“The real Palghar truth has been revealed now. Times Now’s follow-up investigation exposes the Left link, the ultra-Left link, to the lynching...The government may be dismissing the killings as a misunderstanding due to rumours. But the FIR filed...calls the attack a ‘conspiracy to kill’.”
This is how Times Now began an on Wednesday afternoon, a purported investigation into the murder of three men in Palghar on April 16. The segment, and a published on the news channel’s website, quoted villagers from Gadchinchale, where the murders took place, as saying youths had been “brainwashed by Leftists”. It also quoted from an FIR filed in the case, using phrases like “Naxal guerillas” and “conspiracy to kill”.
Newslaundry had last month and unearthed a clear-cut case of fear, suspicion and WhatsApp rumours about thieves and kidnappers that led to Gadchinchale villagers killing the two sadhus and their driver.
Times Now’s theory is very different. Predictably, it’s also full of holes.
The FIR it quoted was “lodged by Son police”. Curiously, the Palghar superintendent of police and the Palghar police’s public relations officer said no such “Son police” exists. Similarly, the channel used video clips of an interview with a source to prove “brainwashing by Leftists”. However, the source himself told Newslaundry that it “cannot be said that Naxalites have any role to play behind the killings”.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The Times Now ‘investigation’
First, here’s a quick recap of what happened on April 16.
Mahant Kalpavruksha Giri, 70, and Sushilgiri Maharaj, 35, had been staying in an ashram in Kandivali. On April 16, they hired a car to attend a funeral in Surat for their guru, Mahant Shri Ram Giri. The car was driven by Nilesh Yelgade, 30. Though an initial report in The Wire the two sadhus were Adivasis, this is incorrect. Both were originally from Uttar Pradesh, though they spent many years in Maharashtra.
Kalpvruksh was originally from Vedpur in Bhadohi, while Sushilgiri was from Chanda village in Sultanpur. Their names, before they became ascetics, were Krishna Chandra Tiwari and Shivnarayan Dubey. The Wire subsequently added a correction to its story.
They were stopped by a forest department official near Gadchinchale in Palghar. Soon after, the car was accosted by a group of villagers armed with stones, rods and axes. The three men were attacked even as police officials began gathering. All three were killed.
The Times Now anchor said: “The tribals are being brainwashed. Misinformation is being spread and they are being provoked against the Hindus.”
Citing an FIR filed by the Son police, the report said: “The FIR says the main accused in the case, who happens to be a CPI(M) gram panchayat member, allegedly gathered a mob which was armed with sticks and stones to kill the sadhus. ‘The modus operandi by cutting trees and placing boulders is also a common tactic used by Naxal guerillas,’ the FIR mentions.”
It continued: “The Gandchinchle village in Maharashtra is believed to be a Leftist stronghold dominated by CPI(M) primarily inhabited by tribals. Some tribal people from the village told Times Now that youth in the region are being ‘brainwashed’ by Leftists.”
It quoted Chhagan Wavare, a local, who said residents of Javahar taluk in Palghar “were being taught that Ram was not their God but Ravan is”.
A Times Now reporter, who joined the broadcast, repeatedly emphasised that Palghar’s Adivasi areas are a “stronghold of the CPI(M)” and residents are usually followers of Leftist ideology. “It is mostly the communist ideology that these tribals have been practising so yes, the link with Maoists has clearly been established,” he said.
The channel’s ticker kept up with this diatribe, using headlines like “Lynching ‘hate’ crime against saffron”, “‘Footprint’ of ultra Left under scanner”, “Child lifters spin was a diversion”, and “Ultra Left, Urban Maoists suspects”.
Newslaundry investigated this “real Palghar truth” as alleged by Times Now.
‘Son police’ does not exist
The Son police’s FIR formed a major part of the channel’s investigation.
However, there is no police station in Palghar called “Son police station”.
According to the website of the Palghar police, Palghar district has 23 police stations. They are Arnala, Boisar, Dahanu, Gholwad, Jawhar, Kasa, Kelwa, Manikpur,Manor, Mokhada, Nalsopara, Palghar,Saphale, Satpati, Talsari, Tarapur, Tulinj, Vangaon, Vasai, Vikramgad, Virar, Wada and Waliv.
Even if Times Now got the name wrong, none of these names sound remotely like “Son”. But we digress.
Newslaundry contacted Gaurav Singh, the superintendent of police, Palghar, and Hemant Katkar, the public relations officer of the Palghar police. Both of them denied the existence of a Son police station in Palghar district.
