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Bhima-Koregaon probe: 'Summon Fadnavis as witness'

By JYOTI PUNWANI
January 30, 2020 09:57 IST
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'There is a contradiction between what the then CM said in the assembly and the legislative council, and the direction taken by the police investigation.'
Jyoti Punwani reports from the Bhima-Koregaon commission of inquiry.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader Devendra Fadnavis, right, with Republican Party of India (Athavale) leader Ramdas Athavale in Mumbai, October 30, 2019. Photograph: Sahil Salvi

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party leader Devendra Fadnavis, right, with Republican Party of India (Athavale) leader Ramdas Athavale, left, in Mumbai, October 30, 2019. Photograph: Sahil Salvi
 

His government arrested nine Left intellectuals for the January 1, 2018 Bhima-Koregaon violence, and blamed the speeches made at Pune's Elgar Parishad for it.

But as then chief minister and home minister, Devendra Fadnavis had himself traced the violence to saffron mobs in statements made in both the Maharashtra assembly and legislative council.

Now, Dr Sanjay Lakhe Patil, a Congress activist, who is also a party before the Bhima-Koregaon commission probing the violence, has submitted an application asking that Fadnavis be called as a witness.

"There is a contradiction between what the then CM said in the assembly and the legislative council, and the direction taken by the police investigation," senior advocate B A Desai, representing Dr Patil, told the commission.

What exactly did Fadnavis say in the assembly and legislative council?

Speaking on March 13, 2018, the then CM prefaced his remarks with the assertion that 'the government has no caste, no religion, but must only fulfill its raj dharma... Whatever action we have taken is above considerations of caste, religion and individuals.'

Fadnavis traced the origin of the Bhima Koregaon celebrations to 1929, when Dr B R Ambedkar first paid homage there. This is also what Dalit witnesses have told the commission.

Interestingly, this goes against the theory propounded by former BJP corporator Milind Ekbote, one of the two men initially accused for the violence at Bhima-Koregaon.

In his affidavit filed before the commission, Ekbote alleged that the annual homage paid by Dalits at the Vijay Stambh at Bhima-Koregaon was a tradition started by Haji Mastan, who was arrested for smuggling in the 1970s, in the 1980s.

Narrating the incident of January 1, 2018, Fadnavis said as hordes of people were proceeding towards Bhima-Koregaon, around 11 am, 1,000 to 1,200 persons carrying saffron flags gathered at the samadhi of Sambhaji MAharaj in Vadu village, and paid homage there.

This used to happen every year, but this time, the numbers were far greater than normal, the then CM said.

After they finished paying homage, the police told them to leave.

While most left, about 300 of them who had come on motorcycles, told the police they wanted to go to Bhima-Koregaon.

These people set off towards Bhima-Koregaon, but soon gathered on the road and started shouting 'Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji'.

As a reaction, those coming to pay homage at Bhima-Koregaon also started shouting slogans and soon both sides started pelting stones.

The police were targeted, the SP hurt, but nevertheless he lathi charged the crowd.

This went on for about an hour.

Fadnavis then recounted how the saffron flag-carrying motorcyclists continued with their violence as they made their way towards Sanaswadi.

They would disperse, then regroup and throw stones, even damaging and setting fire to vehicles parked at the parking lots set up to accommodate the large number of vehicles expected there on that day.

Since the police was required on the roads, only three or four policemen were guarding these parking lots, the then CM said.

All through this, Fadnavis said, those proceeding to and from Bhima-Koregaon kept passing by. Rumours began to spread about maramari (violence), arson and large numbers of people wounded.

Residents of a few villages near Sanaswadi were told that those who were visiting the area (Dalits) were attacking people. As a result, those villagers gathered together and started throwing stones.

Summing up, the then CM said one Rahul Patangale died, while 48 were injured in the January 1, 2018 violence. Nine police officers and 60 police personnel were wounded.

Of the 162 arrested, 63 were Dalits and 90 Savarnas, 9 of them under the SC/ST Atrocities Act.

Interestingly, Fadnavis did mention the Elgar Parishad as having created tension. Every year 'Bhim Sainiks' go to Bhima Koregaon, as do other Dalits, he said.

But at the Elgar Parishad, the feeling created was as if people had to go there to wage a war, the then CM said. 'Outsiders came there and gave speeches which were not proper. We have taken cognizance of this," he said.

This was the only mention of the Elgar Parishad by the then CM. Otherwise, the sequence of events as narrated by Fadnavis corresponds to the testimony of Dalits before the commission.

In response to a question, Fadnavis mentioned that action would be taken Milind Ekbote for the press conference he held on December 28 at Hotel Sonai in Perne Phata, where he distributed leaflets.

He said the government would take action against those policemen who failed to act against Ekbote then and there.

When this was the narrative presented by the then CM to the House on March 13, 2018, what made his government change track altogether and go after the Leftists?

These and other questions are likely to be asked to the former CM after he is summoned as a witness.

Dr Sanjay Lakhe Patil

IMAGE: Dr Sanjay Lakhe Patil.

"After all, the CM was also the home minister," Dr Lakhe Patil tells Rediff.com. "The information he gave to the House has to be taken seriously."

But before that, adds Dr Lakhe Patil, they need all the police documents relating to the incidents of January 1, the mobile records, the control room and wireless messages.

"How can the commission come to any conclusion without studying the evidence gathered by the police with regard to the January 1 violence?" he asks. "Only after we get those can we cross examine the police and Fadnavis."

Justice J N Patel told advocate Desai that the records could be called for if deemed necessary.

When Justice B N Srikrishna conducted his inquiry into the Mumbai riots of 1992-1993, Justice Patel was conducting the trial of the March 12, 1993 bomb blast accused. Justice Srikrishna had called for the records of the blasts case, he said.

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