Bhima Koregaon arrests: Shoddy probe by Pune rural police into role of two Hindutva leaders raises questions
The rural police of Pune had written a letter asking city police if the arrested activists are directly related with the Bhima Koregaon violence.
On Friday, Maharashtra Police in a press conference said there was "conclusive proof" to link the recently arrested activists in the Bhima Koregaon raids to Maoists.
When Pune city police arrested five activists in the first week of June with alleged Maoist links, the rural police of Pune had written a letter asking city police if the arrested activists are directly related with the Bhima Koregaon violence. After the city police arrested five more activists in the last week of August, the rural police is asking the same question. Sandip Patil, SP, rural police, said, “We have not received any kind of response yet. If they let us know, we can also investigate in that direction.”
As the plot thickens surrounding the Bhima Koregaon riots, two versions are emerging from two law enforcement agencies. The city police has so far arrested 10 well-known activists, claiming they have Maoist links, which had penetrated the Elgar Parishad on 31 December, and that led to the violence on 1 January 2018. The city police has been pursuing an FIR filed in the heart of Pune city by a businessman Tushar Damgude, who is said to be close to RSS.
The rural police, under whose jurisdiction the riots transpired, is probing the role of two Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide based on 22 FIRs. The FIRs include the ones by social activist Anita Savale, and Suresh Sakat, who is a victim of the violence. His daughter, Pooja, 19, a key eyewitness of the riots, was later found dead in mysterious circumstances.
The city police has been prompt in arresting high profile activists and charging them with Maoist links and anti-terror laws. However, the rural police, which is investigating the Hindutva leaders, has not even filed a chargesheet almost eight months on. Most of the FIRs filed with rural police are under the SC/ST Atrocities Act, under which it is mandatory to file a chargesheet within 30 days. Patil said the chargesheet will be filed within the next month.
“We have arrested 110 people so far, and Milind Ekbote is the main accused,” he said. “We cannot say who these 110 people are close to as yet. We are probing if they have Naxal links. That is why we had written to the city police but we received no answer.”
Joint Commissioner of Police, Shivaji Bodakhe, said he is not aware of any such letter of communication from the rural police. “I came here in August,” he said. “I will have to check.”
But the discourse raises questions regarding the sincerity of the investigations. Sambhaji Bhide has still not been questioned in spite of grave allegations against him. Patil said they have investigated whether he was present at the spot or whether he was in touch with rioters. “But he has not been questioned directly,” Patil admitted. Upon asked why, he said, "I will gather more details and get back to you.”
Rahul Dambale, president of the Republican Yuva Morcha and an eyewitness of Bhima Koregaon riots, said the probe dealing with Hindutva leaders is purposely being marginalised. “We filed a private complaint against him in Pune court to get him investigated in Bhima Koregaon riots,” he said. “The court has sent four notices to him so far. He has not turned up even once. Why does he enjoy such impunity?”
Further, the inquiry commission set up by the Maharashtra government is still operating out of Mumbai, when the riot-affected are all based in or near Pune.
Ravindra Chandane from Murbad, 43, one of those who have testified with the inquiry commission, asked if this is a ploy to derail the investigation. “I am set to depose in Mumbai on 6 September,” he said. “But not everyone can leave their work behind.”
Chandane, who was attacked brutally, has squarely blamed Ekbote and Bhide for instigating the riots in his affidavit to the inquiry commission. He has described how a mob of 1,500-2,000 went on a rampage, shouting “Milind Ekbote Zindabad” and “Sambhaji Bhide Zindabad” with saffron flags. The mob even shouted expletives at the Dalits.
Yet, Dambale said, it is interesting that the city police, where there is not a single FIR regarding the actual riots, finds Naxal connection but rural police, under whom the riots happened, doesn’t find any such leads in seven months.
"The Elgar Parishad was given permission by the police,” he said. “Police knew who is going to be present, and the Parishad transpired in the presence of police. The event ended at around 9.30 pm on 31 December. If something objectionable happened at the event, why didn’t the police file a report that night itself?”
Basic questions have emerged out of the city police’s investigations. The supposed plot to assassinate the prime minister doesn’t find a mention in any of the remand notes of the five activists arrested in June. The remand notes for recently arrested also do not mention the plot. The government prosecutor claimed the arrested activists had links with Kashmiri terrorists, and we are told that pen drives and hard drives are recovered from them. The data on it is still a matter of suspense but in a press conference yesterday, the police said they have enough evidence, including an alleged arms purchase, and that will be presented in court.
Bodakhe maintained the activists have links with CPI (Maoists), which influenced the Elgar Parishad, causing riots at Bhima Koregaon.
The three prominent figures who were at the forefront of Elgar Parishad include former high court judge, BG Kolse Patil, former Supreme Court Justice PB Savant, and Prakash Ambedkar. Patil explained to Firstpost how he organised it.
Observers believe the three people in question here are hard to touch because of their social standing and following in Maharashtra. Bodakhe, upon asked why the three have not been questioned, said, "BG Kolse Patil, PB Savant and Prakash Ambedkar did not organise Elgar Parishad, they were only invited to speak." In other words, Pune city police disputed Patil’s claim that he himself organised the Elgar Parishad.
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