NAGPUR , APR 17,
The Pune police on Tuesday carried out searches at the residences of prominent human rights lawyers and activists across Nagpur, Pune and Delhi to probe their alleged links with Naxals and their role in the ‘Elgaar Parishad’ to commemorate the bicentenary celebrations of the Bhima-Koregaon battle in December last year. The searches, which commenced early morning, include the residences of activist Rona Wilson in New Delhi, lawyer Surendra Gadling in Nagpur, who has fought on behalf of former Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba, and those of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) activists – Sudhir Dhavale, Harshali Potdar, Jyoti Jagtap, Ramesh Ghaichor and Deepak Dhengle in Pune.
While Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said in Mumbai that the searches were not conducted in view of the Bhima-Koregaon clashes but were a nationwide operation against those believed to be associated with Naxalism, KKM activists decried the State’s ‘pressure tactics’, stating they were being “unjustly targeted” for demanding the arrest of octogenarian Hindutva leader Sambhaji Bhide ‘Guruji’, who is prime accused in the January 1 riots. “Why are we being searched now months after the FIR was lodged against us? Each time, we are ‘soft targets’ for the government and the police machinery, who insinuate us of promoting Maoist-Naxalite ideology,” said Jyoti Jagtap of the KKM.
She said that the police began conducting searches since 6 a.m. and that they went till noon.
“The search team especially marked out literature which included pamphlets on Ambedkar’s thoughts and those of progressive activists like Annabhau Sathe. There is nothing sinister about these tracts, nor have we attempted to hide, print or distribute anything inflammatory at the time of the ‘Elgaar Parishad’,” said Ms. Jagtap.
She further said that the KKM was not the only outfit that had participated in the ‘Elgaar Parishad’, which saw a massive congregation of more than 200 liberal and Ambedkarite outfits.
While authorities who conducted the searches refused to comment, police sources said that they were to probe whether those who participated in the ‘Elgaar Parishad’ in Pune held just before the Koregaon-Bhima riots of January 1 had or retained Naxal/ Maoist links.
On January 8, the Vishrambaug Wada police station in Pune had lodged an FIR against six KKM members, including five of those whose residences were searched, for making allegedly ‘provocative’ speeches and presentations calculated to promote enmity between two groups at the ‘Elgaar Parishad’ held at Pune’s Shaniwarwada Fort on December 31 last year as part of the bicentenary celebrations of the Bhima-Koregaon battle.
The complaint had accused the KKM activists of making a number of “inflammatory” speeches and delivering “socially divisive” presentations during the course of the troupe’s performance and recitals at the ‘Elgaar Parishad’ which lasted nearly eight hours (form 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.) on December 31.
On January 3 this year, the Vishrambaug police had similarly lodged a case against Gujarat Assembly MLA Jignesh Mevani and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Umar Khaled for allegedly promoting enmity between two groups with their supposedly provocative speeches at the Parishad.
Mr. Mevani, Mr. Khalid, Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar and Radhika Vemula were among the speakers at the event held at Shaniwarwada Fort on December 31, 2017 to commemorate the bicentenary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle in which 500 soldiers of the untouchable Mahar community fought alongside the English to defeat the vastly superior forces of Peshwa Bajirao II.
A day later, on January 1, violent clashes between two groups marred the bicentenary celebrations of the battle at the Koregaon Bhima village, resulting in the death of one person, Rahul Phatangale of Sanaswadi village.
The KKM- a radical Dalit and working-class cultural troupe – has alleged the outfit was being made “a scapegoat” in order to divert attention from the real perpetrators of the January 1 clashes at Koregaon Bhima village which resulted in the death of one person.