The news director of the India Today channel, Rahul Kanwal, on Tuesday accused Sanatan Sanstha of attempting to intimidate it by releasing the names and photos of its investigative reporters who had carried out a sting operation on two members of the Hindutva organisation.

A trial court in 2011 had acquitted the Sanatan Sanstha members, who were accused of planting bombs outside theatres in Thane, Vashi and Panvel in 2008. But the news channel’s exposé revealed that the Hindutva organisation may have played a role in the attacks. Seven people were injured when a bomb went off in the parking lot of the theatre in Thane.

One of the two men who the channel talked to admitted seven years after his acquittal that he had planted the explosives outside the theatre in Vashi, India Today claimed.

Mangesh Dinkar Nikam allegedly told the undercover reporters, whom he met at his home in Satara district, that he had planted the bomb, which disposal squads defused, with the objective of avenging what he claimed was “wrongful depiction of Hindu gods and goddesses” in Marathi play Aamhi Pachpute that was running at the theatre.

“I was in Vashi,” India Today quoted the 45-year-old as saying. “I planted it [the IED] and came out. That was my role. In the [Vashi] case in which we were involved, people were parodying our gods and goddesses [in the play]. So we tried to stop it, nothing else.”

Nikam told the news channel that he has been a follower of the Sanatan Sanstha since 2000. “I used to visit the Panvel ashram but stayed at home,” he said. “There, I came in touch with others.” He said the plan to carry out the serial bomb blasts was formulated at the ashram.

Another Sanatan Sanstha activist – 58-year-old Haribhau Krishnna Divekar – told reporters that he had been in possession of the explosives. However, the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad, which had investigated the case, did not record this in its chargesheet. According to the police, he was a close aide of one of the two convicts in the case.

Divekar was acquitted on grounds of insufficient evidence. The Maharashtra Police had named four other suspects – Ramesh Hanumant Gadkari, Vikram Vinay Bhave, Santosh Sitaram Angre and Hemant Tukaram Chalke – in its chargesheet. In 2011, the trial court convicted Gadkari and Bhave and acquitted the others.

“When I went there, the police came here and conducted searches and investigation, I handed them what I had with me,” the news channel quoted Divekar as saying. When asked what he had handed over, he replied: “That time, there were one-two revolvers and detonators, it is called detonator right, gelatin [sticks] and digital meters. Around 20 gelatins were there and 23 detonators. They took away all those things.”

Divekar said he had the explosives with him for five-six days.

Recent arrests

Since August, the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad has arrested seven men for allegedly conspiring to carry out bomb blasts across the state and recovered crude bombs, detonators and firearms from their possession. Many of them are reported to be Hindutva activists.

Vaibhav Raut was the first to be arrested on August 9 after a raid at his home in Mumbai’s Nalasopara locality. He is a member of the Bhandari community of Nalasopara and a co-founder of a cow protection group called the Hindu Govansh Raksha Samiti. This group is said to be affiliated to the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, an offshoot of the Sanatan Sanstha.

Sharad Kalaskar, one of the seven men arrested, is also an accused in the murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar.