New Delhi: The Maharashtra bandh called by Dalit and left organisations against caste violence in Pune district on bicentenary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle was called off on Wednesday after the police booked two persons accused of instigating the clash.
Police have booked two right-wing activists, Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, for orchestrating the violence during the event on Monday.
Following this, Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of BR Ambedkar and leader of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, called off the bandh.
He had called for the bandh on Tuesday, accusing 85-year-old Bhide who heads Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan and Ekbote of Samast Hindu Aghadi of orchestrating violence at the event. He had also accused the state government of failing to stop the violence.
Both pro-Hindutva leaders enjoy sizeable support in some pockets of Maharashtra. Ekbote, on Tuesday, said that the case against him was false and that he condemned the rioting. This is not the first time that Bhide and Ekbote find themselves on the wrong side of the law. In 2008, Bhide’s followers attacked movie halls to protest the release of movie Jodha-Akbar in Sangli. Ekbote has cases of rioting, trespassing, dacoity and had once come to blows with a fellow corporator on his remarks on Mumbai Haj House.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said those responsible for the caste violence in Pune will face action and the matter will be taken to its logical end. He said the state government will soon approach the Bombay High Court, asking it to name a sitting judge to probe the January 1 violence at Bhima-Koregaon in Pune district.
Meanwhile, the Congress accused the BJP, both at the Centre and state along with the RSS, of "conspiring to fuel violence against Dalits", even as it demanded Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speak up on the Bhima-Koregaon violence. “Dalits are being beaten up, raped and murdered in all BJP ruled state. After BJP came in power you can see what’s happening all around,” said Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad.
"Caste-related violence is on the rise in the country. We need to find out who has instigated the further protests. The RSS and other Hindutva organisations are trying to drive a wedge between the Marathas and Dalits in the state. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is silent on the issue, he should come and speak on the floor of the house. He is a 'Mauni Baba' regarding the issue of Dalits. We (Congress) demand an inquiry by a Supreme Court judge," says leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi also lashed out at the BJP and RSS over the violence. “A central pillar of the RSS/BJP’s fascist vision for India is that Dalits should remain at the bottom of Indian society. Una, Rohith Vemula and now Bhima-Koregaon are potent symbols of the resistance,” Gandhi tweeted on Tuesday evening.
Reacting to Congress' allegation that the RSS and Hindutva outfits are behind the violence in Koregaon. The RSS said the JNU brigade is behind the violence. "People who wants to divide India is behind this violence." said RSS’ Manmohan Vaidya.
An outfit named Hindu Janajagruti Samiti also demanded the arrest of Umar Khalid and Jignesh Mevani, alleging that they incited the riots in Bhima-Koregaon.
The BJP also accused the Congress of playing a cynical game of divide and rule over the issue. “Mallikarjun Kharge just wants to agitate the situation. Congress is trying to play divide-and-rule policy as they are frustrated from their defeat. They are flaring up the issue for political and personal gain. Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes in 'sabka saath, sabka vikas'," said Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar.
Earlier in the day, protesters attacked buses, stopped suburban trains and blocked roads at various places in Mumbai as normal life was hit in the city and other parts of Maharashtra.
In Mumbai, Dalits staged protests in suburban Chembur, Ghatkopar, Kamraj Nagar, Vikhroli, Dindoshi, Kandivali, Jogeshwari, Kalanagar and Mahim, police said.
Hundreds of protesters tried to block the Western Express Highway in the morning but were moved from the spot by police. Incidents of stone pelting were reported at a few places on the harbour line, police said.
Protesters jumped on rail tracks of harbour line at Govandi, Mankhurd and Kurla, due to which suburban services towards Panvel, Belapur and Vashi were stopped for a few hours, the official said. On the Western Railway, protesters obstructed services at Nallasopara station. Thirteen buses of the civic transport service 'BEST' were also damaged by protesters.
Several flights were also cancelled with most airlines waiving off cancellation charges.
Protests also took place in Navi Mumbai, Thane, Aurangabad, Pune, Nanded, Parbhani, Washim, Akola, Sindhudurg, Raigad, Kolhapur, where incidents of road blocks, vandalising and stone pelting were reported, police said. In Pune, Maratha outfit 'Sakal Maratha Kranti Morcha' sought stern action those responsible for rift between different communities and appealed to people to maintain peace and harmony.
While Prakash Ambedkar has called off the bandh, he issued a warning to the state government and the BJP. “Ignore the unrest at your own cost. Ultimately you are responsible for law and order situation,” he said.