Nanded blast: Did CBI use a mystery man to deflect attention from RSS’s role?

A policeman speaks on the phone in front of the regional office of the Central Bureau of Investigation in Bengaluru, on 26 October 2018. The CBI was forced to share key documents relating to the Nanded Blast case with Yashwant Shinde after he sought their access to argue his case. The documents reveal several major flaws in the CBI’s investigation. MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
20 December, 2022

On 13 December, Yashwant Shinde, a former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh member, argued before a trial court in Nanded that the Central Bureau of Investigation created “confusion” in their investigation into the 2006 Nanded blasts by ignoring the real mastermind and claiming that an unidentified “prof Dev,” who they could not trace, was the main conspirator. If Shinde’s allegations are true, this takes attention away from senior members of the Sangh whose names also came up in the investigation. Shinde, who has filed an affidavit with the court requesting to be added as a witness to the trial, claimed that Milind Parande, the VHP’s current secretary general, was the “main conspirator” of the blasts. In his latest submission, he claimed that “prof Dev” might be a Pune based teacher with whom the CBI deliberately tried to conflate the identity of Ravi Dev, who also went by the alias Mithun Chakraborty. Shinde claimed that Ravi Dev, and not “prof Dev,” was the man who trained him—along with some accused in the Nanded blast case—in making bombs.

The CBI was forced to share a few key documents with Shinde after he sought their access from the court to argue his case. One of the documents is a closure report filed by the CBI on 31 December 2020. The closure report—a copy of which is with The Caravan—reveals several lapses in the CBI’s investigation of the case. These include the CBI apparently taking on face value the denials of suspects named by a key accused in the case, a seeming failure to interrogate senior Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders whose names frequently showed up during the course of the investigation, and what appears to be a wilful overlooking of evidence gathered by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad, which previously investigated the case.

At the center of the closure report is the CBI’s focus on identifying a person named “prof Dev,” who they claim made “available the finances and explosions for the training” that led to at least four blasts in the Marathwada region between 2003 and 2006. This is despite prof Dev’s name only showing up once in the course of their investigation—during the interrogation of Rakesh Dhawade, the key accused in all four blasts. Dhawade had also named Sharad Kunte, a senior member of the VHP, as having guided him to meet “prof Dev,” but the CBI has curiously decided to not investigate Kunte after he gave a simple denial. Even this focus seems to have brought the agency little in the way of results. In his affidavit, Shinde argued that “it appears that the CBI did not do efforts meticulously and honestly to identify Prof. Dev with the result it could not find out even the first name or initials of Prof. Dev and his location.”

Shinde adds that he “provided the real name of Mithun Chakraborty as Ravi Dev and has given verifiable information like his mobile number and present location.” Until the previous hearing in the case, Shinde believed that “prof Dev” was the same person as Ravi Dev who trained the accused, and himself, for the blasts in mid-2003. In his latest submission though, he implied that prof Dev could possibly be a different person. Additionally, other documents, including a chargesheet filed by the ATS, as well as the narco-analysis test result of Sanjay Chaudhari, another accused in the case, also show Mithun Chakraborty as the trainer. Shinde reiterated in his submission that Parande must be made an accused in the case. Parande did not respond to questions sent to him through his office.


In April 2006, a bomb accidentally exploded in an executive engineer’s house in Nanded and brought to light a large conspiracy. The blast killed two of its occupants, Himanshu Panse and Naresh Rajkondwar, who are now accused in the ongoing trial. Shinde claimed that Panse was his friend. The investigation into the Nanded blast, then led by the ATS, revealed that Panse and his friends were also behind three previous bomb blasts. Until then, the blasts at mosques in Parbhani, Purna and Jalna between 2003 and 2004 were considered isolated incidents. The ATS filed two chargesheets in the case before February 2007, when the CBI took over the case. The CBI filed a supplementary report and a supplementary chargesheet in March 2008 and March 2009 respectively.

