The PUNE City Police on Tuesday denied followers of Hindutva leader Sambhaji Bhide permission to organise a rally on Wednesday. Despite the denial of permission, members of Bhide’s organisation, Shri Shiv Pratishthan, said that they would “gather” near Shaniwar Wada to press for their demands. Members of the Pratishthan have demanded that the organisers of the Elgar Parishad, held on December 31 at Shaniwar Wada, as well as those who spoke at the one-day conference, should be arrested. They have also demanded that the cases against Bhide should be withdrawn.
Additional Commissioner of Police Ravindra Sengaonkar said, “We have denied permission for the rally in Pune city, considering the law and order situation. Strict action will be taken against those who violate the order.” But Sanjay Jadhar, of the Shri Shiv Pratishthan’s Pune unit, said, “In spite of the denial of permission, we have decided to gather near Shaniwar Wada at 10 am and raise our demands. We have two main demands — arrest of the organisers and participants of Elgar Parishad, whose acts led to the violence, and withdrawal of the false case against Bhide Guruji. We expect at least 10,000 people to participate…” .
After the denial of permission, a number of workers of the organisation gathered near the office of the additional commissioner of police. They discussed Wednesday’s “course of action”, and dispersed. Bhide (85) and another Hindutva leader, Milind Ekbote (60), have been booked under charges of orchestrating violence on January 1, when lakhs of Dalits had gathered at the Jaystambh in Perne to mark the 200th year of the Battle of Koregaon Bhima. Violent clashes had broken out between Dalit and Maratha groups, leaving one person dead.
Ekbote was arrested on March 14 and is currently in judicial custody in Yerawada jail. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told the state Assembly on Tuesday that no evidence has been found against Bhide. The Elgar Parishad was among the events organised to mark the anniversary of the battle.
An offence was also registered against six persons, including members of the Pune-based group Kabir Kala Manch, on charges of creating communal disharmony through their “provocative slogans, speeches, pamphlets and booklet” at the Elgar Parishad. A similar case was also registered against independent Dalit MLA from Gujarat Jignesh Mevani and student leader from JNU Umar Khalid for their speeches at the Elgar Parishad.
On Monday, thousands of Dalits from across Maharashtra had gathered in Mumbai to demand the arrest of Bhide. Nearly 20,000 people had gathered at Azad Maidan in Mumbai, under the leadership of Prakash Ambedkar of Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, to demand Bhide’s arrest. The protest had also received the support of the Communist Party of India, the Peasants and Workers Party, Sambhaji Brigade and the Aam Aadmi Party. After the violence on January 1, two women Dalit activists had come forward, whose statements had led to an FIR against Bhide and Ekbote. While one of them, Anita Salve, said in her statement that she saw Bhide and Ekbote at the site of the violence, the other activist said that the duo orchestrated the violence through their followers.
Pune Rural Police claim to have evidence against Ekbote, who had held a press conference on December 30 opposing the gathering of Dalits at Koregaon Bhima. Ekbote had also submitted a letter to the district collector on December 29, saying government facilities should not be provided to the programme. Police have maintained that they do not have sufficient evidence against Bhide, and the probe against him is on.