Followers of Hindutva leader Sambhaji Bhide have said that they will go ahead with a rally in Pune on Wednesday though the police have denied them permission. Bhide’s followers are demanding the cases filed against him for allegedly instigating violence against Dalits during the 200th anniversary celebration of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon in January should be withdrawn.

Bhide and another Hindutva leader, Milind Ekbote, were booked after violent clashes broke out between Dalit and Maratha groups at the celebrations in Bhima Koregaon village near Pune, leaving one person dead. Ekbote was arrested on March 14 after the Supreme Court rejected his anticipatory bail plea.

On Tuesday, members of Bhide’s organisation, the Shri Shiv Pratishthan, said they will gather near Pune’s Shaniwar Wada and conduct the rally, The Indian Express reported.

Not only do they want the cases against their leader to be withdrawn, they have also asked for the arrest of the organisers and speakers of the Elgar Parishad – one of the events held to mark the anniversary of the battle.

The police have said strict action will be taken against those participating in the rally. “We have denied permission for the rally in Pune city, considering the law and order situation,” Additional Commissioner of Police, Ravindra Sengaonkar, told the daily.

However, Bhide’s followers claim the police only denied permission at the “last moment”. Sanjay Jadhar, the Pune district president of the Shiv Pratishthan, said supporters will meet at Shaniwarwada at 10 am, PTI reported. “We expect at least 10,000 people to participate,” he said.

On Monday, thousands of Dalits from across Maharashtra gathered in Mumbai to demand that Bhide be arrested. Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of BR Ambedkar and president of the Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh, met Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to submit evidence of Bhide’s role in the violence.

A day later, however, Fadnavis told the state Assembly that no evidence has been found against Bhide, DNA reported. He said the police had traced Bhide’s phone records over the past six months and found that neither he nor his followers were near Bhima-Koregaon during the violence.

The violent clashes

On January 1, clashes broke out during the bicentenary celebrations of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. Lakhs of people gather every New Year’s Day to commemorate the victory of the East India Company – whose troops comprised mostly Mahar soldiers – over the Brahmin Peshwa-led Maratha Empire in 1818. The violence erupted after some people, reportedly with saffron flags, pelted stones at cars heading towards Bhima Koregaon for the celebrations.

Dalit leaders and workers at the village alleged that Hindutva activists Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide had instigated the violence. On January 2, Dalit groups protested in Mumbai. The unrest led to the death of a youth.