More than a month after her murder, Karnataka police’s investigation in the killing of activist-cum-journalist Gauri Lankesh has zeroed in on five suspects affiliated to right-wing Hindu group Sanatan Sanstha, a report in The Indian Express says. Out of the five suspects, four are also accused in a 2009 bomb blast case in Goa.  

The investigation has also highlighted a connection between the murder of Lankesh and three prominent rationalists and scholars since 2013. 

According to the Express report, the names of three suspects in Lankesh’s murder case, had earlier come to the fore during several investigations in the killings of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare and Kannada scholar and researcher M M Kalburgi. 

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However, shortly after Lankesh’s murder, Sanstha spokesman Chetan Rajhans had called a press conference and said that an attempt was being made by some “anti-Hindu” elements to “divert” the probe. “False news that Sanatan’s activists are involved in the killing of Gauri Lankesh are being spread with the assistance of some media houses. This is nothing but an attempt being made by anti-Sanatan and anti-Hindu elements to divert the investigation,” Rajhans had said in a statement.

What’s Sanatan Sanstha? 

According to its website, Sanatan Sanstha is a “non-profit” organisation “totally based on spirituality”. Founded in 1990 under the “inspiration of Dr. Jayant Balaji Athavale & Bhaktaraj Maharaj, the main objective of the “organisation is to present Spirituality in a scientific language to those curious about Spirituality and to guide seekers (sic).” Headquartered in Ramnathi village of North Goa, the outfit’s motto is the “reinstatement of the Divine Kingdom.” 

Interestingly, the outfit’s website has also a section on Hindu Rashtra. In one of the articles under the section, the outfit’s “Paratpar Guru” Dr. Athavale writes: “There are many misconceptions about the ‘Hindu Nation’, most of which are a part of the propaganda by atheists and so-called progressive elements. These people have an allergy to anything that begins with the word ‘Hindu’.” 

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While the outfit’s domain of functioning is “spirituality”, the outfit isn’t shy of delving into the realm of right-wing politics, particularly that of RSS. 

Sample these: 

“Sadly, the sub-continent of Bharat, which was inherently a ‘Hindu Nation’, became a ‘secular Nation’ after Independence, and the glowing concept of the ‘Hindu Nation’ was eclipsed.”


“The ‘Hindu Nation’ is being equated with fanaticism deliberately. Secularism has caused enough problems for the Nation and yet, those who have blind faith in secularism want Bharat to continue to be a secular Nation. The concept of the ‘Hindu Nation’ does not even exist in their realm. They are ignorant of the fact that the real issue is not a secular Nation or a ‘Hindu Nation’. In the next 2-3 years, the issue that will take prominence is – What will survive – ‘Islamic state’ or the ‘Hindu Nation’.”

The outfit’s guru Dr. Athavale also predicts that “Divine Kingdom” or “Hindu Nation” will be established in “Bharat in 2023”. Athavale is also full of praises for RSS’s “great personalities” like V D Savarkar, Dr. Hedgewar and M S Golwalkar for putting “forth their thoughts on the ‘Hindu Nation’ very powerfully.”

Not a spiritual history 

The outfit’s story hasn’t remained restricted to faith only, though. Members affiliated to the group have been accused of carrying out bomb blasts, murder, issuing threats and even transporting explosives. The common targets of its accused members have been rationalist intellectuals and thinkers. 

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According to a profile on the outfit by The Hindu in 2015, the group’s name surfaced in 2008 when its two members were reportedly involved in a bomb blast at a Panvel cinema screening the film Jodhaa Akbar. 

In August 2011, a Mumbai court sentenced the two men to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment for carrying out bomb blast in Maharashtra’s Thane and Vashi in 2008. The Thane bomb blast had taken place in the parking area of the Gadkari Rangayatan (theatre) where a play “Amhi Pachpute”, allegedly portraying Hindu gods and goddesses in poor light, was being staged. 

The outfit’s name also came during the investigations of a 2009 Murgaon church blast case in Goa. Two of Sanstha’s members were killed when the explosives they were carrying on a scooter detonated accidentally. One of the accused in the blast Ravindra Patil is also believed to be involved in Govind Pansare’s murder in 2015. Patil is on the wanted list of National Investigation Agency since 2009. He’s still absconding. 

However, six other members of the Sanstha arrested in connection with the blast were acquitted in 2013.

Soft posture of the government

Even though the outfit’s name has figured in incidents of violence and murder, subsequent governments, both at the centre and state-level, haven’t shown much seriousness in scrutinizing the outfit’s activities.

According to the Hindu report, Home Minister P. Chidambaram during UPA 2 regime had turned down suggestions by three state governments – Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka – to declare the Sanstha a terrorist organisation. 

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Currently, four members of the Sanstha are absconding and Interpol has issued Red Corner Notice against their names. However, Sanjay Punalekar who is an advocate of the Sanstha, had said at a recent presser that some of its members may be absconding because they were afraid of being wrongly accused in cases.

As per another report published in The Hindu, an appeal was filed against the acquittal of six Sanstha members in Goa bomb blast case at Bombay High Court in 2014. While the case was admitted, no hearing had taken place in the case except one when the court issued notices to concerned parties.  

“No other hearing has taken place. NIA too did not push it,” a senior official tracing the developments of the case had told the newspaper in June 2016. 

Despite several years of investigations in the murder of rationalists and thinkers since 2013, the probes have been moving at a snail’s pace. 

Feature image source: ScoopWhoop