The Maharashtra government withdrew six cases against Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan chief Manohar Bhide, or Sambhaji Bhide, around June 2017, just six months before the violence in Bhima Koregaon near Pune, News18 reported on Monday.
Citing an RTI response to a query by activist Shakeel A Shaikh, the report said that the cases were filed against the Hindutva leader in 2008 and 2009 in Sangli, western Maharashtra.
Bhide and another Hindutva leader, Milind Ekbote, were booked earlier this year after violent clashes broke out on January 1 between Dalit and Maratha groups at Bhima Koregaon village near Pune, during which one person died. Thousands of Dalits had gathered at the site that day to commemorate the anniversary of a battle there 200 years ago. Dalits mark the battle as the first major step in their continuing struggle against caste-based discrimination.
Dalit leaders and workers at the village alleged that Ekbote and Bhide had instigated the violence. Ekbote was arrested and subsequently released on bail but Bhide was not questioned by the police due to “lack of evidence”.
According to the RTI response, the six cases against Bhide and his organisation were filed following two protests – one against a Bollywood movie Jodha Akbar in 2008 and another against an artist’s depiction of the assassination of the Maratha King Shivaji in 2009. The protestors were involved in rioting, stone-pelting and burning of several tyres, according to News18.
Earlier in the day, several reports claimed that the government had withdrawn cases against Bhide in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence. However, Pune (Rural) Superintendent of Police Sandeep Patil dismissed the reports, and said the question itself did not arise as the police had not filed any chargesheet against Bhide in connection with the Bhima Koregaon incident in the first place.
“At this stage there is adequate evidence to frame charges of criminal conspiracy and rioting against Milind Ekbote but no evidence against Sambhaji Bhide,” Patil told Scroll.in. “Investigation is still in progress.”
He added: “There is a possibility that the media reports about charges against Bhide being withdrawn pertain to Sangli riots that had happened in 2009 but absolutely not Bhima Koregaon.”
When asked about the delay in filing the chargesheet, he said a final decision will be taken by the investigating officer, who needs some more time. Patil had told Scroll.in at the end of August that the chargesheet would be filed within two weeks.
The Bhima Koregaon caste violence resurfaced in the national spotlight in August after five human rights activists were arrested during police raids in six cities. The police claimed they were “urban Naxalites” who used the January 1 event in Pune to whip up sentiments that resulted in the violence in Bhima Koregaon. This was part of a larger plot, the police claimed, to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi and overthrow the government. The activists are currently under house arrest.