In August 2016, the Parbhani district court acquitted all four accused in a case relating to the blast on a mosque in Parbhani. In 2012, the Jalna district court also acquitted seven accused for the simultaneous blasts at two different mosques in Purna and Jalna. The same set of accused as those in Jalna and Parbhani are facing trial in Nanded. The trial in the Nanded blast has not concluded yet and is at the evidence stage—where parties put forth their respective evidence and cross examination is conducted. As of September 2022, the CBI prosecutor had cross examined ten witnesses. It was at this stage when Shinde appeared before the court, 16 years after his alleged training, to claim that he knew about the conspiracy and thus be treated as a witness.

Shinde’s case began on 29 August when he filed a sworn affidavit before the court claiming that Parande had masterminded the bomb blasts and that many senior leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh including its current head, Mohan Bhagwat, “tacitly supported such terrorist activities.” The RSS is the mother organisation of the VHP and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is ruling both at the centre and in the state of Maharashtra. In the affidavit, Shinde prayed to the court that along with Parande, the alleged mastermind; Ravi Dev, the alleged trainer and Rakesh Dhawade, who he accused of providing logistics for the training, should be made accused in the ongoing trial. Shinde claimed that the RSS might have caused several bomb blasts at mosques or shrines across the country through the 2000s, but the accusations in his application were limited to those that happened in Marathwada regions.

Shinde, in his affidavit, identified himself as a former pracharak, a senior organisational post, of the RSS with a career of spreading its ideology for over two decades. He pleaded that he himself never participated in any bomb blast, had come forward in a good faith, and thus must be made a witness in the case. On 22 September, the CBI asked the court to reject his request. The case was slated to be heard again on 4 November, but on that day the judge hearing the case informed the parties involved that the case had been transferred to another judge.

The ATS filed its first chargesheet in April 2006, which outlines the conspiracy behind the bomb-making training and the blasts. It says, “accused Maruti Keshav Wagh [who was injured in the Nanded accidental blast], Himanshu Venkatesh Panse [deceased], Sanjay alias Bhaurao Vitthalrao Chaudhary, Yogesh Ravindra Vidulkar [also among the injured] went to Pune in mid 2003 and at the Akanskha resort at the base of the Singhad [fort], they received training from an individual named Mithun Chakraborty in making pipe bombs.”

From the chargesheet, it appears that their motivation was misplaced anger against Muslims fueled by the “RSS and the Bajrang Dal [VHP’s youth wing].” The chargesheet mentions, “Muslims kill cattle which is considered sacred in Hindu religion. Muslim extremists killed Hindu Pandits at Vaisno Devi. For how long should we bear such injustice against Hindus? They gave such speeches saying that something needs to be done to protect the Hindu religion and to exact revenge against Muslims.” Shinde’s version of the conspiracy largely matches with the ATS’s investigation. In his sworn affidavit he claimed to have known only Panse among those trained near the Singhad fort and did not name the other accused. The ATS chargesheet does not give any further detail about Mithun Chakraborty either but there is no mention of “prof Dev” anywhere in their investigation.

The CBI’s closure report points to the interrogation of Rakesh Dhawade as the only proof for the existence of a “prof Dev.” The report mentions, “the name of prof Dev emerged when accused Rakesh Dattarey Dhawade, a resident of Pune, during interrogation, told that he met first time with prof Dev at Akanksha Resort, Pune.” It adds, “he [Dhawade] disclosed that in July/August 2003, he arranged accommodation for 7-8 boys at Akanksha guest house pune. He further disclosed that one person by name prof Dev was also staying in the guest house. During their stay, at the instance of prof Dev, he arranged rivets, caps, torch and petrol.” Nothing in the CBI’s closure report suggests that they investigated the “7-8 boys” who underwent the training or sifted through their call detail records, which had been handed over to them by the ATS, to determine the identity of Dev. Instead, a majority of the CBI’s effort has been spent on trying to find “prof Dev,” unsuccessfully.

