Demanding the arrest of Hindutva activist Manohar Kulkarni alias Sambhaji Bhide, leader of Shiv Pratishthan, the main accused in instigating Bhima Koregaon violence, thousands of Dalits participated in a rally followed by a public meeting – Elgar Morcha held in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan on March 26.
Addressing the gathering, Prakash Ambedkar, chief of Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, claimed that BJP leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi are shielding Bhide from arrest. “On the birth anniversary of Chhatrapati Shivaji, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted a photo of him standing with Mr. Bhide. By doing so, he sent out a signal that Mr. Bhide should not be touched,” Ambedkar said.
“Bhide has links with PM Modi. Therefore, he has not been arrested. Bhide is Modi’s guru and Modi posts photo of Bhide greeting him. We aren’t bothered even if he is your guru. He was behind the Bhima-Koregaon caste riot and he should be arrested.”
After the Morcha, Ambedkar, along with other leaders have reportedly met Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and have given him an ultimatum of eight days to arrest Bhide within next eight days or prepare for a ‘Vidhan Sabha gherao’. The protest was supported by CPI(M), CPI, Sambhaji Brigade, Maratha Mahasangh, OBC Parishad, Dhangar community and Mali community among others.
On January 1, when Dalit groups gathered for the commemoration of 200th anniversary of Bhima Koregaon battle near Pune, members of right-wing groups have allegedly attacked the participants by pelting stones at vehicles heading towards Bhima Koregaon. This resulted into clashes, in which one person died and several others were injured.
Sambhaji Bhide along with Milind Ekbote, head of Samasta Hindu Aghadi had allegedly “orchestrated” the anti- Dalit violence. Pune police have registered two First Information Reports against Ekbote and Bhide following complaints by activists Sushma Andhare and Anita Salve.
On March14, Ekbote was arrested after Supreme Court turned down his anticipatory bail plea in this case.
After Bhima Koregaon violence, Dalits led protests across Maharashtra leading a state-wide bandh. However, the state government had recently assured to revoke cases on peaceful protesters who led the bandh.