Hindutva leader Milind Ekbote, accused of orchestrating violence in villages near Pune on January 1, was arrested by Pune Rural Police on Wednesday, hours after his anticipatory bail plea was rejected by the Supreme Court. Ekbote was picked up from his residence in Shivajinagar and arrested around noon, a senior police official told The Indian Express. He will be produced in court on Thursday, said police. Nishant Katneshwarkar, standing counsel for the state of Maharashtra in the Supreme Court, said, “Today, when the hearing began, the court had already read the status report filed by police, which highlighted the non-cooperation by Ekbote with the investigation. The petitioner raised the issue… that he was not present at the time of the incident. The court then asked if he was even aware of the concept of social media. Then, based on the status report, the court rejected the petition of anticipatory bail.”
The status report submitted by the state government in the Supreme Court, seeking rejection of Ekbote’s anticipatory bail plea, had stated that the Hindutva leader was called for investigation to the Shikrapur police station on February 23. When he was questioned about the “mobile phone used in commission of the said offence”, he gave an “objectionable reply”, said the report, which was filed by Ganesh More, sub-divisional police officer of Daund division.
As per the status report, Ekbote told police that his mobile phone was lost and he had not lodged a complaint about the missing phone. The status report also mentioned that Ekbote was questioned about his presence at Sonai Hotel in Koregaon Bhima area, a few days before the violence, as well as about his accomplices. Ekbote told police that he had come to the hotel to distribute an “objectionable” pamphlet, which he distributed directly to reporters, and there was no one with him.
The status report said that Ekbote was again questioned by the local Crime Branch on February 24, when he refused to divulge details of his whereabouts and his place of residence after “commission of the present offence”. The status report mentioned that Ekbote was again called for investigation on March 5 and March 9. Ekbote allegedly refused to give any information about the original copy of the pamphlet and whether the typed matter on it was saved in his computer. But, during investigation on March 10, Ekbote submitted the original copy of the pamphlet and the book written by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar from which the content on the pamphlet was excerpted by him.
Violent clashes had broken out between Dalit and Maratha groups on January 1, when thousands of Dalits had gathered at the Jaystambh, or victory memorial, in Perne to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. One person was killed and hundreds were injured in the clashes.
An FIR against Ekbote and Hindutva leader Sambhaji Bhide was registered at the Pimpri police station by activist Anita Salve on January 2. The next day, another complaint was lodged at the Yerwada police station by activist Sushma Andhare. Both complaints were then transferred to the Pune Rural Police for further investigation.
Police claim to have evidence against Ekbote, who had held a press conference on December 30 opposing the gathering of Dalits at the Jaystambh in Perne on January 1. Ekbote had also submitted a letter to the district collector on December 29, saying government facilities should not be provided for the programme at Jaystambh on January 1. Police also claim that Ekbote held a meeting at Hotel Sonai in Koregaon Bhima area on December 30, which was “suspicious”.
Police said while the investigation against Bhide is on, they didn’t have sufficient evidence against him.