“Mithun Chakraborty whose real name is Ravi Dev is indeed the man who trained us,” Shinde told me. The CBI’s closure report contained prof Dev’s physical description as given by Dhawade. “He [prof Dev] was a person of 55 yrs of age with white moustache,” it says. “He was well built and his height was 6 feet. He was wearing a cap of black color. From his talks he was looking a person from Garhwal region.” Shinde, in an interview with The Caravan, also gave a similar description of his trainer, Ravi Dev. He remembered him as a man who was “62-65 years old,” from “north India” and as someone who spoke “shuddh”—pure—Hindi. In a previous interview with me, Shinde had said that in 2007, four years after his training, he had met Dev alongside Parande at Firoza Mansion, the VHP’s Mumbai headquarters.

Shinde’s description can also be corroborated through the narco-analysis test result of others accused in the case. Sanjay Choudhary underwent a narco-analysis test in relation to the Parbhani blast while Rahul Manohar Pande underwent one in relation to the Nanded blast. Neither mentioned a trainer named “prof Dev.” Choudhary, in fact, said that his trainer was “Mithun Chakraborty” who had a “beard, was tall and stout built.” Pande, in his narco-analysis test, did not name his trainer but said Panse was supported by “the members of RSS, VHP and Bajrang Dal.” He had said that, “Until he received the call [from a senior Bajrang Dal leader], he never carried out the plan.” The CBI’s final report does not specifically mention if they examined Choudhary and Pande to determine prof Dev’s identity. Narco-analysis, however, has largely been proven to not yield accurate information, and is often misused by investigating agencies.

“It was the CBI who brought up an unknown person ‘prof Dev’ in their counter-response earlier. I had no way to verify that,” Shinde told me. “A few days ago, I was given access to only some of the documents including CBI’s final report filed in December 2020 with regard to the identity of prof Dev. It is the CBI report that talks of a certain prof Dev. Based on this new information, I argued that there could be some prof Dev but it’s only a diversion tactic.” He continued, “The person who trained us is Ravi Dev and the one who planned it is Milind Parande. I’m also giving their identities. What do the agencies lose in following these leads?” The new documents revealed that the CBI made Dhawade an accused at a later stage. As a result, through his latest submission, Shinde withdrew one of his three prayers: for Dhawade, the alleged logistics supplier, to be made an accused in the case.

The CBI, on the contrary, blames the entire conspiracy—including financing and training the bombers and providing them with blast materials—on “prof Dev.” From their closure report, it appears that the CBI came to know about “prof Dev” only in November 2008. By then though, they had already filed a supplementary report in March 2008. In the written response to the Nanded court on 22 September 2022, the CBI did not reveal what their understanding of the conspiracy was when they filed their first chargesheet eight months before they had gotten to know about “prof Dev.” They also did not reveal why they dismissed the Mithun Chakraborty as a suspect, who according to the ATS was the person behind the bomb-making training.


The CBI seems to have ignored another crucial lead that could have helped them identify “prof Dev,” if such a character does exist. Dhawade, during the interrogation, had said, “Sh. Sharad Kunte asked him to meet prof Dev in Akanksha resort and also for arranging accommodation for 6-7 persons near Singhad fort.” Kunte was then a “professor of chemistry in Wadiya College in Pune and an active member of VHP.” The closure report mentions that the special branch of the Pune police also informed the CBI about the “activities of VHP leader Singhal and prof Sharad Shrikrishan Kunte.” The contents or relevance of the special branch’s report are not mentioned in the CBI’s closure report.

The CBI’s closure report says, “During examination, Sharad Kunte, however, clearly denied his acquaintance with any prof Dev or for arranging accommodation etc. He however said he knew Rakesh Dhawade who used to come in connection with job but he never asked him to meet any prof Dev.” This seems to have been taken at face value by the CBI. From the wordings of the closure report, it does not seem like the investigators grilled Kunte on his possible association with “prof Dev,” only gently asking him and then ending the questioning after his denial.

