Narendra Dabholkar, a leading anti-superstition campaigner, social worker and journalist, was Tuesday gunned down here by unidentified motorcycle-riding assailants, police said.
The attack took place around 7.30 a.m. near Omkareshwar Temple, when Dabholkar, in his 60s, was on his morning walk.
The two gunmen fired indiscriminately at Dabholkar and sped away, leaving him in a pool of blood.
The victim was rushed by other co-walkers to Sassoon Hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.
Police Commissioner Gulabrao Pol and other senior officials rushed to the scene of crime.
Police claimed to have got some leads on the killers, adding that at least four bullets found their target in the victim's neck and back.
Pune police Crime Branch Tuesday formed eight special teams to trace the killers.
Joint Police Commissioner (Crime) Sanjivkumar Singhal said that at least two motorcycle-borne assailants pumped four bullets from close range into Dabholkar who was taking his regular morning walk near the Omkareshwar Temple.
"The assailants, aged between 30-35 years, had parked the vehicle nearby and lay in wait for Dabholkar. After shooting him they sped off. We are scanning CCTV footage of all the roads in the vicinity to trace them," Singhal said.
The killing led to outrage across the state in political and social strata and spurred Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to announce Rs.10 lakh reward for information on the assailants.
Dabholkar's daylight murder has been strongly condemned by the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Shiv Sena, Bharatiya Janata Party, Samajwadi Party, social activists and campaigners.
Several parties have united to call for a Pune shutdown Wednesday to protest his killing.
Home Minister R.R. Patil vowed that Dabholkar's killers would be nabbed at the earliest and the police machinery was working in this direction.
There is speculation in some quarters that he may have been targeted by certain fanatic groups opposed to his strong views on superstitions and social evils.
Singhal claimed that the police have already got some clues on the killers and was investigating according to leads. Police have also released a sketch of one assailant and has alerted their counterparts in neighbouring districts and cities.
Dabholkar's funeral will be held later this evening in his native place Satara, which is expected to be attended by Chavan, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and other state functionaries.
A sea of humanity converged at Dabholkar's Pune residence to pay their last respects to the departed leader before his body was taken for the last rites.
A rationalist known for his bold views and sustained campaign against superstitions for over three decades, Dabholkar had rubbed many the wrong way.
He was largely instrumental in pushing the state government to frame an anti-superstition law, which is in the final stages of legislative approval.
In 1989, Dabholkar founded the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), with a few like-minded people and raised cudgels against all types of superstitions, irrational practices, blind faiths and beliefs, confronting dubious tantriks, holy men and others who preyed on the gullible masses.
Besides, he led agitations against blind superstitions, animal sacrifices and even water pollution.
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