‘There’s definitely pressure being put on the police’
Veteran leftist activist Dr Bharat Patankar (centre, bearded) at a rally in Kolhapur
Left leader Bharat Patankar, target of death threats, says ‘Hindutva network’ behind Pansare and Dabholkar’s murders.
Dr Bharat Patankar, who has just received threatening letters for being ‘anti-Hindu’, is well-known among Left circles. One of the founders of the Shramik Mukti Dal, he worked in the historic textile strike of the 80s, and then left Mumbai to work among peasants. Based in Kasegaon, Sangli, he was active in a movement which resulted in the peasant-built dam in Sangli, named after the character Bali Raja who was killed by Ram.The letter to you mentions your leadership in the Vidrohi Sahitya Sammelan (founded in 1995 under the first Sena-BJP regime, as an alternative to the official “Brahmin-dominated” Marathi Sahitya Sammelan). Has that offended them?

Not just that. I am a founder member of a broad front comprising members of all religions set up in Kolhapur to work against atrocities on minorities. Also, the Shramik Mukti Dal and I took the initiative of calling all Left and Ambedkarite parties and groups (barring those in alliance with the Congress-NCP and Shiv Sena-BJP), to form the Samajik Atyachar Pratibandhak Andolan and the Jaati Mukti Andolan. It was founded on January 24, and its third meeting will be held on March 19 in Kolhapur.

When Narendra Dabholkar and comrade Pansare were killed, a few explicitly named the organisations which could be responsible. But immediately after the funeral of comrade Pansare, I told a TV channel that the Sanatan Sanstha, Abhinav Bharat, Hindu Ekta Andolan, and others of the Hindutva parivar were responsible. This was telecast all day. I repeated this at the March 11 Mumbai rally against their killings as well.

Is this the first letter you have received?

I got the first letter in July last year accusing me of joining the ranks of anti-Brahmins and Muslimappeasers. The second letter came last month. It complimented me for doing good work in other social fields, but asked how come I was going in the footsteps of Pansare and Kolse Patil. (The retired judge has shared the stage with MIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi in Pune.) Then, Pansare was killed! On March 16, came the latest issue of the magazine Sanatan Prabhat in an envelope. This was exactly a month after the attack on Pansare. This was also the date of the hearing in the defamation case filed by Sanatan Sanstha against Dabholkar and Pansare in the Goa High Court. The magazine was sent to me as a present – for the first time.

Have you lodged a police complaint?

I am not going to, because we have seen that nothing is happening in the cases of Dabholkar and comrade Pansare. There’s definitely pressure being put on the police. Why isn’t Sanatan Sanstha being investigated? This is an organisation that writes after Dr Dabholkar’s death that he has become “mukt” (free) and talks of Pansare after his death as “a Hindu by coincidence”. The organisation also vacated its office in Kolhapur after Pansare was attacked.

But I have been given police protection without having asked for it.

These people can go to any extent. They are connected with buas (faith-healers) and with the Hindutva network. They are more diehard compared to the others, more naked in their desire to keep the caste system intact. You see, earlier anti-caste groups were never united, but now it’s common knowledge that all Ambedkarite and Left groups are trying to unite.

Dr Dabholkar and comrade Pansare were killed on their regular morning walks. Do you also have such a regular schedule?

No, my schedule is erratic. I don’t know where I’ll be at what time. But news of my movements might reach them now that I’ve got police protection!

So are you going to tone down your activities?

In fact we are planning a state-wide march in Kolhapur on March 24 which will culminate outside the Sanatan Sanstha office. We will ask them why they think Dr Dabholkar and comrade Pansare acted against Hinduism.