Three-and-a-half months after the Elgaar Parishad was held in Pune, teams of Pune City Police conducted searches at the residences of eight persons with alleged Maoist links over an offence filed in connection to the one-day conference. The complainant had alleged that the conference had played a role in inciting the violence in Koregaon Bhima region the next day.
The conference was held in Shaniwar Wada on December 31 last year to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. Pune City Police conducted searches at the residences of Sudhir Dhawale, Harshali Potdar, both members of Republican Panthers (RP) Jatiantachi Chalwal in Mumbai, Sagar Gorkhe, Deepak Dhengle, Ramesh Gaichor and his wife Jyoti Jagtap, all artists of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) in Pune, activist Rona Wilson in Delhi and lawyer Surendra Gadling in Nagpur.
Pune Police Commissioner Rashmi Shukla confirmed that the searches were conducted by six police teams as part of an investigation into the offence lodged by Tushar Damgude (37) of Katraj, at the Vishrambag police station on January 7, in which police had booked six accused including Dhawale, Potdar, Gorkhe, Dhengle, Gaichor and Jyoti Jagtap, under Indian Penal Code sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc, and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 505 (with intent to incite, or which is likely to incite, any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community) and 117 (abetting commission of offence by the public).
The FIR stated that investigation agencies had taken action against Dhawale, Harshali Potdar and members of KKM in the past over their alleged Maoist links. The complainant had also stated that the accused, as per the strategy of the banned CPI – Maoist, tried to “mislead Dalits and spread thoughts of violent means”. A senior police official said Dhawale, Potdar, KKM members and others were among the organisers of Elgaar Parishad, while Gadling and Wilson had links with them. “The searches were conducted to look for further evidence in the matter,” said the officer. In the early hours on Tuesday, police teams searched the residences of Sagar Gorkhe in Wakad, Deepak Dhengle in Pimple Gurav, Gaichor and Jagtap’s residence in Yerawada.
Searches were also conduced by a team from Pune City Police, accompanied by local police personnel, at the office and residence of RP members Dhawale and Potdar in Govandi, Mumbai, where they seized a hard disk and other material. A team led by Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Pravin Munde and Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Shivaji Pawar, with the help of Delhi Police, searched activist Rona Wilson’s residence in the capital.
DCP Suhas Bawache of Nagpur Police and ACP Ganesh Gawade of Pune Police, along with a team from Nagpur Police, conducted searches at lawyer Surendra Gadling’s house in Nagpur. While Dhawale is admitted to a hospital, awaiting a surgery, a member of his team at the Govandi office said the raids began at 6 am and went on till 12 noon. Dhawale claimed that while Pune Police had approached the court in March for a search warrant, they conducted the search months later, following the call given by activists to gherao Vidhan Sabha unless Hindutva leader Sambhaji Bhide was arrested for his alleged involvement in the violence at Koregaon Bhima. “The searches are meant to pressurise us to back away from our demand for Bhide’s arrest…,” he said.
Earlier, on January 4, a separate offence was also registered by Akshay Bikkad against Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani and JNU student leader Umar Khalid at Vishrambag police station over their speeches at the Elgaar Parishad. Other speakers at the conference included late Dalit student Rohith Vemula’s mother Radhika Vemula, Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar, activist Soni Sori, retired judge B G Kolse Patil and Bhim Army’s Vinay Ratan Singh.
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