MoS home Ranjit Patil said there was only a suspicion of the organisation’s involvement in Govind Pansare’s murder

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Police have little evidence against a member of Hindu hardline group Sanatan Sanstha accused of murdering rationalist Govind Pansare, Maharashtra minister Ranjit Patil said on Tuesday, the second senior leader to back the controversial organization in a case that triggered nationwide outcry.

Patil, the minister of state for home, said Sanstha member Sameer Gaikwad was behind bars in connection with Pansare’s murder on mere suspicion and some call records but no hard proof, days after revenue minister Eknath Khadse ruled out a ban on the outfit.

“He (Gaikwad) is in custody only on suspicion. There is no evidence so far. We also talk on the phone sometimes like this. But that doesn’t mean we go ahead and murder someone,” Patil told regional news channel ABP Majha.

“We had specific SIT inputs on this, despite that we said arrest him. Violent extremism has no religion, it is only the thinking (sic). Whosoever may be the culprit, the government will take action.”

Last month, Khadse compared the Sanstha to political parties such as the All India Mujlis- e- Itehad –ul- Muslimeen (AIMIM), saying there was no concrete evidence of illegal activities by the Hindu group.

The statements drew widespread condemnation with activists saying the BJP-led regime was trying to shield the killers and the Sanstha, which was on the government radar for years due to its incendiary literature and extremist motives but gained attention after a flurry of murder of rationalists it publicly opposed.

“It is disturbing the MoS home is trying to interfere in the investigation by making such a statement and siding with the accused. It is time chief minister Devendra Fadnavis makes his stance clear on the ban demand. What happened to

the 1000-page dossier sent three years back to the Centre?,” asked Mukta Dabholkar, daughter of Narendra Dabholkar who was killed by unknown assailants in 2013.

The Congress also criticised the BJP, saying the minister’s statements were a direct signal to the investigating agencies to dilute the case.

“One minister after the other from the Devendra Fadnavis government is coming to the Sanstha’s aid. This statement by Patil only proves the state police probe is an eyewash. Gaikwad was arrested because Karnataka police were close on his heels for Kalburgi’s murder,” Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said.

Rationalists and civil society members have pointed out the investigation into Pansare’s murder has gone cold after Gaikwad’s arrest and the police haven’t questioned anyone from the Sanstha, despite its admission that the accused was an active member.

Dabholkar, a well-known thinker, was shot dead while out on a morning walk in 2013 and Left leader Govind Pansare was killed two years later in February, almost identically. Months later, scholar and rationalist MM Kalburgi was gunned down in neighbouring Karnataka.

The murders shocked the nation and triggered allegations that Hindu hardliners were trying to silence voices of dissent. Anger has also been fuelled by police’s failure in tracing Dabholkar’s killer, over two years after the murder.

The Sanstha has been under the scanner since the 2008 explosions in Thane and Navi Mumbai, followed by the 2009 Mudgaon blasts in Goa.

Set up by clinical hypotherapist Dr Jayant Athawale, the Sanstha aims to explain religious mysticism in scientific ways and guide its `seekers’ on the path of spirituality. It subscribes to a hardline Hindutva ideology and hopes to establish a Hindu nation by 2023.