'Whenever Dalits have agitated on the streets, the government has blamed Naxalites.'
Jyoti Punwani reports from the Bhima-Koregaon commission hearings.
"The violence at Bhima-Koregaon on January 1, 2018 was promoted by the State. It was a pre-planned, systematic, attack on Buddhists by Brahmanical forces," according to Professor Jogendra Kawade, president of the People's Republican Party.
The veteran Dalit leader and former MP expressed this opinion after completing a two-day appearance in front of the Bhima-Koregaon Commission of Inquiry on Wednesday.
Professor Kawade claimed that he as an Opposition member of the Maharashtra legislative council had forced Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to set up the two-member judicial commission headed by former chief justice of the Calcutta high court Jaynarayan Patel with state Chief Information Commissioner Sumit Mullick as the second member.
"It is surprising," said Professor Kawade, "that Prakash Ambedkar, who, along with all of us, had called for a Maharashtra bandh on January 3, 2018, to protest against the violence at Bhima-Koregaon, and who kept accusing Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide (Hindutva leaders) for organising the violence, has not filed an affidavit before the commission putting forward his stand."
According to Professor Kawade, the violence on January 1, 2018 was a venting of long-pent-up Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh anger.
The RSS and "Brahmanical forces" had for long been angry at the annual commemoration by Dalits of the 1818 battle of Bhima-Koregaon, in which the Peshwas were defeated by the British with the help of Mahar soldiers, the professor alleged.
These forces also had a long-standing resentment against Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar for his renunciation of Hinduism and his conversion to Buddhism, he added.
With their government in power at the Centre and in Maharashtra, these forces got an opportunity to vent their anger on January 1, 2018, Professor Kawade alleged.
On that day, thousands of Dr Ambedkar's Buddhist followers gathered at Bhima-Koregaon to observe the 200th anniversary of the historic battle.
The police and the administration helped the attackers, hence this was a State-sponsored attack, Professor Kawade further alleged.
He has put forward the same theory in his affidavit filed before the commission.
This violence had nothing to do with the Elgar Parishad held on December 31, 2017, at Pune, he said.
"People had planned to visit Bhima-Koregaon anyway, it's not as if the Elgar Parishad motivated them to do so," he told this correspondent, adding: "The government is deliberately linking the Elgar Parishad to the violence."
Professor Kawade pointed out that this was nothing new.
"Whenever Dalits have agitated on the streets, the government has blamed Naxalites. We saw this during the protests against Khairlanji too." Three members of a Dalit family were lynched in Khairlanji in 2006.
On January 1, 2018, Professor Kawade went to Bhima-Koregaon along with his party members, a practice he has been following since 1980.
After he finished paying homage at the jay stambh or victory pillar, he saw smoke billowing in the distance where incidents of arson were taking place.
In his affidavit, Professor Kawade describes the scene en route to Bhima-Koregaon: The traffic jam that forced him and other travellers to alight from their vehicle; the unprecedented sight of all shops closed; and the overwhelming presence of saffron flags.
Professor Kawade was also witness to the panic-stricken return of Dalits from the violence-affected areas on the night of January 1. He was travelling back to Nagpur by train and his affidavit describes what he saw: At every station, frightened Dalits were rushing into the train.
Professor Kawade was cross-examined by Niteen Pradhan, counsel for Milind Ekbote.
Pradhan focused on two aspects:
- Professor Kawade's teaming up with the alleged smuggler Haji Mastan to form the Dalit Muslim Minorities Suraksha MahaSangh in 1981-1982;
- The alleged Naxalite participation in the Elgar Parishad held on December 31, 2017 in Pune.
Both these alliances: Of Dalits with Muslims, and Dalits with Leftists, went against Dr Ambedkar's teachings, according to Pradhan.
He read out from Dr Ambedkar's writings to show that Ambedkar had disapproved of conversion to Islam, and also pointed out that Ambedkar had never made any alliance with the Muslim League.
Professor Kawade countered both points, saying that the Constitution written by Dr Ambedkar gave special protection to the minorities, and that Dr Ambedkar used to associate with Muslim leaders before Independence.
Pradhan then spoke of Dr Ambedkar's aversion to Marxism, and read an excerpt from a speech made by him in 1951 in Jalandhar wherein he had said that the Communists and Socialists were opposed to the Constitution and had vowed to modify it if they came to power.
Replied Professor Kawade: "That was way back. What about now? The RSS, from the day the Constitution was adopted till today, has declared it wants to change and replace the Constitution!"
Though he had not attended the Elgar Parishad, Professor Kawade was asked a series of questions about it.
From the list of speakers and members of the organising committee read out by Pradhan, Professor Kawade said he knew only two: The judges who had organised the Parishad: Retired Justices B G Kolse-Patil and P B Samant. He had also heard that Prakash Ambedkar was heading the organising committee, he added.
Pradhan asked Professor Kawade if he agreed that "urban Naxals" and "Naxalite elements" such as Anand Teltumde, Sudhir Dhawale and Harshali Potdar had tried to take undue advantage of the sentiments of Dalits for the Bhima-Koregaon battle, to create violence and unrest on January 1, 2018.
Dhawale has been arrested in the Bhima-Koregaon case, Teltumde's home and office have been raided in the same case, and Potdar's name features in the first information report filed by the Pune police in this case.
"The Dalit Samaj does not know these three people so there's no question of their influence on them," said Professor Kawade.
"Justices Samant and Kolse-Patil organised the conference, are they urban Naxals too?" he asked. "There is no relation between the Elgar Parishad and the Bhima-Koregaon violence," he added.
In his affidavit and his examination in chief, Professor Kawade had described Milind Ekbote as 'ex-RSS'. He and his organisation (the Samasta Hindu Aghadi) "are bent upon creating a fear psychosis among Dalits and minorities and therefore as and when they get an opportunity they indulge in arson and riots," he deposed.
Pradhan put it to him that because Ekbote always defended the "Hindu cause", Professor Kawade was "branding" him as RSS.
"He doesn't defend the Hindu cause, he defends Brahamanism and the supremacy of Brahmins over all Hindus," Professor Kawade retorted.
Professor Kawade's cross-examination will continue after November 9, the day the commission's term expires. It is expected that its term will be extended for the fourth time.