After the 2008 Malegaon blast, the ATS arrested Dhawade in November 2008 and interrogated him. A month later, the CBI took Dhawade into custody. An Indian Express article from 24 December 2008 mentions that Dhawade told the Jalna court that Kunte was one of the two men—the other being identified as “professor Deo”—“who in 2003 trained 7-10 people in preparing pipe bombs at a camp at Akanksha resort.” Several articles from the time seem to switch between “Dev” and “Deo,” but the Indian Express article did not further identify “professor Deo”. However, it identifies Kunte, besides being a professor at Wadia College, as “the city president of the VHP for nearly two decades.” The article quoted Peter Lobo, who headed the Pune ATS at the time, as saying, “We are in the process of gathering evidence but we had interrogated him [Kunte] once.” There were no orders from the Mumbai ATS for further questioning of Kunte, Lobo was reported to have told the Indian Express. “We will probe his activities as VHP city president once orders are issued,” Lobo told the Indian Express. Lobo did not agree to an interview with The Caravan.

An article published in the Hindustan Times on 24 December quoted Kunte as saying that he was “aware of” Dhawade’s statement given before the Jalna court and that Dhawade gave the statement “under pressure” from the ATS. An article published by India Today about Dhawade’s statement identified Kunte and a “K. Deo” as “two Pune college teachers” who “gave training in bomb-making to Hindutva terror suspects.” If K Deo is indeed a reference to the CBI’s “prof Dev” this is the closest anybody has come to identifying him. Shinde too, in his submission, mentioned Dhawade’s statement and indicated that prof Dev could be a Pune based professor. The Caravan does not have access to Dhawade’s statement. The Caravan could not independently verify either “prof Dev” or K. Deo’s identities. However, the CBI’s closure report gives no suggestion that “prof Dev” may be a resident of Pune or a professor.

What is striking about the CBI’s immediate acceptance of Kunte’s denial is that it weakens their case considerably. The CBI’s basis for establishing an unknown “prof Dev” as the mastermind of the bombing campaign was Dhawade’s statement. The same Dhawade also told the agency that he came to know about “prof Dev” only after Kunte, who had asked him to meet “prof Dev,” at the Akanksha resort. The CBI strangely seems to base their entire investigation on the first part of Dhawade’s statement, while simultaneously maintaining that the second half is completely false. What the CBI fails to mention is that the existence of the former is conditional on the latter. There would have been no “prof Dev” if Kunte never told Dhawade about Dev.

Kunte is now the chairman of the Deccan Education Society that runs more than fifty educational establishments across Maharashtra including the prestigious Fergusson College in Pune. The society’s headquarters is also in Pune, on the premises of the college. In February 2020, Newslaundry reported that Kunte secretly used his educational institutions’ manpower and resources to have the chargesheet filed in the Bhima Koregaon case translated from Marathi into English for the Maharashtra police. He also appears to continue to be a senior member of the RSS. In December 2014, in an article published in Nai Duniya, Kunte is identified as being the chief of the intellectual wing of the RSS’s western zone. On 19 February 2022, on the birth anniversary of the RSS’s second sarsanghchalak—supreme leader—MS Golwalkar, Kunte gave a 40-minute lecture on his life on a Sangh-run YouTube channel. Most recently, an RSS publication, Vishwa Samvad Kendra, quoted Kunte paying condolences at the funeral of a senior RSS member, in July 2022.

On 12 November, I visited Kunte’s office at the DES in Pune. His personal assistant, Vibhavari, took down my contact details in writing and asked me what subject I wanted to interview Kunte on. Vibhavari said she would get in touch with me if Kunte agreed to an interview. She refused to share his contact with me. She never got back. I also emailed Kunte on his official email, but he has not responded as of the publication of this article. 


The CBI, in its response to Shinde’s petition, appears to have given a clean chit to Milind Parande. The response said, “As far as the role of Sh. Milind Parande is concerned, during the investigation, none of the witnesses examined by the CBI has revealed his name nor his involvement surfaced in the investigation.” This is a categorical lie. After the Nanded blast, the ATS had interrogated Santkumar Rangvitthal Bhate, a retired merchant navy captain and a former RSS member. In the interrogation Bhate described to the ATS how Parande had asked him to train several groups of RSS affiliated youth, some of whom were later accused in the Marathwada blasts.

