Union Minister and Republican Party of India leader Ramdas Athawale on Saturday said that Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani was not responsible for the violence at Bhima Koregaon in Pune district on January 1, PTI reported. The police had booked Mevani for allegedly making a provocative speech on December 31, the day before the violence at Bhima Koregaon.

“Jignesh is not responsible for the violence at Bhima- Koregaon,” the minister of state for social justice and empowerment said. “There was tension in the area prior to January 1. I had visited the place and the tension had eased”.

He said that Mevani had spoken at an event in the Shanivar Wada area in Pune, not in Bhima Koregaon. “Some groups had held a meeting at night and the violence took place on January 1”.

“I have congratulated Jignesh on his Assembly election victory,” Athawale said. “It is good that a young, fresh Dalit face is emerging. My advice to him is that he should focus on uniting the society and not dividing it.”

But the Republican Party of India leader rejected Mevani’s demand that Prime Minister Narendra Modi speak about the violence at Bhima Koregaon. “It is not necessary that the prime minister should comment on every development,” he said. “After the Una incident [where cow vigilantes attacked Dalits], Modi had criticised it.”

Athawale said Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had assured him that those responsible for the Bhima-Koregaon violence would be punished.

The Republican Party of India leader also indicated that it was uncertain whether he would ally with the Bharatiya Janata Party in future. He said he was ready to work under the leadership of Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar. “United, we can decide if we should contest elections independently or align with the BJP or the Congress,” he added.

Anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon

Lakhs of people gather every New Year’s Day to commemorate the victory of the English, whose troops comprised mostly of Mahar soldiers, against the Brahmin Peshwa-led Maratha Empire in 1818. Monday was the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon.