A judicial commission investigating the Bhima Koregaon violence case on Wednesday questioned Harshali Potdar, one of the organisers of the Elgar Parishad event in Pune held in December 2017, about her research on the Maoist movement, The Indian Express reported.

The case pertains to caste violence that took place a day after the Elgar Parishad event in a village near Pune on January 1, 2018. Sixteen persons were arrested for allegedly plotting the violence.

The Pune Police had claimed that those arrested were conspiring with members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) to overthrow the Narendra Modi government.

The two-member Koregaon Bhima Commission of Inquiry, headed by retired Justice JN Patel, is investigating the cause of the clashes.

Potdar is part of the Dalit rights organisation Republican Panthers. She is the alumna of the Tata Institute of Social Services in Mumbai.

On Wednesday, advocate Pradeep Gavade questioned Potdar about her research work titled, “The Emergence of Maoist Movement as Counter to State’s Development a Paradigm – In vista of various Stakeholders’ Perspective (An inquiry into the Subjective Experiences of Gadchiroli District)”.

Potdar said that she met and interacted with villagers, media persons, police and government officials, contractors as well as social activists based in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district for her research, The Indian Express reported.

She, however, said she did not meet Dalits or families whose members were killed by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in the region. “As this was not part of my research I did not meet them,” she said.

Gavade read out the conclusion Potdar had made in her study: “Today’s Maoist movement is nothing but a reform in itself with an emergence of a political organisational structure known as CPI (Maoist).”

When asked if she believed that CPI (Maoist) is a reformed movement, Potdar said she will check the original copy of her research and revert, The Indian Express reported.

Potdar said that she was aware that the CPI (Maoist) is a banned militant organisation.

“I believe in the Indian Constitution and those organisations that do not follow the path or values mentioned in the preamble of the Constitution I don’t consider them legitimate,” she said. “If CPI (Maoist) is stating that they are not following values mentioned in the preamble of the Constitution, then they are a terrorist organisation.”

Gavade then alleged that Potdar’s research was aimed at concealing the crimes committed by the Maoists in the region, according to the newspaper.

“It is not correct,” Potdar replied. “The research was part of my study in TISS.”

Gavade also questioned her for attending an event held in Mumbai on September 2, 2016, with other activists of the Republican Panthers group. The programme, he alleged, was organised to mark convicted CPI (Maoist) leader Sridhar Srinivasan’s death anniversary. He died in 2015.

Potdar had earlier submitted before the inquiry commission that the Koregaon Bhima violence was instigated by Hindutva leaders Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, PTI reported.

She had submitted evidence in the form of social media posts, photographs, selfies and location shares that allegedly pointed to the suspicious movement of cadres from right-wing organisations.

Potdar was also booked by the Pune Police for alleged links with the CPI (Maoist) in the Elgar Parishad case. However, she was not arrested by the police.

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Pune Police allegedly planted fake evidence on devices of Bhima Koregaon accused, reports Wired

The Bhima Koregaon case

The first chargesheet in the case was filed by the Pune Police in November 2018, which ran over 5,000 pages. It named activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut – all of whom were arrested in June 2018.

A supplementary chargesheet was filed later in February 2019, against Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and banned CPI (Maoist) leader Ganapathy. The accused persons were charged with “waging war against the nation” and spreading the CPI (Maoist) ideology, besides creating caste conflicts and hatred in the society.

The Centre transferred the case to the National Investigation Agency in January 2020 after the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Maharashtra, led by Devendra Fadnavis, was defeated.

One of the accused, 84-year-old tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, died in custody in July. Swamy, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and also contracted the coronavirus infection while in prison, was repeatedly denied bail despite his deteriorating health condition.

The Centre transferred the case to the National Investigation Agency in January 2020 after the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Maharashtra, led by Devendra Fadnavis, was defeated.

The continued imprisonment of activists and academicians in the Bhima Koregaon case based on allegedly flimsy evidence has been criticised by members of civil society.

In February last year, a United States-based digital forensics firm had found that at least 10 incriminating letters were planted on the Wilson’s laptop. In July, it emerged that evidence was also planted on Gadling’s computer.

In June, US-based magazine Wired had reported that a cybersecurity company has claimed that the Pune Police hacked electronic devices owned by activists Rona Wilson, Varavara Rao and Hany Babu and planted fake evidence on them.