“The Pune Police purposely denied our report because there is pressure from the government itself, because this particular report totally goes against saffron groups and the people with a Hindutva agenda,” says Dhende who headed the 10-member fact-finding committee
NEW DELHI – A fact-finding committee headed by Siddharth Dhende, Deputy Mayor of Pune, had found that the Bhima Koregaon violence that erupted on 1st January this year was “pre-planned” by Hindutva outfits.
That report which was submitted to the Pune Police in January itself had since been gathering dust till it was unearthed and published by the investigative Caravan Magazine earlier this week. Along with the report, the magazine has published a detailed interview of Dhende wherein he stated that Hindutva groups had instigated caste tensions in the area days ahead of the 1st January event, and the recent arrest of activists is just to save the real culprits and their leaders Milind Ekbote and Manohar Bhide who are close to RSS and BJP. Interestingly, the committee was set up by Pune Police.
“After the violence in Bhima Koregaon on 1st January, there was agitation by Ambedkarite groups all over Maharashtra, in districts, villages and towns. In that context, [the inspector general of police of Maharashtra’s Kolhapur Range] Mr Nangre Patil held a meeting with Dalit activists at the SP’s office in Pune. Nearly 200–250 Dalit organisations and their leaders were present. I was also there. In that meeting, the Dalit activists were demanding that the police arrest Mr Bhide and Mr Ekbote. To cool the activists down, they said you people make a committee, [to find] whatever facts there are, because there were multiple videos, photos, audios. So ten of us formed an informal committee,” said Dhende.
The 10-member team went to Bhima Koregaon, Vadu gaon, Sanaswadi, and the nearby villages. There they met all the critical persons, press reporters, gram panchayats members, police officials and the common public—not only Dalit but also non-Dalit people. “We interviewed nearly 400 eyewitnesses. All the [information about the] incidents we got, and nearly 200–250 photos, videos, audio clips we collected, we submitted to the police,” said Dhende.
Even though the committee had submitted a detailed report to the police on 20th January only but interestingly the Pune Rural Police itself denied the committee’s findings.
The report identifies that Milind Ekbote and Manohar Bhide, Pune-based Hindutva leader as the “main conspirators” behind the violence. Their names were also mentioned in the FIR registered by police on 2nd January, on the complaint of Anita Sawale, a resident of Pune and an eyewitness to the violence. The police administration did not take serious cognizance of violence and played a role of passive onlookers.
But on 9th January, eight days after the violence broke out, the police registered another FIR following a complaint by Tushar Damgude, a businessman in Pune who is said to be a follower of Sambhaji Bhide. He claimed that the Bhima Koregaon violence was a result of provocative speeches delivered at the Elgar Parishad, a mass public meeting conducted on 31 December 2017, organised primarily by two retired judges of the higher judiciary. And since then, the police have been acting on this second FIR, not the first one.
Pune Police Protecting Bhide, Ekbote
The report also bursts Maharashtra police’s claims that the arrested eminent activists and lawyers have links with Maoists and responsible for the violence because committee did not find any such findings in its investigation.
“We found no evidence that connects Elgar Parishad to the 1 January violence. The Elgar Parishad happened on 31 December, but there were plans to create disorder much before that,” Dhende was quoted as saying by the magazine. He said that Pune Police is diverting the Bhima Koregaon investigation to protect Bhide, Ekbote.
“This is being done to protect Hindutva leaders like Ekbote and Bhide and other Hindutva groups. Because of the investigations into the death of [Narendra] Dabholkar, [Govind] Pansare, and Gauri Lankesh. To divert the attention from this, they are trying to make the Naxalism connection…….. From the investigation of the Karnataka SIT, it is clear that Sanatan Sanstha was involved…..When the focus came on Hindu extremist activity, it was going against the government agenda. Then Pune Police, who were investigating Elgar Parishad, arrested the five intellectuals from different parts of the country. When the Sanatan was on the hit list in media, and their people were getting arrested everyday, suddenly this Elgar Parishad was linked with Naxalites,” Dhende said.
Committee found that Milind Ekbote, Manohar Bhide alias Sambhaji Bhide and ideologically similar organizations that spread Hindutva and stated that both have been trying to replace the history of Bhima Koregaon anniversary with Hindutva ideology and creating feeling of hatred towards the scheduled castes. Ekbote is a former BJP corporator and founder of Shiv Jagar Pratishtan, while Bhide is a former RSS worker, and founder of the Hindu Janajagran Samiti. Milind Ekbote is out on bail now.