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'Speeches were very provocative'

By JYOTI PUNWANI
February 24, 2022 13:56 IST
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The senior police officer, who deposed in such detail about the Elgar Parishad, however, claimed to know nothing about the opposition to it from organisations such as Milind Ekbote's Samastha Hindu Aghadi as well as Pune's then mayor Mukta Tilak.
Jyoti Punwani reports.

IMAGE: Thousands of people gather at the Bhima Koregaon Victory Pillar where the British, helped by Mahar soldiers, defeated the Peshwas. Photograph: PTI Photo

The speeches made by Umar Khalid, Jignesh Mewani, Prashant Dhontha and Sudhir Dhawale at the Elgar Parishad were provocative, but the pledge administered at the end of the Parishad to the audience, to 'protect the Constitution and never vote for opponents of the Constitution, the RSS and BJP', was not objectionable.

A proposal to obtain sanction to prosecute the intellectuals arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case CR 4/2018, was sent to the government in 2018 itself because the accused had been arrested and the charge-sheet had to be filed.

However, a similar proposal to prosecute accused Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, Hindutva proponents, in CR 2/2018 was sent only in 2019 to the government, though the offence against them had been filed first.

These assertions and admissions were made in front of the Bhima Koregaon Inquiry Commission by Ravindra Sengaonkar, who was additional commissioner of police Pune South on December 31, 2017, when the Elgar Parishad took place.

The two-member Commission is investigating the violence that broke out on January 1, 2018 at Bhima Koregaon where lakhs of Dalits had gathered to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon where the British, helped by Mahar soldiers, defeated the Peshwas.

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IMAGE: Ravindra Sengaonkar, then additional commissioner of police Pune South, deposes before the Bhima Koregaon Inquiry Commission. Photograph: Jyoti Punwani

With two senior policemen from Pune having deposed before the Bhima Koregaon Commission of Inquiry, the focus has shifted from the incidents that took place on January 1, 2018 at Bhima Koregaon, to the Elgar Parishad that preceded it in Pune.

Ravindra Sengaonkar became the first policeman to link the Bhima Koregaon violence to the Elgar Parishad in testimony before the Commission when he said that the speeches made at the Parishad were one of the reasons for the "law and order situation in Maharashtra on Janaury 1, 2 and 3, 2018."

January 3 was the state-wide bandh called by Dalit organisations to protest the Bhima Koregaon violence)

So far, all witnesses present at Bhima Koregaon have attributed the violence there on January 1 to the stone throwing on Dalits by saffron-flag wielding mobs, which degenerated into rioting.

Sengaonkar also stated that the Elgar Parishad was funded by Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Harshali Potdar and other "active members of the CWC (Central Working Committee) of the Communist Party of India (Maoist)."

These two assertions: The Elgar Parishad speeches provoked the violence on January 1, and the Maoist funding of the Elgar Parishad, are the premises on which the 'Bhima Koregaon case' is based.

Sixteen intellectuals were arrested in 2018 in the case, 13 of whom remain behind bars without bail. The eldest, 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy, died in custody in hospital.

All of them were accused of having Maoist links and charged under the anti-terrorist law UAPA.

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IMAGE: Advocate B G Bansode, representative of the Dalit victims of the Bhima Koregaon violence, cross examines Sengaonkar. Photograph: Jyoti Punwani

Sengaonkar was on duty at Shaniwarwada, where the Elgar Parishad was held, and had heard all the speeches made there. When it was pointed out to him that the gathering was peaceful, Sengaonkar replied: "There was no violence, however, the speeches were very provocative. It could have left long term psychological scars on the mind of people, therefore I do not treat it to be peaceful."

However, no notice was served to the speakers after the Parishad ended, admitted Sengaonkar, because the police were "busy with law and order duties till January 10."

Sengaonkar was being cross-examined by Advocate B G Bansode, who represents Dalit victims of the Bhima Koregaon violence.

Asked to clarify on what basis he had said in his affidavit that "vast funds appeared to have been spent" to organise the Elgar Parishad, Sengaonkar said this was obvious from the publicity that preceded it and the scale on which it was held.

The convenors of the Elgar Parishad were retired judges P B Samant and B G Kolse Patil. However, Sengaonkar insisted that these two retired judges of the Supreme Court and high court were not the organisers, but only speakers.

Justice Samant was chairman of the Parishad he said, so he could not have been its convenor, and Justice Kolse Patil was a speaker at the Parishad, said Sengaonkar.

This senior police officer, who deposed in such detail about the Elgar Parishad, however, claimed to know nothing about the opposition to it from organisations such as Milind Ekbote's Samastha Hindu Aghadi as well as Pune's then mayor Mukta Tilak.

This opposition had been given wide publicity in Pune's newspapers. When shown reports to this effect, Sengaonkar said he had probably missed reading them. All he knew was that the Pune Muncipal Council had given permission for the Parishad to be held at Shaniwarwada.

Interestingly, Sengaonkar at first refused to disclose the source of the "vast funds" which his affidavit alleged appeared to have been spent on the Parishad, saying that the case was with the NIA.

However, when it was made clear to him that he would have to substantiate his allegation, he referred to the case papers of CR 4/2018 filed at Vishrambaug Police Station, which was investigated by ACP Shivaji Pawar.

Cr 4/2018 is the case in which the 'Bhima Koregaon 16' have been arrested.

Considering that Sengaonkar referred constantly to Cr 4/2018, senior counsel B A Desai, representing Congressman Sanjay Lakhepatil, made an application that ACP Shivaji Pawar, who investigated CR 4/2018, be summoned to appear before the Commission.

'Sengaonkar played no part in the investigation, but was only authorised to compile relevant material and file an affidavit before the Inquiry Commission,' the application said.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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