FIR alleging ‘Naxalism and conspiracy’
Times Now repeatedly broadcasted visuals of an FIR. It wasn’t filed by the mythical “Son police”, but it was registered at the Kasa police station on April 17, 2020, by assistant police inspector Anand Kale. Newslaundry accessed a copy of this FIR.
The news channel cited sections of the FIR that said “conspiracy to kill”, and which alleged a Naxal “modus operandi” of “cutting trees and placing boulders”.
Here is precisely what the FIR said: Anand Kale received a call that a “strong mob” had gathered in Gadchinchale, had toppled a vehicle, and the crowd was assaulting three persons. He reached the spot along with a police sub-inspector, two assistant sub-inspectors, “some others”, and a Riot Control Police platoon from the Kasa police station.
After they rescued three people from the toppled car, and sat two of them in their own vehicle, “A strong crowd of around 400-500 people got violent. They gheraoed the police personnel who got out of the vehicle and also dragged out police personnel sitting in the vehicle. Then, from the side of our direction, they started pelting stones on the government vehicles...The gathered crowd got violent and started shouting, ‘don’t leave them, hand them over to us, we will see them’. Then the mob killed the three people by inflicting injuries on their heads and bodies using sticks and stones.”
The FIR clearly says that the two sadhus and their driver – Sushilgiri Maharaj, Mahant Kalpvruksha Giri, and Nilesh Telgade – “were mistaken as thieves” by five people and 400-500 others “who conspired of criminal action gathered in an illegal assembly”.
There is absolutely no mention of “conspiracy to kill” or “Naxal tactics”. There is no mention of Maoist links. All it says is that three men were mistaken as thieves.
Newslaundry also accessed a report filed by Bhagwat Sonawane, sub-divisional officer of the Javahar division, who was the investigating officer in the case before it was transferred to the Maharashtra Crime Investigation Department. Like the FIR, the report makes no mention of “Naxal links” to the Palghar incident.
Tracing Times Now’s video clips
To support its claim of the Left brainwashing Adivasis, the channel’s “investigation” included a video clip of a schoolteacher named Chhagan Wavare.
In the report, Wavare said: “The youth are being misguided by the followers of Left ideology. Messages on social media saying ‘tribals are not Hindu’ are being widely circulated on WhatsApp and social media. The message is being imprinted on young minds. Certain activities are also carried out to influence them.” These activities include, he said, “being taught that Ram was not their God but Ravan is”.
The clip of Wavare had a News Bharati logo in one corner. Times Now did not speak to Wavare independently.
News Bharati is an “interactive news portal” based in Pune. Its includes Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologues and functionaries.
On the morning of May 5, News Bharati posted four video clips of an interview with Wavare on its Facebook page (see , , and ). All four videos carried a Tarun Bharat logo — Tarun Bharat being the Marathi mouthpiece of the RSS.
In the video posted at 10.31 am, Wavare criticised the lynching of the three men in Gadchinchale. The video posted at 10.30 am showed him saying that “politics is played” in Adivasi areas in the name of the development of the poor.
The two other videos are important.
In the first, posted at 10.21 am, Wavare said “some people” are “popularising the narrative that by using Leftist ideology”, Adivasi youths are being “misguided”.
“They were being told that Adivasis are not Hindus and such messages are widely circulated using social media. In areas of Javahar, narratives have been popularised that Ram is not our God and Ravan is our God,” said Wavare. “A big conspiracy to project Ravan as more important than Ram has been done...and now they are gradually spreading it to Palghar...Such narratives are widely spread through social media because of which innocent Adivasis wonder whether they are Hindus or not.”
The other video, posted at 10.17 am, showed Wavare saying: “Using the medium of Leftist ideology, Adivasis were often told that Adivasis have no religion. But I believe that Adivasis are the most religious people as they have culture, tradition and rituals. In fact, Adivasis are the biggest Hindus.”
In short, Wavare’s argument can be summed up as his belief that Leftist ideology states that Adivasis are not Hindus — and he disagrees.
Times Now used a portion of the video clip posted at 10.21 am, the one that has Wavare mentioning a Left “conspiracy” to promote Ravan as an Adivasi god, and to show that Adivasis are not Hindus.
Remember, this video wasn’t even shot by News Bharati, it was originally uploaded by Tarun Bharat, first as a full-length interview on the YouTube channel of its website, MahaMTB, and then in four parts between April 30 and May 2 (see , , and ).
