Some of the key organisers of the Elgaar Parishad, held in Pune on December 31, had a close association with the seven people arrested over their alleged Maoist links by the state Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in January this year, Pune City Police has claimed. Three days ago, police teams had conducted searches — in connection with a case registered against organisers of the Parishad — at the residences of several people in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur.
Among the leads police have to establish this “association” is a photograph published in The Indian Express on September 4, 2016, in which Harshali Potdar, one of those whose residence was searched on Tuesday, is seen performing protest songs along with Ramesh Golala, one of the alleged Maoists arrested by the ATS in Mumbai in January, in a group. The photograph was taken at an event held in Mumbai on September 2, 2016, to mark the first death anniversary of Maoist leader Sridhar Srinivasan. Police claim that Potdar’s associate Sudhir Dhawale was also present at that meeting, and so were some of those arrested in Mumbai.
Potdar and Dhawale are members of the Republican Panthers Jatiantachi Chalwal, often referred to as just RP. They are also associated with Kabir Kala Manch, a cultural group which, according to police, has a close association with Maoist organisations. They were among the key organisers of the Elgaar Parishad — an event held a day before the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon — in which several Dalit leaders, including Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani, had participated.
A complaint, registered with the Pune City Police in January, had alleged that speeches made at the Elgaar Parishad had triggered violence in villages near Pune on January 1.
On that day, violent clashes that broke out between Dalit and Maratha groups had claimed one life and injured several others. Pune City Police, acting on this complaint, had searched the residences and offices of some of the organisers of Elgaar Parishad. Besides Potdar and Dhawale, searches were conducted at the houses of Sagar Gorkhe, Deepak Dhengle, Ramesh Gaichor and his wife Jyoti Jagtap, all artistes of Kabir Kala Manch in Pune, Delhi-based activist Rona Wilson and Nagpur-based lawyer Surendra Gadling.
A senior police officer told The Indian Express that some of those arrested by the ATS, including Ramesh Golala, were associated with the RP for the last few years.
“Their presence together in a programme to mark Sridhar’s death anniversary is suspicious and shows their inclination towards Maoist ideology. Sridhar was a top urban operative and central committee member of the banned CPI-Maoist. He was convicted by a court in 2007 and released in April 2013 after serving his jail term. He died in August 2015,” said the officer.
Police sources said Golala and some of his accomplices, who have been booked under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and are currently in jail, had been present at the Elgaar Parishad as well. They travelled to Koregaon Bhima by bus on January 1, the day the violence took place, said police sources.
Sudhir Dhawale told The Indian Express that while he did know Golala and some of his associates, police were “cooking up false charges” against them. He said it was a group called ‘Friends of Sridhar’ that had organised the programme in Mumbai to mark his death anniversary.
“I have worked with Sridhar in the past. So, I participated in a programme to pay tribute to him. What is wrong with that? Police are cooking up false stories and saying I organised this programme…. Ramesh (Golala) was also present at the programme. Ramesh and others have been arrested on false charges by the ATS. They are associated with the labour movement and were a part of the Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Prerna Din Abhiyan with us. The arrest of these labourers by ATS and searches on our houses are an attempt by this government to crush our movement and protect Sambhaji Bhide, the main conspirator of Koregaon Bhima violence,” said Dhawale.
In January 2011, Dhawale had been arrested by the state police over his alleged Maoist links. He was acquitted of all charges after 40 months.
Police have also registered FIRs against two Hindutva leaders — Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote — over the January 1 violence, on the basis of complaints filed by two women. Ekbote was arrested on March 14 but was released on bail by a court on Thursday. Police say they do not have enough evidence against Bhide to arrest him.