Mumbai: To defend the man accused of killing veteran Left leader Govind Pansare, a battery of nearly 30 lawyers arrived at a court in Maharashtra today.
Samir Gaikwad, arrested last week for Mr Pansare's murder in February, was produced in a courtroom in Kolhapur packed with members of the rightwing group Sanatan Sanstha, to which he belongs.
He was sent to custody for three days.
Gaikwad's defence team argued that he was being framed for this murder and they feared he would soon be named for the murder of two other well-known rationalists, Narendra Dabholkar and MM Kalburgi.
The police in Maharashtra and Karnataka see a pattern in the three killings. All three leaders were killed by unknown gunmen who came on a bike. They had also received threats from hardline groups because of their views on religion.
The prosecutor told the court that two mobiles and a diary seized from Gaikwad pointed at his role in the Pansare murder. Data from 31 SIM cards was being examined, he said.
"The accused has taken oath that by 2026, there should be 'God's rule in India'," said the prosecutor.
Gaikwad's defence called the police investigation "hilarious" and said the investigation was being done on the basis of newspaper reports.
"We fear the police will forcibly extract a confession. The police are picking up random religious conversation to prejudice the case," said defense lawyer Sanjeev Punalekar, alleging that the case was being driven by politics.
The Sanathan Sanstha's alleged involvement has led to a political row in Maharashtra.
A BJP lawmaker in Goa has called it a "terror group" that must be banned by the Centre, but Chief Minister Lakshmikant Parsekar ruled it out, saying the group cannot be held responsible for one man's action.
For the rightwing group not being banned way back in 2011, Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan appeared to blame his own party, which was in power when he, as Maharashtra Chief Minister, recommended the ban.
"We wanted to ban the Sanstha under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). We sent a 1,000 page dossier to the Centre in April 2011. Banning has to be done by the Union of India," Mr Chavan told NDTV.
Mr Chavan said at a hearing in the High Court, the Centre sought additional documents from Maharashtra and even said the Sanatan Sanstha would be banned in 45 days.
Maharashtra never responded or got back with any proof, said a top Congress source.