Many friends of Sambhaji Bhide: Bhima Koregoan riots accused enjoys massive social media following, including Tushar Damgude

The Pune-based businessman Tushar Damgude, on the basis of who's FIR the Pune Police on Tuesday arrested five activists and raided houses of several others  in various parts of the country in connection with the Bhima Koregaon riots, is a follower of famous right-wing activist Sambhaji Bhide aka 'Bhide Guruji' who is accused of perpetuating the 1 January riots.

Damgude had lodged a complaint on 8 January 2018 with the Vishrambaug police against the alleged inflammatory speeches at the Elgar Parishad at Shaniwarwada on 31 December. His complaint had earlier led the police to arrest the likes of Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Soma Sen and Mahesh Raut on 6 June 2018.

 Many friends of Sambhaji Bhide: Bhima Koregoan riots accused enjoys massive social media following, including Tushar Damgude

Screengrab of Sambhaji Bhide. Tv9 Gujarati

Bhide and Milind Ekbote were booked on 2 January, a day after the violence, under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and under various sections of the IPC including an attempt to murder as one person was killed in the clashes. Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) leader Prakash Ambedkar had alleged that Bhide and Ekbote's organisations were responsible for the caste clashes. Ambedkar has been at the forefront of the battle to get Bhide and Ekbote arrested for their role in the violence.

However, Bhide, who is the head of Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, alleged that the roots of the riots lay in the 'Yalgar Parishad' (conference) organised by various groups on 31 December in Pune and demanded the arrest of Ambedkar instead. He also sought a brain-mapping test of all the concerned persons, including Ambedkar to unravel the truth behind the casteist disturbances.

Following on his lines, Damgude had written a celebratory post when Ekbote was given bail. “Milind Ekbote has been going to Bhima Koregaon for 20 years. His is a lion’s share behind Sambhaji Maharaj’s memorial proudly standing there," he wrote.

Bhide, who hails from the Sangli district in western Maharashtra, has been maintaining that he was not present at the incident site on the fateful day and was away to attend MLA Jayant Patil's mother's rituals. Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had also told the Assembly that there was no proof of the involvement of Bhide in connection with the violence.

However, the 85-year-old Bhide is no stranger to controversy. In 2008, he had led the protests against Ashutosh Gowariker's historical romance film Jodhaa Akbar and was booked for ransacking theatres and halting screenings of the movie. A year later, he sparked unrest in Sangli in Maharashtra over the depiction of an "artist's impression of assassination of Adil Shah's army commander Afzal Khan by Shivaji Maharaj", as reported by Mumbai Mirror. In fact, the report said that many members of his political outfit have been accused in case of beef-related violent clashes across Maharashtra.

Bhide is also known to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi as according to a Zee News report, during Modi’s visit to Sangli before the 2014 elections, the later had said that “Bhide Guruji did not invite him there but he came on his orders". Reportedly, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray also holds him in great reverence.

A staunch Hindutva activist, Bhide is a gold medallist in MSc. in Physics from Savitribai Phule Pune University and worked as a professor at Pune's Fergusson College before joining the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) full-time. But later he decided to chart out his own path and formed an outfit, 'Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan' in the late 1980s which focuses on spreading the teachings of Shivaji Maharaj and his son Sambhaji Maharaj. "Bhide Guruji has a strong organisation within and outside Western Maharashtra. Many Shiv Sainiks swell the ranks of Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan," a Shiv Sena leader told DNA.

And despite his age, Bhide has a significant following among the youth in areas like Sangli, Kolhapur and Satara. He has over 31,000 followers on his Facebook page. And therefore, it unsurprising to see the likes of Damgude following him religiously.

“We had a candid discussion with Bhide Guruji on various subjects including the Constitution, Manusmriti and Hindutva. I told Guruji that we are devout followers of Shivaji and Sambhaji Maharaj, but if we disagree with some of your views, we would express those disagreements and Guruji had no problem with it," Damgude had written in a Facebook post on dated 10 June.

Meanwhile, the other 'friend of Bhide', 56-year-old Milind Ekbote has been in an out of power in Pune, as a BJP and Shiv Sena corporator. His first stint was with the BJP as a corporator in 1997. But, in 2002, he was denied a ticket and lost the election as an independent candidate.

However, he too created his own organisation, the 'Hindu Ekta Manch' in 2007 and came into prominence by leading protests against the celebration of Valentine's Day. According to a report in the Mumbai Mirror, Ekbote has 12 cases of rioting, trespassing and other charges against him, out of which he has been convicted in five so far.

Responding to the Bhima Koregaon violence, Ekbote had issued a statement where he said that he was “saddened by the inconvenience caused to the Dalits due to rioting after their visit to Bhima Koregaon”, and condemned “the act of rioting", calling BR Ambedkar an "icon" for him, according to PTI.

Several thousand Dalits from all over Maharashtra had congregated at the 'Victory Pillar in Bhima Koregaon on 1 January to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the war between British troops comprising mostly of Dalits and the army of Peshwa Bajirao II which was defeated. A large section of Dalits views the historical battle as the defeat of the 'casteism' of upper-caste Peshwas.

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Updated Date: Aug 29, 2018 12:23:56 IST