'Bhima Koregaon' Revisited

In India the road to hell is paved with Modi-Shah tiles imported from Trump's Republican America. The notorious duo has been successful to bring about a divisive polarisation in polity as parliamentary opposition parties have failed miserably and repeatedly despite a countrywide stir against Citizenship Law—Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Surprisingly they have been silent about the most intriguing and conspiratorial case of Bhima-Koregaon, lodged against the backdrop of Elgar Parishad conclave, albeit more than a dozen intellectuals and human rights activists continue to languish in jail in atrocious conditions.

Official version of Elgar Parishad episode dishes out half-truths and blatant lies to implicate leading social activists of the country in false cases to curb Dalit assertion. According to Pune City Police, the Elgar Parishad, an evening gathering held in Shaniwar Wade on December 31, 2017, contributed to the violence that broke out in Koregaon and Bhima the next day, January 1, 2018. The Police said the meeting was actually sponsored by the maoists. The allegation was a plain lie. As per police statement, the huge mobilisation of dalit masses was the result of "long-term planning and funding by the Naxal outfit CPI(Maoist)". Of the 23 accused named in the case, nine were arrested in 2018 and have been lodged in Yerawades jail since then. The arrested persons, most of them prominent human rights activists, trade unionists, lawyers and writers have been charged under stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

For one thing the accused are leading all India figures like Vara Vara Rao, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen, Arun Freira, Surendra Gadling and others while Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumde were put under house arrest after court's intervention. These unarmed civilians are described as deadly 'urban naxals'. Only the Modis and their cohorts can explain what they mean by urban naxals. For the last 50 years they have been with the poor, tribals, dalits, landless people of the land, to highlight the plight of the marginalised. Silencing dissent at any cost is the only agenda that the Modi-Shah combine is pursuing with a kind of religious fanaticism. With every passing day Elgar Parishad reveals itself as even the government is failing to defend the indefensible—the concocted case.

After installing the Shiv Sena—Congress—Nationalist Congress Party government in Maharashtra in place of Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) dispensation Sharad Pawar, the chief of NCP, asked the new government to start a Special Investigating Team (SIT) probe into the Elgar Parishad case as he ex-facie found in it a conspiracy to put behind bars some leading intellectuals of the country who are opposed to the Modi regime.

Investigated by the Pune City Police for over one-and-a half years the case was finally transferred to the National Investigating Agency (NIA) in January this year. Pawar and Maharashtra state home minster Anil Deshmukh himself raised the question of fresh investigation because of dubious nature of the case.

It is now widely believed that the Maharashtra Police had a secret role in involving the Centre and NIA in handling the Elgar Parishad case directly. Hours after Huff Post India reported that a senior Mharashtra state police official sent an SOS message to the Union Home Ministry and NIA was immediately pressed into service to take over the case from Pune Police. Pawar rightly held a press conference in Mumbai, questioning the "alacrity" with which the central government had stepped in. Sharad Pawer, the NCP chief, who is considered to be the moving sprit behind the Uddhav Thakeray-led Maha Vikas Agadhi government, said that deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and state home minister Anil Deshmukh, both from the NCP, had denied any role in tipping off the Centre Whatever they say in public now can not wash. That something fishy has taken place between Pune top police bosses and the Centre is a fact of life.

When Sharad Pawar demanded a special investigating team (SIT) on the Elgar Parishad issue the state home minister and deputy chief minister called a meeting but they could not finalise the details of SIT, the Centre intervened and the fate of the Bhima- Koregaon accused was sealed. With NIA in action their release on bail is now out of question. Meanwhile, the state home department has directed the Pune Police to reveal the source of a letter seized from arrested social activist Rona Wilson. The Pune Police had submitted the letter before court as a crucial piece of evidence for arresting human rights activists. Everybody knows how these letters are manufactured in police cells just to keep the innocent in prison for years. Not surprisingly some police officials refused to opine on Pawar's comment.

While reiterating his stand on SIT probe Sharad Pawar said, "The way Pune Police and certain senior officers conducted themselves and their entire outlook towards Elgar Parishad is worrying and blot on the prestige of Mharashtra Police."

Strangely enough, defenders of human rights who are up in arms against CAA are yet to focus on Pawar's allegations against Pune Police that in all probability conspired with the Centre to prolong the jail term of the Bhima-Koregaon accused.

For all practical purposes India is a big prison house of ethnic nationalities, Muslim minorities and liberal democrats who decline to kowtow to the persons in power. There never arose the Mao factor in organising the yearly Elgar Parishad conclave in the yester years—it was an event of Dalit assertion and upper caste elites were opposed to any idea of Dalits marching ahead with their identity and self-respect.

If on one side, the adamant Modi-Shah combine is over-enthusiastic to enforce CAA, having made its gazette notifications, the citizenry across all denominational, gender and religious divides seems equally charged leading the most salutary unforeseen movement. And it is most positive development in mass organising in recent months. Gone are the days of meek surrender, particularly after Shaeen Bagh women showed the way.

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Vol. 52, No. 37, Mar 15 - 21, 2020