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I was mocking Shripal Sabnis, not threatening him, says Sanjiv Punalekar

Parth MN | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:12 IST

The Hindutva outfit Sanatan Sanstha gained much notoriety in 2015. It was linked to the murders of the rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi. A key accused in Pansare's killing, Samir Gaikwad, is associated with Sanatan.

Also read - Why the Sanatan Sanstha man's arrest for the Pansare killing is a bombshell

The outfit returned to headlines recently after its legal advisor, Sanjiv Punalekar, who is representing Gaikwad in court, advised Shripal Sabnis, through a tweet, to "go for a morning walk". This was interpreted as a clear threat - Dabholkar and Pansare had been murdered while out for morning walks.

Sabnis, an author and a respected critic of linguistics who was recently appointed president of the All India Marathi Literary Conference, has been critical of right-wing extremism and supported the return of awards by scholars to protest growing intolerance in the country.

However, the trigger for the Hindutva brigade's ire against him was more recent.

In a speech on 30 December in Pimpri, Pune, Sabnis did not refer to Modi in the "respectful" plural form, as is customary in Marathi. He also lambasted Modi for his role in the 2002 Gujarat riots and said he did not approve of a prime minister like him.

Sabnis, however, praised Modi for speaking about Gandhi abroad and undertaking a "statesman-like" visit to Pakistan. He said the visit was audacious considering Pakistan was a "den of terrorism". "If anything had gone wrong," Sabnis said, "I would have had to pay a tribute to Modi before I did to Mangesh Padgaonkar."

Shripal Sabnis on @SanjivPunalekar tweet: It's a threat to my life from the 'tendency of Nathuram'

The speech, particularly the way Sabnis had addressed Modi, offended the cadres of the BJP and other Hindutva outfits no end, and they held protests across Maharashtra. Sabnis also got threatening calls.

BJP leader Amar Sable has said if Sabnis does not apologise, he won't be allowed to attend the conference in Pimpri. Sabnis has refused to apologise and said Modi should speak to him directly if he has a problem with the speech.

As for Punalekar's tweet, Sabnis termed it a threat to his life from the "tendency of Nathuram" Godse.

Here, Punalekar explains to Catch what his tweet meant.

Can you explain what you meant when you suggested to Sabnis to take a morning walk?

It's important to understand the context of the tweet. He had made some political statements criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Moreover, he was unpleasant and aggressive in his demeanour. He further said he won't retract his comments because the slang of the region where he lives is aggressive.

Similarly, I come from a region in Konkan where we suggest a morning walk to anyone suffering from constipation, which affects a person's thought process.

Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare were killed while on their morning walks. By tweeting this, did you not threaten him indirectly?

My tweet refers to the slang I just explained. People have linked it to a particular case, which is plain wrong. In India, close to 1,000 activists have been killed across ideologies. And Pansare had never gone for a morning walk. He had strolled out to have breakfast, as far as I know.

Therefore, to link morning walk with assassination is misleading and contrived. If I suggest him to visit Europe, and people have been killed in Europe as well, would it mean threatening him?

We advise morning walk to anyone with constipation, which affects thought process: @SanjivPunalekar

Ashish Mete of the Sambhaji Brigade made provocative statements because Bajirao was shown in good light in a recently-released film. He had said they would resort to violence if Bajirao and Shivaji are compared. His Facebook and Twitter accounts have carried violent and inciting comments, but that is not discussed. That is supposedly intellectual.

So, what exactly are you saying was the objective of the tweet?

The only objective was to mock him, deride him, by suggesting that he may be suffering from constipation. People can interpret it any which way. The intelligentsia of India believes that the inferences they draw from a particular episode is the only possible inference.

When Aamir Khan says something, you say we shouldn't interpret it differently, but my tweet is contrived and interpreted as a threat. It is not fair.

But almost everyone interpreted your tweet as a clear threat. Even Sabnis said so.

Sabnis may interpret it that way and I can only respond by saying the thought of his death does not even cross my mind. I had not even heard his name until a month ago. I got to know who he was after he became president of the All India Marathi Literary Conference.

Sanatan Sanstha is linked to the murders of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi. You represent Samir Gaikwad, one of the accused killers. Is this not reason enough for the tweet to be interpreted as a threat?

Gaikwad is accused of Pansare's murder, but he is innocent. They have not found anyone involved in the murders of Dabholkar and Kalburgi as yet. Also, I have been representing various people, organisations over the years. I have represented the Indian Army, the Students Federation of India; I have represented Dalits and the poor. I do not represent Samir Gaikwad alone.

Recently, I represented Sanjay Sonavane, who is considered a progressive writer. Should my freedom to express my opinion depend on the people I represent?

So, do you stand by your tweet?

I am not going to retract my tweet because someone has interpreted it wrongly. I can only clarify, which I have. Aamir Khan's comments may have been interpreted wrongly by people shouting obscenities at him but did he retract his comments? I have made this tweet in my personal capacity and it has nothing to do with Sanatan.

You are a lawyer. Shouldn't you be careful before commenting on social media? How could the provocative connotations of this tweet escape your mind?

I did not think the tweet was provocative. The insinuation was pointed out by the media; it had not even crossed my mind. But, henceforth, I'll think twice before commenting. I did not think the tweet would be interpreted the way it has been. I won't delete this tweet but will definitely be more careful from now on.

More in Catch - There was demand for banning Sanatan Sanstha in 2011, says Nikhil Wagle

Not spiritual enough to create Hindu Rashtra: Sanatan Sanstha on RSS

Pansare's murder: NIA names prime suspect, Sanatan Sanstha in trouble

First published: 8 January 2016, 9:51 IST
Parth MN @parthpunter

Parth is a special correspondent with the Los Angeles Times. He has a degree in mass communication and journalism from Journalism Mentor, Mumbai. Prior to journalism, Parth was a professional cricketer in Mumbai for 10 years.