Members of the Sanatan Sanstha and Hindu Janajagruti Samiti (HJS) have been accused in bomb blasts in Maharashtra and Goa, named for murders of four well-known rationalists in Karnataka and Maharashtra, convicted under the ruthless Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and held responsible for recovery of massive amounts of explosive material. Murders of four prominent rationalists have been linked to the Sanstha.
Despite all the evidences of criminal activity against the members of the organisation, the question remains - why is it not banned yet?
An organisation that has a young, pliable workforce at its disposal is a goldmine for political parties, said Professor Irfan Habib, who has studied Hindu fundamentalist organisations for many decades.
It seems unlikely for any political party to ban a group that is useful to them, said a senior police officer who worked on the Panvel bombings case, in which the Sanstha is accused.
While the BJP and the RSS have publicly distanced themselves from the Sanstha, they have made no attempts to ban the organisation. BJP governments in Goa and Maharashtra have called for a ban of the organisation, but no active steps have been taken in the direction.
The Congress is no better. Bansi Satpute, the CPI nominee from the Shirdi Lok Sabha seat had said that the Congress government did not ban the Sanstha because it wanted to “embrace soft Hindutva”. Satpute is Pansare’s son-in-law who has promised to work towards banning the Sanstha in his campaign speeches. Sadashiv Kisan Lokhande of the Shiv Sena won the elections, Satpute was a distant fifth.
“We sent a 1000-page document to the Centre seeking a ban,” said former Chief Minister of Maharashtra Prithviraj Chavan. But the UPA government headed by Congress party is said to have rejected the proposal in 2011.
A fresh attempt was made in 2015 when late IPS officer Himanshu Roy was heading the state ATS. The Maharashtra government and the Central government had both changed by then. This failed as well.
Goan laureate Damodar Mauzo blames the Maharashtravadi Gomantak Party (MGP) for blocking the ban in Goa.
MGP leader and Goa’s PWD minister Sudin Dhavalikar is a key Sanstha supporter, according to several Goan journalists. Dhavalikar is the MLA from Marcaim constituency, in which Ramnathi village is situated.
Sudin Dhavalikar’s brother and party President Deepak Dhavalikar explicitly supported the Sanstha in September 2018, after the ATS showed proof of the organisation’s involvement in the killings of rationalists. ““I am giving them a clean chit. They are not involved in the killing of any rationalist, writer or thinker, which they have been accused of,” Dhavalikar said, as reported in the Indian Express.
Another way to understand why organisations like the Sanstha are not banned is to follow the money.
While the Sanstha claims that it is funded by its altruistic followers and their generous donations, Megha Pansare said that the organisation had to have a more formal structure of funding. It was not just conjecture. Sameer Gaikwad, who was arrested for Govind Pansare’s murder is said to have confessed to being paid Rs 30,000 per month, a fairly large amount in the small town of Kolhapur. He was a member of the Sanstha. “Many engineering graduates do not earn 30,000 these days,” she said.
Shyam Manav, President of All India Andha-shraddha Nirmulan Samiti and one-time student to founder of Sanatan Sanstha, Athavle, believes that the Sanstha seeks money in the name of fear. “If you donate to the Sanstha, you will be protected from evil forces is the message they send,” he said is the message.
In an interview to the Times of India in 2015, Sudin Dhavalikar denied claims that he funds the Sanstha, however, the Minister in the Goa government admitted that Sanstha's publications get government advertising.
Deepak Vasant Kesarkar, a Shiv Sena MLA from Sindhudurg district promised that his government will look into the funding of the Sanstha. However, there has been no progress yet.
Moving Further Right
Considering even the RSS has been banned twice in the history of independent India, some observers are surprised that the Sanstha has been spared. Observers also wonder if this inaction from successive governments have helped normalise the workings of organisations like the Sanstha?
On the face of it, the Sanstha seems allied to the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is an umbrella organisation of Hindu fundamentalist groups. But a closer look at the viewpoints of the two organisations point to differences between them.
Writings of the founder Dr Jayant Balaji Athavale clearly state that the Sanstha is against elections, democracy and the Constitution. They might be called right-wing equivalent of the Maoists, said a Goan journalist. The RSS, though, has its political wing in the BJP, which rules the states of Goa and Maharashtra and forms the government at the Centre.
Mumbai-based Scholar Sanghamitra Prabal wrote in an October 2018 piece about the differences between the RSS and the Sanstha.
“At a subtle level, differences between the likes of the Sanatan Sanstha and the RSS has an undercurrent of tussle between two Brahmin subcastes, namely Chitpavan and Karhade. This tussle reflects in the fraternal differences between RSS Hindutva and Savarkarite/Hindu Mahasabha Hindutva. The origin of the Sanatan Sanstha can be traced back into V D Savarkar’s thoughts on Hindutva and the making of a Hindu rashtra,” she wrote. “But at the same time, the Sanatan Sanstha seems confident that the present BJP government will protect the organisation’s Hindutva Designs for Western Maharashtra.”
Prakash Ambedkar, president of the political party Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh and a former member of Parliament, has claimed to be exposing Hindu fringe groups. According to him, these fringe groups put “even an organisation like the RSS in bad light”.