Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said in the Maharashtra Assembly on Tuesday: “There is not a single document or evidence to substantiate the role of Sambhaji Bhide in the Koregaon Bhima incident.” On January 1 this year, lakhs of Dalits had assembled to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. In clashes that followed between Dalits and Marathas, one person died.
Fadnavis said the investigation into all aspects of the violence, including Hindutva leader Bhide’s call records for the last six months, have not yielded any positive signs of his covert or overt role in the violence. While asserting that his government would not spare anybody found guilty in the clashes, Fadnavis said, “To ascertain the truth, call records of Bhide for the last six months were checked along with his locations and movements. Even his close associates’ movements and acts were probed to find if there was any link to Koregaon Bhima.”
He said the state government has kept the investigation open-ended and whatever information or evidence comes forward, would be probed. Giving out a stern message about his government’s intolerance towards violence or communal clashes, Fadnavis said, “Anybody found guilty would be punished. Even if it is a member of my own family.”
Earlier, another right-wing leader Milind Ekbote was arrested, for his alleged role in the same clashes, due to the Maharashtra government’s initiative, he asserted. “After investigation by the state police, the administration ensured that Ekbote did not get interim bail from the district, sessions and the high courts.”
Even when he appealed in the Supreme Court and got anticipatory bail, the state government sought the help of the Attorney-General of India to secure his custodial interrogation, he said. Therefore, there was no question of the government letting out anybody in the Bhima Koregaon incident which was highly condemnable, said the Chief Minister.
Fadnavis also said the government “had deployed adequate police force, led by a team of top police officers and special riot control squads, at the venue,” on the day the violence broke out.
On the alleged eyewitness account of a woman who had named Sambhaji Bhide, he said, “The woman had revealed during investigation that she had cited the name of Bhide based on hearsay and had never met or seen him at Koregaon Bhima .” Denying intelligence failure or lack of policing, Fadnavis said, “The government had expected a large turnout and had accordingly made preparations.”
The Dalits who walked to the Jaystambh, or victory memorial, in Perne to mark the battle’s anniversary were provided a dedicated lane along with the police force. The Chief Minister said that a group of people, allegedly residents of Koregaon Bhima, raised slogans of ‘Jai Shivaji’, which invited “counter-slogans from the Dalits”. This led to friction, he said.
A group started vandalising vehicles in nearby parking lots where police were in lesser number compared to other locations. There was stone-pelting from both sides, the Chief Minister said. But despite the violence, police and the administration ensured safe return of people to their respective villages and homes, Fadnavis told the House.
The entire incident has been captured on CCTV and videos, which police have procured, he said. He said 1,199 people have been arrested. He pegged the damage incurred due to the violence to around Rs 13.80 crore. The Anti-Atrocities Act was slapped against 17 people, he said.