Maharashtra, on Wednesday, remained on edge after the anniversary of a battle fought 200 years ago brought to fore simmering caste tensions even as a statewide bandh was called to protest the state government's alleged failure to stop violence witnessed stray protest by Dalits. Dalit protesters tried to block tracks at the Thane railway station on Wednesday morning, but they were chased away soon and the traffic on the Central Railway line remained uninterrupted, said a railway official.
On Tuesday, a criminal case was filed against two pro-Hindutva leaders, Milind Ekbote of Samast Hindu Aghadi, and Sambhaji Bhide of Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, under charges of orchestrating violence during celebrations of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon on Monday. The two organisations had opposed the celebration of "British victory" in the battle.
According to a report in The Indian Express, the FIR was registered at Pimpri police station and was later sent to Pune Rural Police which has Koregaon Bhima under its jurisdiction. The complaint against Bhide, Ekbote and their supporters was filed by 39-year-old social worker Anita Ravindra Salve, a member of the Bahujan Republican Socialist Party.
Reports claimed that it's no surprise that the duo haven't been arrested yet as both have deep links with the RSS and wield considerable clout within the ruling dispensation in the state and at the Centre.
Sambhaji Bhide, also known as Bhide Guruji and a resident of Sangli was in national spotlight in 2008 when his followers ransacked movie halls protesting against the release of the film Jodhaa Akbar. Bhide enjoys immense political clout among senior BJP and RSS leaders.
In the run-up to the 2014 General Election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited Sangli "especially" to meet Bhide and had said that he had come to see 'Guruji' not on his request but on his order. Both Modi and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, top leaders of the ruling alliance in Maharashtra, were seen seeking Bhide's in the run-up to the elections in 2014.
Another instance that shows the clout that Bhide enjoys is when the Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis halted his helicopter convoy to meet with Bhide and discuss an "imperative political matter."
The 85-year-old leader is an ardent follower of Chhatrapati Shivaji. An RSS pracharak, Bhide has a degree in MSc in Atomic Science from the elite Pune University. Bhide has also served as a professor of Physics at Pune's Fergusson College. Reports have described Bhide as a leader who is "down to earth" and they back their claim because Bhide, instead of travelling in cars, uses a bicycle to travel and "remains barefooted no matter where he goes", travels in state-run buses, and doesn't own a house.
Bhide's speeches on the lives of Shivaji Maharaj and his heir Sambhaji Maharaj often brim with hatred for a minority community.
Ekbote, who lives in Pune, has 12 cases of rioting, trespassing, criminal intimidation, and attempts to spread enmity between two communities against him. According to a report in Mumbai Mirror, Ekbote was convicted in five of these cases.
Members of Ekbote's organisation have been alleged to have intercepted hundreds of vehicles carrying cows. On Tuesday, Ekbote condemned violence in Koregaon-Bhima. He also claimed the case against him was completely false. The leader added that people were being "deliberately misled to create communal tension".
"I am saddened by the inconvenience caused to Dalits due to rioting after their visit to Bhima-Koregaon and we condemn the act of rioting," Mirror report quoted him as saying. Ekbote also added that his organisation considered Ambedkar and Lahuji Vastad (19th Century Dalit warrior who fought against the British) as icons and that a large number of Dalit activists are a part of Hindu Ekta Manch.
In his first term as a BJP corporator in Pune between 1997 and 2002, Ekbote had come to a fist-fight with a Muslim corporator over the construction of Haj House. Ekbote fought as an independent for a second term and won after he was denied a ticket. After losing the corporation election in 2007, he launched his Hindu Ekta Manch the same year, which has since then spearheaded anti-Valentine's Day protests.
In 2014, he contested the Assembly elections on a Shiv Sena ticket and lost. Ekbote's sister-in-law Jyotsna Ekbote is a sitting BJP corporator in Pune. View More