When I spoke to Bhate at his home in Pune, he told me that he had trained Himanshu Panse, along with over a hundred men, at Bhonsala Military School in Nagpur in 2000. Bhate told me that he had primarily trained them in the use of escrima sticks—a weapon used often in Filipino martial arts. Bhate said he trained them at “Parande’s request” and that Parande had organised the trainings. He said he had attended three such camps, including the one in Nagpur, but not the bomb-making training held at the Akanksha resort in 2003. Bhate told me that he did not know any “prof Dev,” but he recounted the presence of a man from the Intelligence Bureau at the Bhonsala Military School. “I don’t know his name, but he was a retired personnel from the Intelligence bureau,” he said. Bhate told me he did not interact with other trainers at the school, including the IB man, because they were foul-mouthed. He told me that he had given the training as a professional and was not aware of the conspiracy. Bhate said that he had already shared all these details, including Parande’s name, with the ATS investigators during his interrogation.

What Bhate told me is also corroborated by his testimony at the Parbhani court where he was produced as a prosecution witness in the Parbhani bomb blast case. The judgment mentions Bhate’s testimony as follows: “PW 48 [prosecution witness] Sanathkumar Bhate is examined in that connection by the prosecution. He has deposed that he learnt martial art and the art of stick in Philippians, Canada and America. As per request of Bajrang Dal, and on request of Milind Parande, he has given consent to impart training at Nagpur camp. Prior to that there was a meeting at Gadhinglaj. There he got acquainted with Himanshu Panse, Milind Parande.” Bhate is not among the ten witnesses that the CBI has examined so far before the Nanded trial court. The Caravan does not have access to the CBI’s chargesheets in the case and it is not possible yet to confirm if Bhate figured in the CBI’s investigation or if the CBI considered him as a witness at all.

Mentions of the Bhonsala Military School in Nagpur abound in the investigation of not just the Nanded blast and the Parbhani blast, but also in the investigation of the 2008 Malegaon blast. The school was founded by BS Moonje, a leader of the Hindu Mahasabha—a communal political party in the pre-independence era. Moonje was also a mentor to the RSS’s founder, KB Hedgewar. The school is one of the 12 institutes run by the Central Hindu Military Education Society, affiliated with the RSS.

The CBI’s closure report mentions that the superintendent of the police to the National Investigation Agency, the union government’s anti-terror agency, had told them that, “there is some reliable source information with them that the said ‘prof Dev’ has some links with Bhonsala Military School at Nagpur.” According to the NIA, the report mentions, prof Dev was also “wanted in their cases [cases being investigated by the NIA].” It is unclear which case he was being investigated in. The NIA had also informed the CBI that, “the person [prof Dev] may have retired from services with the Army.” The closure report seems to indicate that the CBI did not check with the Army or interrogate the office bearers of the Bhonsala Military School. All it did was to write a letter to the school asking if certain prof Dev worked with them. The CBI received an unsurprising response from the military school, that “they had never had any employee named “professor Dev.”


Besides Parande, the name of another prominent VHP leader is mentioned frequently in the CBI’s closure report. The report says, “He [Dhawade] had also seen prof Dev along with Mr Ashok Singhal, a VHP leader, in a rally held at Pune about two-three months prior to this incidence. Thereafter, he met many times with prof Dev.” Singhal died in 2015 after serving as international president of the VHP. He was also in charge of the hate campaigns that led to demolition of the Babri Masjid in erstwhile Faizabad in the early 1990s. In an interview, Shinde had told me that it was Singhal who brought Parande into the VHP.

The closure report does not mention the CBI ever interrogating Singhal in relation to this case. Instead, the CBI appears to have spent a major part of its resources on collecting documentary, audio, video or digital recording of Singhal’s meetings in Pune. They sent letters to the deputy and police commissioner of Pune city and several print and electronic media houses asking that they help provide any documentary, audio, video recording of Singhal’s rallies in Pune. The media, the closure report says, did not provide them with any audio or video evidence.

