The Bombay High Court on Friday directed the Maharashtra public prosecutor to file a response within two weeks to a writ petition demanding action against senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Vikram Pawaskar for his alleged role in an attack on a mosque in Satara in September.

The court has also directed the police to ensure protection for the petitioner and witnesses in the case.

On the night of September 10, a mob of men torched vehicles, damaged properties and attacked a mosque in Pusesavali, 40 kms from the Satara district headquarters. The attack killed 30-year-old civil engineer Nurul Hassan Liyaqat, who was survived by a pregnant wife and his parents.

The petition, which Scroll has seen, cited an eyewitness who claimed that Pawaskar, in a meeting held in Karad in August 2023, directed those present to target Muslims and planned an attack to damage their vehicles and property. Three other eyewitnesses alleged that the rioters loudly proclaimed Pawaskar’s instructions to target Muslim properties as they attacked the mosque on September 10.

The writ petition alleges that Pawaskar made at least two provocative speeches against Muslims in public gatherings and rallies in Sangli, 120 km from Satara in 2023. He called for violence against Muslims and their economic boycott.

Pawaskar is the state vice president of the BJP. Scroll emailed, sent a text message and called Pawaskar over the phone to seek his reaction to the order and the allegations. He did not respond.

In the immediate aftermath of the Satara riot, the police arrested 37 persons for rioting and damaging properties.

The Satara police filed a chargesheet in the case in December. Pawaskar had not been named as an accused.

Over the past year, Maharashtra has witnessed at least four incidents of communal violence in Satara, Akola, Kolhapur and Sambhaji Nagar, which was previously known as Aurangabad.

Past instances of hate speech

The writ petition in the Bombay High Court states that Pawaskar spoke against the minority community on January 24, 2023, in Vita town, and again on June 2 in Islampur – both in Sangli district.

In the January rally, according to the transcript of his speech in the petition, he called for killing Muslims who enter into a relationship with Hindu women and asked the crowd to boycott those who do not have a tilak on their forehead.

In the June rally in Islampur, Pawaskar again called for a boycott of Muslims in order to secure a “Hindu Rashtra”, read the transcript.

The first FIR related to the Vita speech was filed in May, four months after the rally. The second FIR related to his utterances in the Islampur rally was filed in June.

The petition also mentions the alleged role of Hindurao Pisal, another BJP worker, in planning the riots along with Pawaskar. The petition also claims that social activists wrote letters to Satara superintendent Sameer Shaikh, warning him about a possible riot.

What the Satara FIR says

The Satara police filed a chargesheet in the case related to the attack on the Pusesavali mosque in December.

The FIR initially named 28 accused. Nine more names were added later. Among them, Rahul Kadam and Shriram Joshi were accused of hitting civil engineer Hassan on his head, leading to injuries that caused his death.

According to a supplementary statement recorded by the Satara police on September 13, citing a complainant, on August 21, BJP leader Pawaskar allegedly held a meeting at the house of another accused, Sangram Dadaso Mali, in Karad, 28 kms from Pusesavali.

A supplementary statement records additional information in an investigation.

At least 27 of those accused of rioting on September 10 were present for this meeting, the statement said. Scroll has seen a copy of the statement.

The statement states that Pawaskar directed those in the meeting to target Muslims and planned an attack to damage vehicles and property.

Twenty days later, following a social media post about Maratha ruler Shivaji and Hindu deities Ram and Sita that went viral, a mob attacked the mosque and damaged vehicles and properties in Pusesavali village.

The police added Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code, which attracts punishment from two years till up to life imprisonment for criminal conspiracy, after the statement related to Pawaskar was added in the FIR.

Pawaskar’s name, however, does not appear in the final chargesheet or in the list of accused. When contacted, Satara superintendent Sameer Shaikh declined to comment. A police official told Scroll that Pawaskar’s name has not been officially added to the main FIR.

The riot

On September 10, a screenshot of comments on a social media post on god Ram, goddess Sita and another on Shivaji went viral. Both the comments on the post were abusive in nature.

According to Satara police, two Muslim men in Pusesavali village were accused of posting the comment. Of them, one was called for questioning and asked to submit his phone at the local police station. The second was not in the village that day.

Their families told Scroll the two men did not post the content on social media. The police has requested Facebook to provide more data but is yet to receive a response till date, a police officer told Scroll. “Investigation in this matter is on,” a police official said.

On September 10, hours after the screenshot went viral, a large mob, with most of their faces covered and number plates of motorbikes blackened, entered the village and attacked the mosque where six Tablighi Jamaat members from a nearby village were holding religious discussions with local residents after the night prayers.

The petition states that the mob shouted “Jai Shri Ram”, as per witnesses, and one accused, Kadam, referred to Pawaskar’s instructions to damage properties as he attacked those in the mosque. Kadam is also named as a prime accused in the murder of Hassan.

Another witness, the petition observed, said he heard Kadam say that Pawaskar had asked them to kill Muslims in the mosque. In total, at least three witnesses from the mosque have stated that Pawaskar’s name was taken by the mob during the attack.

The court has directed the Satara police and the Sangli police to submit responses on the FIRs related to speeches made by Pawaskar in Sangli and on the chargesheet where his name remains missing.

Also read: A Muslim teenager’s Instagram account was hacked weeks before Satara erupted in violence