On Monday, after the Uddhav Thackeray led Maharashtra government decided to review the Aarey and Bhima Koregaon cases, state NCP leader Jitendra Awhad among others have requested the Maha Vikas Aghadi government to withdraw the cases against rights activists in the Bhima Koregaon matter.
On January 1, 2018, during the Elgar Parishad, some elements –against the gathering of historic import to Dalits– incited violence against the Dalits at the commemoration of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon that had taken place in 1818 between the East India Company and the Peshwas of the Maratha confederacy. The clash claimed the life of one person and injured many others. After a probe in the matter was launched, the Maharashtra police picked up five activists branding them ‘urban Naxals’ alleging them to be part of a plot assassinate PM Modi in a ‘Rajiv Gandhi type’ attack.
The activists picked up were Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao among other accused – Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, and Sudhir Dhawale and Mahesh Raut. Gautam Navlakha is still being targeted. Before these arrests, there had been the arrests of Shoma Sen and others.
Though there were cases launched against Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, the men accused of orchestrating the violence, they were put on ice by the BJP government. All of the rights activists accused in the Bhima Koregaon case have been in custody for the past year or under house arrest and their bail applications have continuously been filibustered by the state.
Now that the Shiv Sena – NCP – Congress alliance has come to power in the State, Jitendra Awhad, NCP; Abu Azmi, SP; Manoj Jhadu, RJD and CPI leader D Raja has appealed the new CM Uddhav Thackeray to close the BhimaKoregaon case and bring relief to the activists.
Abu Azmi has said that the government will coordinate with Sharad Pawar to bring the truth to light while CPI leader D Raja has said that the move is important to protect the interests of activists who are putting their lives on the line by fighting for the interests of marginalized people.
The Bhima Koregaon matter turned out to be a saffron conspiracy according to the findings of the Rashtra Seva Dal, a social welfare organization working in the field on Dalit rights. More recently, another shocking fact came to the fore. The infamous WhatsApp spyware row that shook its users worldwide, was found to be targeting Bhima Koregaon activists. It was alleged that the Union government had used the Pegasus software to hack the phones of these activists to gain information that could sabotage their cause to free the wrongly accused rights activists.
It has been more than a year that these activists have been languishing in jail now while the real Hindutva brandishing culprits of divisiveness roam free. Will the strong persuasion of the Aghadi leaders push CM Thackeray to take the step towards the release of the rights activists and establish itself as a secular, liberal and democratic government?
Chronology of the events at Bhima Koregaon
Several of the accused have refuted the charges against them. But the court seems to go by the police’s version with scant regard to what petitioners are saying.
The following considerations may be taken for what they are worth:
Justice PB Sawant, one of the organizers of the Bhima-Koregaon ‘Elgar Parishad’ event on 1st January 2018, in an interview, testified that “For years these pilgrims had been going to Bhima Koregaon, no incident happened. Why did it happen last year only? Our sources tell us that these two people (Bhide and Ekbote) were working there at least two months before the violence because they knew many people were going to come because of the 200th anniversary.
This government wants to protect the Hindutva forces. They have been consistently trying to protect Hindutva activists who had indulged in violence. No Maoists were involved in the program and the activists had been arrested because they criticized the government.
Why did the Investigating Officer and courts not pay attention to the above statement by a respected judge, as a point of concern?
Various fact-findings took place, the most prominent amongst them was one conducted at the behest of Pune Rural IG, Vishwas Nangare Patil, wherein the ex-mayor of Pune was part of the team and visited many places and submitted its report on January 20, 2018. Summarizing the report, we find the following chronological events narrated in the report. Note the careful planning by communal forces.
On December 16, 2017, one person namely Kaustubh Kasture had posted on Facebook that there would be riots on January 01, 2018. This person supports Sambhaj iBhide and Milind Ekbote.
On December 30, 2017, Milind Ekbote took a meeting in Bhima Koregaon, where he decided to treat January 01, 2018 as a black day and ensure bandh all across the area.
On December 29, 2017, the memorial of GovindMahar, a man who carries the legacy of cremating Sambhaji Maharaj, son of Shivaji Maharaj, came to be defiled.
This resulted in a riot-like situation in Vadu Budruk and adjacent areas, however, all the villagers acted with responsibility and sorted out the issue amongst themselves and peace was restored. By December 30, 2017, though the issue at the Vadu Budruk was resolved peacefully, it is said that Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, instigated the villagers.
On December 30, 2017, a message was circulated on social media that there is a meeting called by Sambhaji Bhide in Vadu Village on January 01, 2018 and the supporters should gather in large numbers.
On the night of December 31, 2017, PradipKand, Anil Kand and Ganesh Kand were threatening hotel owners to ensure bandh on January 01, 2018.
Suddenly on late night December 31, 2017, a letter was sent to the police station, near Bhima Koregaon purportedly written by Bhima Koregaon Gram Panchayat, wherein police were informed about the bandh to be observed next day.
This was first published in Sabrang India.