The Pune Police on Tuesday booked former Aligarh Muslim University student leader Sharjeel Usmani for allegedly promoting enmity between different groups during his speech at the Elgar Parishad 2021 conclave on January 30, reported The Indian Express. Usmani was charged following a complaint by a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s youth wing, the Yuva Morcha.
Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said that a team has been formed to arrest Usmani, ANI reported. Deshmukh added that the police had examined his speech. “He [Usmani] is not in Maharashtra, but wherever he is, we will arrest him,” the minister said.
The student leader was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh Police last year for his alleged role in the clashes that broke out in Aligarh Muslim University on December 15, following protests against the new citizenship laws. He is currently out on bail.
Pradeep Gawade, the Pune regional secretary of Yuva Morcha, submitted a complaint against Usmani at the Swargate police station on Monday. Based on this, the police launched a preliminary investigation, and booked Usmani under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code for allegedly promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc, and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.
“Sharjeel Usmani has been booked under IPC Section 153A, based on Pradeep Gawade’s complaint,” Pune City Police Commissioner Amitabh Gupta told The Indian Express. “Further probe is on.”
Usmani had been in the eye of the storm ever since he gave his speech at the second edition of the Elgar Parishad. The conclave has become a controversial event for the last three years after the Maharashtra Police accused its organisers – a coalition of 250 anti-caste and human rights organisations – of instigating caste-based violence in Pune’s Bhima Koregaon area on January 1, 2018.
On Tuesday, former Maharashtra Chief Minister and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis wrote to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, seeking action against Usmani. “This youth comes to Maharashtra, maligns Hindutva without any fear and displays his rogue behaviour, and there is no action against him?” Fadnavis wrote. “This is really surprising. This is very insulting to all of us.”
Another BJP leader, Keshav Upadhye, also sought action against Usmani for his allegedly provocative speech. Amid the furore, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh had on Monday said the state government will examine the speeches made at Elgaar Parishad 2021 to see if any “objectionable comments” were made at the conclave, The Indian Express reported.
Besides Usmani, other key speakers at the conclave this year included author Arundhati Roy, former bureaucrat Kannan Gopinathan, journalist Prashant Kanojia, Dalit activist Satyabhama Suryawanshi from Latur, retired High Court judge BG Kolse Patil and retired Indian Police Services officer SM Mushrif, among others.
The first Elgar Parishad was held in Pune’s Shaniwar Wada on December 31, 2017, a day before lakhs of Dalits from across India gathered at the village of Koregaon Bhima to commemorate the 200th anniversary of a battle in which a Dalit contingent of the British army defeated the region’s Peshwa Brahmins.
Since June 2018, 16 activists and intellectuals have been arrested and denied bail for allegedly provoking the Bhima Koregaon violence, operating as “urban Naxals” with Maoist connections and carrying out “anti-national” activities. They include educators Anand Teltumbde, Shoma Sen and Hany Babu, Adivasi rights activist Stan Swamy, poets Sudhir Dhawale and Varavara Rao, lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj and activists Gautam Navlakha, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves.
The authorities claim they were associated with organising the first Elgar Parishad, though most of them have denied this.
Meanwhile, Hindutva leaders Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote – also accused of instigating the 2018 violence – have not been arrested.
The second Elgar Parishad on January 30 was organised as a tribute to the 16 arrested activists as well as a reiteration of their anti-caste, anti-Hindutva ideologies. The date of the event marked the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and the birthday of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student of Hyderabad Central University whose death by suicide in 2016 had triggered a nationwide movement against casteism in educational institutions.