil died on the spot, Naik four days later at the Goa Medical College. Luckily, there were no other casualties.
Patil worked with Sanatan Prabhat, the organisation’s mouthpiece, at Sangli, Maharashtra, before moving to Goa two years ago to become an administrator of its Ramnathi ashram. Naik, a local, taught at the Lokvishvas Pratisthan for the deaf and dumb in Ponda and also delivered milk to the ashram before becoming a member. Both had participated in the activities of the Hindu Janajagriti Samiti (HJS), described as a “sister” organisation of the Sanstha. The police are also probing the Sanstha’s links to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, co-accused in the 2006 Malegaon blast.
“Patil and Naik could have shed light on the case,” says police superintendent Atmaram Deshpande. “The deceased were part of the organisation. We did not dream up the links.” He could say that because, during a joint raid on the ashram, the Goa police andMumbai’s anti-terrorism squad recovered circuits and timer devices similar to those found in the scooter. Another bomb, found on a Sancoale-bound truck carrying a Narakasur effigy, was defused.
The palatial ashram has come under intense police scrutiny. Pamphlets and hard discs were recovered from the ashram, which was hosting 161 people when the raid took place. Foreigners are said to be regular visitors. Home minister Ravi Naik says, “We need to know what the foreigners were doing there.”
So why did an extreme right-wing Hindu group target a Hindu annual ritual where an effigy of Narakasur is burnt on Diwali? Sources said the Sanstha has been objecting to the glorification of evil, as represented by Narakasur, who was slain by Lord Krishna. But the Sanstha saw the burning of Narakasur as giving evil too much prominence. Earlier protests took the form of petitions and articles, letters in the media.
The Sanstha was founded by Dr Jayant Balaji Athavale, a clinical hypnotherapist from Mumbai. Last summer, the organisation was suspected of setting off bombs in auditoriums in Thane and Vashi to protest the alleged denigration of Hindu gods in Aamhi Paachpute, a Marathi play. The police had arrested four HJS activists who were reportedly living at the Sanstha premises.
It hasn’t taken long for Goa politicians to muddy the waters. Ravi Naik dragged in his rival, transport minister Ramakrishna alias Sudin Dhavalikar, saying, “We are probing everyone. We know that Jyoti (Dhavalikar’s wife) is part of the Sanstha.” Dhavalikar, however, says his wife was only a volunteer at the ashram and spends three hours there daily in meditation.