Senior Dalit leader and former MP Jogendra Kawade, who has blamed Hindutva leaders for the Koregaon Bhima violence of January 1, 2018, on Wednesday sought to distance himself from the Elgaar Parishad event, organised in Pune a day before the violence, saying he was not in any way connected to that event.
Kawade appeared before the Koregaon Bhima Commission of Inquiry for the second day on Wednesday and was asked by a lawyer whether he knew the organisers of the Elgaar Parishad or was associated with the event in any way. This was after Kawade, in his deposition on Tuesday, had mentioned that Hindutva leader Milind Ekbote had opposed the Elgaar Parishad organised by “progressive organisations”.
Elgaar Parishad, an evening event in Pune on December 31, 2017, during which several speakers had made speeches, is being investigated by Pune City Police for alleged links with the banned CPI-Maoist group. Pune police also claim that speeches made at the Elgaar Parishad and the previous campaign for the event had played a role in instigating violence the next day. So far, Pune police has booked 23 people in this case, and arrested nine high-profile activists and lawyers.
Kawade told the Commission that he had learnt of the Elgaar Parishad event only from newspapers, and had not attended it. He said among the organisers of the event, he knew retired Supreme Court judge Justice P B Sawant, retired Bombay High Court judge Justice B G Kolse Patil, and Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar.
Kawade is appearing before the inquiry commission as a witness, by virtue of having filed an affidavit, in which he had blamed Hindutva leaders Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide for the violence witnessed on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018, in which one person was killed and several others injured.
Kawade was asked by Ekbote’s lawyer Niteen Pradhan whether he agreed that alleged Naxal elements had participated in Elgaar Parishad and taken advantage of the event to provoke people towards violence. “It is absolutely wrong,” Kawade replied.
Pradhan continued to question Kawade about his links with Haji Mastan, the infamous Mumbai underworld don of the 1970s and 1980s. Mastan was known to be associated with the ‘Dalit, Muslim, Minority Suraksha Mahasangh’ formed by Kawade in early 1980s. Kawade had, on Tuesday, said he was not aware of Mastan’s criminal past.
When Pradhan, quoting from Dr B R Ambedkar’s writings and speeches, told Kawade that his efforts to unite Dalits and Muslims through Haji Mastan was “against the philosophy and preaching of Dr Ambedkar”, Kawade said, “It is not correct”.
The two-member inquiry commission is trying to establish the sequence of events that led to the violence on January 1, 2018. Its term is coming to an end on November 9. If it gets an extension from the Maharashtra government, as is expected, Kawade is likely to be called again for cross-examination by other lawyers, including those representing the witnesses and state.