Using these clips, Times Now managed to claim that Maoist links were clearly established in Palghar killings.
‘We cannot say the attack has any connection with Naxals’
Chhagan Wavare is a schoolteacher who lives in Shisna village in Dahanu. He has a “soft corner” for the RSS but does not work for the RSS in any capacity, he said.
He told Newslaundry he was interviewed by Tarun Bharat, and he has not spoken to any other news organisation, including Times Now and News Bharat.
Did Wavare say that the Palghar attack had Maoist connections?
He said: “We cannot say that the attack has any connection with Naxals. But the way the sadhus and their driver were killed in front of the police clearly indicates that the attackers had no fear of the police...We still don’t know who is the main force behind them. But this incident has raised our concerns and we are worried and terrified that things like Naxalism should not start here.”
Wavare agreed that the rumours about thieves could have fuelled the killings. But, he pointed out, it was soon obvious to the villagers that the three men included two sadhus; yet, they were still killed.
The ‘Naxal tactic’, as claimed by Times Now
The Times Now investigation quoted the purported FIR as saying that “cutting trees and placing boulders is also a common tactic used by Naxal guerillas”.
During the course of its programme, the news channel tried connecting with Ratan Sharda, an RSS ideologue and a News Bharati author, for his opinion on the incident. However, the connection failed due to technical reasons.
Interestingly, News Bharati on May 6 that seems to have suggested this theory of Naxal tactics.
The report was on how a mob of 200-300 people “ambushed a Maharashtra police party at Chisda village, just 13 km from Gadchinchale” on the same night that the three men were lynched. It makes sweeping allegations, including: “Given the fact that the communists have developed their stronghold in this area dominated by the tribal people, the influence of Maoist ideology and its violent expression through such attacks cannot be entirely ruled out.”
It also suggested that this Chisda incident was not a coincidence; it prevented the police party from reaching Gadchinchale by “blocking the road by cutting down trees”.
An FIR in the Chisda incident was filed at the Khanvel police station, which falls in the union territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. However, the Dadra and Nagar Haveli police said there was no “ambush” at Chisda, and there was no suspected involvement of Naxalites or Maoists.
After hearing about the Gadchinchale attack through the control room, a police team had been heading towards the spot, said Harish Rathod, a police inspector at Khanvel police station.
“But they missed the turn...After driving for five or six km, they were stopped at Chisda by villagers,” Rathod explained. “The villagers did not let them go and suspected the police were thieves. The villagers asked why they were travelling during the lockdown and were not ready to believe they were the police.”
There were about 200-300 villagers, Rathod added, and they also damaged the police vehicle. Another police team arrived at Chisda, but it took nearly three hours to convince the villagers that they were actually police personnel. “We have registered an FIR against 200-300 villagers and have arrested 19 so far,” he said.
Were there any Naxal links to the Chisda incident? “The incident can’t even be remotely connected to Naxals because this area has no Naxals,” Rathod said. He emphasised that the villagers had stopped the police because of rumours of thieves, kidnappers and organ traffickers.
Sharad Darade, the superintendent of police, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, agreed. “Prima facie they stopped the police team because of rumours,” Darade said. “We don’t think it was some Naxal ambush...Our investigation is going on and we are investigating all possible angles.”
Newslaundry asked Gaurav Singh, superintendent of the Palghar police, if there are any Naxal connections to the Palghar lynchings, or if the lynchings are connected to what happened in Chisda.
“There is no connection with Naxals in either of these incidents,” Singh said. “There is no communal angle behind them. This happened because of rumours. However, our investigation is underway and we are going through all possible angles.”
Newslaundry also reached out to Atul Chandra Kulkarni, additional director-general of Maharashtra’s Crime Investigation Department. Kulkarni is heading the Palghar investigation. When asked about possible Naxal links, he said: “Nothing of the sort has been mentioned in the FIR. Something like this will only come during the investigation. But my investigation is not complete yet and is still going on, so I cannot say yes or no about it.”
Has Kulkarni heard of an FIR filed in the Palghar incident at the Son police station? He said: “I don’t have any idea about all this.”
Gopal Tiwari, Kalpavruksha Giri’s nephew, told Newslaundry: “We just want justice for my uncle and the other two killed in the ghastly incident. It doesn’t matter who the culprits are, they should be arrested. It doesn’t matter even if they belong to any political party. The police are totally responsible for this incident. They could have saved them..."
He added: “The media should not report any fake news or misinformation in this matter. It’s a sensitive matter.”