The special branch of the police did inform the CBI that “a programme of VHP leader Sh Ashok Singhal was organised from 25.12.2002 to 30.12.2002 at the Maheswari Charitable Foundation.” The programme was organised only six months before the Akanksha resort training camp. But the CBI dismissed the programme as the possible place where Dhawade could have met “prof Dev” by pointing out that “it was not conducted in the year 2003.” Dhawade, in his statement as quoted in the final report, had not mentioned which year he saw Singhal and “prof Dev” together, but only the number of months the event preceded the training by. This could possibly be Dhawade misremembering, but the CBI treats it as conclusive evidence. Singhal as a result, did not form a major part of their investigation.

Singhal’s programme was covered by several media houses though. The Times of India reported that the meeting passed a resolution that if the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led government did not give “Ramjanmabhumi land” to Hindus, they would confront the government across the country. The report mentions the meeting was also attended by Shrischandra Dixit, the then vice president of the VHP—who retired as an inspector general of the Uttar Pradesh Police—and Omkar Bhave, who became national vice president of the VHP in 2009. The Communist Party of India’s mouthpiece People’s Democracy reported that Giriraj Kishore—another former vice president of the VHP—and Praveen Togadia, the former international working president of the VHP also attended the meet.

The CBI had sent letters to Sakal, Dinaman, Mid day, Loksatta, Samna, the Times of India, Aajtak, Star TV, NDTV and the Press Information Bureau, the union government’s press agency. From the final report, it appears only the Dinaman and PIB responded in the negative to the CBI. Sending letters seems to be all the CBI did with regard to information about the rallies.


The investigation has also lost another piece of crucial evidence in the case. The CBI’s closure report mentions that Avinash Majumdar, the owner of the Akanksha resort—where the bomb-making training took place—told them that the guest house register “was taken by Sh ST Mahajan, the then inspector, now ACP and PSI More.” The report says that, “Mahajan and Anil Tamaychekar, the then IO, who had allegedly received the guest house registers, were also summoned but they have denied having received any document. Sh Pravin More, PSI, now inspector, crime branch, Parbhani, Maharashtra, was also contacted on 5.11.2020, who also could not recollect about his visit to the said guest house for collecting any visitors register from there. The document finally could not be traced.” The CBI had seemingly contacted More for critical evidence a whole 12 years after they had taken over the case. As much of Shinde’s testimony relates to what occurred at the guest house, the register could be vital in corroborating his claims.

The CBI seems to have not pursued other evidence collected by the ATS too. The ATS collected 61 photographs and call detail records of the accused which they sent to the CBI. There is no mention of who the photographs belonged to or what they captured. But there is also no mention on whether any of these pieces of evidence were useful, or pursued by the CBI. The CBI might have been able to harvest the approximate location of the accused or “prof Dev” from the call detail records.

On 13 December, Shinde defended his legal position to being added as a witness by seeking refuge under the section 311 of Criminal Procedure Code—under which a court has extraordinary power to call any witness at any stage of a trial. Shinde’s lawyer cited the precedence of the Supreme Court’s order into the Best Bakery case from April 2004. In this case the Supreme Court ordered a retrial while transferring the case from Gujarat to Maharashtra. Earlier, the CBI, in its written response had cautioned the court from using the provision. It had submitted that, “the power under section 311 crpc should be exercised sparingly only in the case if the evidence of the witness appears to be essential for the just decision of the case.” The CBI did not respond to a detailed questionnaire from The Caravan regarding its handling of the investigation.

Shinde also defended the gap of 16 years between his involvement in the bomb-making training and his filing of the affidavit by arguing that he had approached many RSS and BJP leaders during the period to convince them to take action. His submission mentioned that, “his intention is honest and bonafide.” The court will give its order on Shinde’s application on 26 December.


The rest of The Caravan’s coverage of the Nanded blast case is available here.