CBI scores with recovery of revolver in Dabholkar murder case

Published : March 06, 2020 19:13 IST

Narendra Dabholkar. Photo: Deepak Girme/AP

In a major breakthrough in the Narendra Dabholkar murder case, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has recovered a revolver allegedly used in the murder. The agency said the weapon had been sent for ballistic tests, which would reveal who it belonged to and whether it was used in the killing. Investigators said the gun could be clinching evidence as it could even be linked to the shooting of the social activists Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi and the activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh.

The CBI was put on the revolver hunt after the arrest of Sharad Kalaskar in June 2019. Kalaskar, reportedly a member of the Sanathan Sanstha, a Hindu right-wing organisation based in Navi Mumbai, revealed that he was involved in the plot to kill the three rationalists and Gauri Lankesh. He told the investigators that he dismantled four revolvers belonging to Sanjeev Punalekar, a lawyer representing the Sanathan Sanstha. Punalekar, he said, had instructed him to throw the revolvers into the Thane creek. Once this information was presented to the Bombay High Court, the judge instructed the agency to look for the weapons.

The CBI engaged a private marine company to scour the huge expanse of mangroves around the creek. The company used sophisticated sonar technology from Norway and divers from Ukraine. The interrogation of Kalaskar helped investigators narrow the area to be covered, but it was still a massive exercise.

“It is really quite a feat if it really happened,” said a lawyer on the case. Sceptical of how a gun had miraculously appeared after so many years, he said, “I don’t trust them because it has taken them so long to probe the case. But it is a huge breakthrough. We can hope this will lead us to the masterminds. Whether they will face prosecution in this climate is another issue.”

Narendra Dabholkar, a rationalist and founder of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS) was shot dead by gun-wielding motorcyclists in August 2013. Govind Pansare, another rationalist and Communist Party of India member, was shot in February 2015 in a similar manner. M.M. Kalburgi, a scholar and vice chancellor of Kannada University in Hampi, was shot in August 2015, and two years later Gauri Lankesh was gunned down by motorcyclists waiting near her home in Bengaluru. The operations were eerily similar and yet the police have been unable to nab the assassins. Half a dozen arrests have been made in all cases, but conclusive findings remain elusive. Conspirators, such as Punalekar, have been caught but released. The families of Dabholkar and Pansare have demanded a more aggressive probe but to no avail. Therefore, the recovery of the revolver is certainly a big development in the case. To begin with, it would reveal whether all those who were gunned down were linked to the same conspiracy, said the police source.

Agencies have attempted to investigate the cases aggressively but for inexplicable reasons appear to hit road blocks. A few arrests were made and connections to the Sanathan established, yet the investigation did not nab the main perpetrators. It took a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Bombay High Court to get the courts to intervene and get investigators to move on leads.