Around 2,000 members of the Bhandari community and self-proclaimed cow protectors held a rally in north Mumbai’s Nallasopara suburb on Friday afternoon in support of arrested Hindutva activist Vaibhav Raut. Maharashtra’s Anti-Terrorism Squad had arrested Raut on August 9 after finding a large stash of crude bombs and weapons at his office and home.
Raut is a member of the Bhandari community of Nallasopara and a co-founder of a cow protection group called the Hindu Govansh Raksha Samiti. This group is said to be affiliated with the right-wing Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, an offshoot of the Sanatan Sanstha.
The rally on Friday was the second such protest against the ATS in support of Raut. Around 500 supporters had gathered outside Raut’s home in Nallasopara on August 12 as well.
“Around 1,500 to 2,000 people, mostly Bhandaris, Agris and Hindutvavadis, held the rally from 4.30 pm to 5.30 pm [on Friday],” said an official from Nallasopara police station. “They had been given permission for a peaceful rally and they raised slogans like ‘Gau mata ki jai [long live the cow]’”.
Diptesh Patil, another co-founder of the Hindu Govansh Raksha Samiti, claimed that at least 9,000 supporters of Raut attended the rally, wearing t-shirts saying “I am Vaibhav Raut” and “I am a gau rakshak [cow protector]”. “We marched from Raut’s house to Nallasopara station because we just want to tell the government that a person who has 9,000 supporters cannot be a terrorist,” said Patil.
In addition to Raut, the Anti-Terrorism Squad had also arrested Sharad Kalaskar of Aurangabad, and Sudhanva Gondhalekar of Satara. The police alleged that they were working with Raut to make homemade bombs to spread panic at public gatherings.
Last week, the police had claimed they had recovered 11 country-made pistols, air guns, pistol barrels and pistol magazines from Gondhalekar’s home in Pune, as well as 20 crude bombs, detonators and material to make more bombs from Raut’s home and office. Raut’s remand hearing is scheduled for Saturday afternoon.