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Thursday, July 07, 2022

Koregaon Bhima violence: Elgaar Parishad organiser questioned on her TISS research related to Maoist movement

During cross examination, Harshali Potdar claimed that she interacted with villagers, media persons, police and government officers, contractors and social activists in the Gadchiroli region for the purpose of her research.

Written by Chandan Haygunde | Pune |
June 23, 2022 1:07:46 pm
A day before the violence, an Elgaar Parishad was held at the Shaniwar Wada in Pune on December 31, 2017, ahead of the 200th commemoration of the battle of Koregaon Bhima. (File)

The cross-examination of a witness, Harshali Potdar, who is among the organisers of the ‘Elgaar Parishad’ held in Pune on December 31, 2017, continued before the Koregaon Bhima Commission of Inquiry on Wednesday. Potdar is an alumnus of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and an activist of the Republican Panthers Jatiantachi Chalwal, often referred to as RP.

The two-member commission, headed by retired justice J N Patel, is probing the causes of the Koregaon Bhima violence of January 1, 2018, in which one person had died and several others were left injured.

Advocate Pradeep Gavade questioned Potdar regarding her TISS research work titled ‘The Emergence of Maoist Movement as Counter to State’s Development a Paradigm – In vista of various Stakeholders’ Perspective (An inquiry into the Subjective Experiences of Gadchiroli District)’.

During cross-examination, Potdar claimed that for the purpose of her research she interacted with villagers, media persons, police and government officers, contractors and social activists in the Gadchiroli region. Gavade asked her whether she met or came across Dalits and Adivasis families whose members were killed by CPI (Maoist) in Gadchiroli, during her research. Potdar replied “No”. Asked if she did not feel it necessary to meet such families, Potdar said, “As this was not part of my research I did not meet them.”

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The lawyer confronted Potdar with copies of pages from her research work, which stated, “…History of various struggles in Gadchiroli reached to the ideology of Maoism on its path of revolution. People were the same, core reasons were the same, even the form of guerrilla warfare was the same because exploitation remains the same. The only thing is, prior to independence it was against British Colonial Rulers and after Independence it was against its own rulers. Thus today‘s Maoist Movement is nothing but a reform in itself with an emergence of a political organisational structure known as CPI (Maoist)”.

Pradeep Gavade asked Potdar’s opinion as per the conclusion of her dissertation whether CPI (Maoist) is a “reformed” movement in itself against exploitation by its own rulers, to which the researcher replied she would “check and revert” as she wanted to verify it with the original copy of her research work.

Potdar said she was aware that CPI (Maoist) is a notified banned terrorist organisation. Asked if she considers CPI Maoist a terrorist organisation, Potdar replied, “I believe in the Indian Constitution and those organisations that do not follow the path or values mentioned in the preamble of the Constitution I don’t consider them legitimate. If CPI (Maoist) is stating that they are not following values mentioned in the preamble of the Constitution, then they are a terrorist organisation.”

Asked whether in her opinion, based on her study and field visits, does CPI (Maoist) follow the path or values mentioned in the preamble of the Constitution, Potdar said, “I did not study whether CPI (Maoist) follows the path or values mentioned in the preamble of the Constitution. However, I will check and revert.”

Potdar refuted Gavade’s allegation that her research was a part of an agenda to suppress the heinous crimes committed by the Maoists such as destroying roads, schools and killing of innocent Dalits and Adivasis. “It is not correct, the research was part of my study in TISS,” she countered.

Potdar was also questioned about a programme held in Mumbai on September 2, 2016, in which she along with Sudhir Dhawale and other activists of RP had participated to mark the death anniversary of a convicted CPI Maoist leader Sridhar Srinivasan.

In her affidavit before the commission, Potdar has blamed Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide for the violence.

Potdar is among the 23 persons booked by the Pune City Police in the Elgaar Parishad case for alleged links with the CPI-Maoist. But she was not among the nine accused arrested by the city police.

The case was later transferred to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which further arrested seven activists under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).  Potdar, Dhawale and other activists of RP and Kabir Kala Manch were active in organising the Elgaar Parishad, a conclave held at Shaniwar Wada in Pune on December 31, 2017, a day before the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon.

Pune police have claimed that Elgaar Parishad was organised as per the strategy of the banned CPI-Maoist and that speeches delivered at the conclave and previous campaigns for the event were among the factors that led to the Koregaon Bhima violence the very next day.

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