A senior police officer has told a judicial commission that the Elgar Parishad event had no role in the caste violence that broke out on January 1, 2018, in Bhima Koregaon village near Pune, The Wire reported on Tuesday.
Sixteen activists, academics and lawyers were arrested in relation to the caste violence. The police claim that these persons were involved in organising the Elgar Parishad event on December 31, 2017, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon. Provocative speeches at this event, the police claimed, led to large-scale violence the next day.
However, Sub-Divisional Police Officer Ganesh More told the two-member commission, headed by Justice (Retd) JN Patel, that nine cases of atrocities filed within his jurisdiction and investigated by him showed that there was no link between the Elgar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence.
“I did not come across any information or material to show that the incident of riots which took place on 1st January 2018, was a result of holding of Elgar Parishad on 31st December 2017 at Shaniwar Wada, Pune,” More said while answering a question by advocate Rahul Makhare, representing one of the witnesses of the violence.
More, who recently retired from service, was the senior officer in charge of arrangements in the area on January 1, 2018, Rediff reported. He told the commission that when he was on duty at Vadhu Budruk village, which is 3.5 kilometres away from Bhima Koregaon, he had dispersed a crowd of around 1,200 men with saffron flags.
Dalit groups and political activists have accused Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide of instigating the violence through hate speeches before the incident. Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar had also earlier raised suspicion about the role of Hindutva groups in the violence.
On Tuesday, Makhare accused the Maharashtra government of suppressing evidence in the case.
“All along we have pointed to the evidence that clearly shows the direct role of Milind Ekbote and Manohar Kulkarni alias Sambhaji Bhide in the violence,” he told The Wire. “The FIRs lodged by the victims too point to their roles and those associated with their organisation working for many years in the Bhima Koregaon region.”
The revelations by More came days after a new report said that a hacker planted evidence on a device owned by tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, who was accused of involvement in the Bhima Koregaon violence. The 83-year-old Jesuit priest died in July last year, nearly nine months after he was arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
United States-based digital forensics firm Arsenal Consulting said that Swamy had been targeted by an extensive malware campaign for nearly five years till his device was seized by the police in June 2019. In that duration, the hacker had complete control over the activist’s computer and placed dozens of files in a hidden folder without his knowledge.
This was not the first report that raised questions about the veracity of the evidence used against those accused in the Bhima Koregaon case.
In June, cybersecurity firm SentinelOne found that there was a “provable connection” that the Pune Police hacked the email accounts of three other accused persons – Rona Wilson, Varavara Rao and Hany Babu, Wiredmagazine reported. The police, the firm said, planted material on devices belonging to Rao and Wilson.
In 2021, Arsenal Consulting Limited, in another report, claimed that key evidence against two accused persons in the case, Surendra Gadling and Wilson, was planted using malware.