Two days before thousands of people are expected to arrive at Koregaon Bhima near Pune to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon, the police on Saturday detained several Dalit activists in Mumbai, including Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad. They were headed for a proposed rally in the city.
Describing it as preventive action, the police released the nearly dozen men who were detained by the end of the day.
Mumbai Police spokesperson DCP Manjunath Singhe said no one was arrested.
Last year in mind, all boots on ground for D-day
With thousands of people expected to converge at Koregaon Bhima near Pune on January 1, Maharashtra Police are not willing to take any chances that could lead to a repeat of last year’s violence. Mumbai Police, after detaining Chandrashekhar Azad, among others, said that the Bhim Army chief and Dalit activists were denied permission for a rally at Jambori Maidan “keeping the law and order situation in mind”, and instead asked them to conduct the rally “at an indoor location”. Pune Police has stated that 12 companies of State Reserve Police, nearly 5,000 police personnel, 1,200 Home Guards and volunteers will be deployed on ground zero. With elections to both Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha next year, the administration can ill-afford visuals as seen last year.
Azad was detained on Friday evening along with his followers from Chaitya Bhoomi in Dadar, Mumbai. The group was then escorted to Hotel Manali in suburban Malad, where Azad was kept on Saturday. Dozens of policemen remained positioned outside the hotel and in its lobby, even as Azad’s supporters and others were prohibited from meeting him during the day.
Azad was kept in a room on the second floor of the hotel and was prevented from meeting any visitors. “We have no idea where he is. His volunteers have been kept in separate rooms. His phone is switched off,” said Madhumita Bodh, who called herself an acquaintance of Azad.
Senior inspectors from Dindoshi, Kurar and Dahisar police stations, along with personnel from the Special Branch, were positioned on Manchubhai Road, where the hotel is located. DCP Vinay Rathod was himself outside the main gate of the hotel, which was locked from the inside.
Local residents who gathered were dispersed by the police. “Some of Azad’s supporters tried to obstruct traffic. We have detained them,” a police officer said.
NCP leader Jitendra Awhad, who came to meet Azad, was escorted by the DCP to his room. “I met and spoke with Azad. He is confused why he is under house arrest. We are living in a regime that believes in curbing dissent. This is a mockery of constitutional rights,” Awhad said.
Earlier, Azad’s Twitter handle posted photographs of him inside a hotel room with policemen stationed outside. Terming the detention an “undeclared emergency”, the tweet said there were 10 policemen outside Azad’s room, that he was not being allowed to leave, and that constitutional freedoms have been threatened.