The Pune Police on Tuesday raided the homes and offices of some activists who reportedly organised an event to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon on December 31. The city police commissioner said the police were investigating their role in the event, but the government said it was looking into their alleged links to Maoists.
The activists, however, claimed that the police were attempting to divert attention from those guilty of the violence that followed the event, which was largely aimed at Dalits. On January 1, clashes had broken out in Bhima Koregaon after some people, reportedly waving saffron flags, pelted stones at cars going towards the village. One person was killed in the violence.
The searches were conducted at the offices of Kabir Kala Manch and the Republican Panthers in Pune, Mumbai, Nagpur and Gadchiroli. The houses and offices of activists Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Harshali Potdar and Jyoti Jagtap and lawyer Surendra Gadling were searched. Gadling has earlier provided legal help to people suspected of Naxalite activity, including Delhi University Professor GN Saibaba.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the raids were part of a nationwide operation against people with ties to the left-wing rebels, The Hindu reported. The searches have no relation to the investigation in the Bhima-Koregaon clashes, he added.
However, Pune Police Commissioner Rashmi Shukla said the police were investigating the role of Kabir Kala Manch activists in the December 31 event, Hindustan Times reported. A First Information Report filed against the organisation had claimed that the organisation’s members had performed songs and staged a play to spread hatred and disharmony, Shukla added.
“I did not participate in the Bhima-Koregaon event,” Gadling later told reporters. “However, we had collected funds for it like we do for any such programme. These raids are meant to silence people who have stood up to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.”
Two people accused of the violence on January 1 – Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide – are right-wing activists.
Gadling claimed that the investigators had taken away research material he had collected for over 25 years, apart from the exam notes of his children.
The Committee for Release of Political Prisoners, the organisation Rona Wilson works for, released a statement condemning the raids. It said that “instead of taking timely action against those who incited and perpetrated violence that ensued after the Elgar Parishad, the state machinery has chosen to devote its time and attention to target and harass activists and lawyers who have been speaking against the anti-people policies of the government”.
Prakash Ambedkar of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, said: “Instead of arresting Sambhaji Bhide, they are harassing innocent people.”