Monday, 30th October 2017

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Allies nudge Uddhav on hounded activists

Bhima-Koregaon violence in focus

By Sanjay K. Jha in New Delhi
  • Published 4.12.19, 2:10 AM
  • Updated 4.12.19, 2:42 AM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
Vernon Gonsalves (File photo)

Many Congress leaders expect the Uddhav Thackeray government in Maharashtra to immediately withdraw the cases against rights activists arrested over the Bhima-Koregaon violence and derided as “urban Naxals” by the Right wing.

Most leaders preferred not to speak on record on the ground that mounting pressure on the government discreetly was better than creating a noise.

But Congress Rajya Sabha member Kumar Ketkar told The Telegraph: “The cases should be withdrawn at the earliest. These are completely false cases fabricated by the police on the orders of the political masters sitting in Delhi.”

Ketkar added: “I request the chief minister (Uddhav) to look into the matter without any delay. The social activists have suffered a lot only because of ideological reasons. They are not Naxalites and they never indulged in violence. There is no credible evidence against them; there is clear evidence of political vendetta.”

Although the Shiv Sena was a BJP ally at that time, it did not appreciate the propaganda on “urban Naxals”.

Uddhav had criticised police for holding a media conference to announce details instead of submitting the evidence before the court.

A former Union minister and an important Congress functionary echoed the sentiment as Ketkar but avoided making any demand publicly, saying: “The work has to be done, there is no point making noise. There is no denying the fact that these activists, working among the poor for human rights, are victims of a political witch-hunt. Great injustice has been done to them both by the police and the courts. We want the Maharashtra government to revisit the case. A judicial inquiry can be ordered to find out who fabricated the evidence.”

Dhananjay Munde, an MLA from the coalition partner NCP, has also written to the new chief minister, requesting that the charges against the activists be dropped and contending that there was no solid evidence against them. A Congress MLA said he would raise the demand in the Nagpur Assembly session starting December 16.

Sudha Bharadwaj
Sudha Bharadwaj (File photo)

The Bhima-Koregaon case is linked to the commemoration of a victory of the British army, made up mostly of Mahar soldiers, over a larger force led by the upper-caste Peshwas in 1818. Over the decades, the commemoration, pioneered by B.R. Ambedkar, has become a signature event for Ambedkerites.

On January 1, 2018, a meeting in Bhima Koregaon witnessed violence. The next day, an FIR was filed against Hindutva leader Sambhaji Bhide, whom Narendra Modi used to refer to as “Guruiji”, for instigating violence against the Dalits.

In the following months, the police carried out raids across the country and arrested several people, accusing them of being involved in Maoist activities, including a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister, and collecting funds for the insurgents.

Those arrested included Telugu poet and writer Varavara Rao, rights activists Rona Wilson and Vernon Gonsalves, advocates Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj and Surendra Gadling and journalist Gautam Navlakha. Most of them have been behind bars since August 2018.

Dalit scholar Anand Teltumbde was put under house arrest after Delhi High Court stayed his detention. Navlakha got bail.

Although Pune police produced documents that they claimed supported their case and the BJP leadership tried to politically exploit the episode by harping on “urban Naxals,” differences of opinion emerged even in the Supreme Court that ultimately refused to quash the FIR.

One of the judges had explicitly articulated his concerns over targeting activists for ideological reasons. Wondering how liberty could be sacrificed at the altar of conjecture, the judge had said: “We have to differentiate between armed struggle and expression of dissent by a section of the people because of generations of suppression.”

Congress leaders feel it will not be difficult to convince Uddhav to review the case. They said the leadership of the NCP and the Congress believed that the activists were victims of injustice and the Sena too would like to probe the role of Pune police.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar had indicated in an interview to ABP News on Monday that he did not see a problem in revisiting the questions on the death of Justice Brijmohan Loya.

The judge had passed away at a time he was presiding over an encounter case in which Amit Shah was an accused. Within a month, Shah was discharged in the case.

Later, on the basis of a report prepared by the then Maharashtra government led by Devendra Fadnavis, the Supreme Court had refused to order a probe into the death of the judge.