Maharashtra recommended Bhima-Koregaon clash accused Sambhaji Bhide for Padma Shri
Manohar alias Sambhaji Bhide, a right-wing leader from Sangli accused of inciting the Bhima-Koregaon violence on January 1, had been recommended for a Padma award by the BJP government in Maharashtra in 2016.
A high-power committee, comprising 10 senior ministers, had recommended Bhide’s name for the Padma Shri. Significantly, the recommendation had been made by the committee using its discretion, even though the government had not received any application for it.
The relevant documents were obtained by HT from the state government’s protocol department under the Right To Information Act.
Bhide, 84, who is also known as Bhide Guruji, is a controversial figure. His name was in the First Information Report (FIR) with another right wing leader Milind Ekbote. They have been accused of inciting villagers, who attacked Dalit groups paying tributes to the Mahar regiment soldiers who they believe defeated the Peshwas.
He also faces charges of instigating communal riots in Miraj-Sangli in Sangli district during Ganpati emersion, over an arch sporting a poster depicting the slaying of Afzal Khan. A demand was made for his arrest, but the then Congress-NCP government did not take any action against him. He was also in the news nationally when the organisation ransacked theatres to protest the Hindi movie Jodha-Akbar in 2008.
A former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) worker, Bhide is founder of an outfit, Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, which has been active for the past three decades in spreading awareness about the life of Maratha warrior king Shivaji. He has a following, especially among the youths, in a few districts of western Maharashtra.
The 11-member committee comprising 10 ministers and the secretary of the protocol department, shortlists the names to be recommended for the Padma awards as state entries from the applications they receive every year. The committee has the discretionary powers to recommend the names that have not figured in the applications they receive. The committee, headed by housing minister Prakash Mehta, had recommended Bhide’s name among 15 others. The recommendations were sent to the Centre on October 12, 2015.
Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr BR Ambedkar and a Dalit leader, criticised the government’s decision, terming it ‘intellectual bankruptcy’.
“Neither Congress-led government dared to arrest him, nor incumbent Fadnavis-led government can arrest him for his involvement even though his name is there in the FIR. The reasons behind it are obvious. The local police had initiated the procedure of his externment after the Sangli riots in 2008,” he said. Ambedkar had insisted for the arrest of Bhide and Ekbote after the Bhima-Koregaon violence, which had large spread impact across the state. Ekbote moved Supreme Court for the anticipatory bail.
The committee members however feel nothing wrong in recommending Bhide’s name. “I know him personally. He is ardent follower of Shivaji Maharaj and ‘obsessed’ with the motive of building an idealistic young generation. He has been leading a humble and selfless life. I do not remember the details of the meetings, but had we recommended his name and I stand by the decision. There is no big deal if he is facing any charges in Bhima -Koregaon incident because even I am facing a number of cases for my participation in social agitations,” said Girish Mahajan, water resources minister and a member of the committee.
Nitin Chaugule, working president of Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, said, “Yes, Guruji had been asked about the Padma award, but he had simply refused to accept it. He said it was against his principles and would be against the ‘wish’ of Chhatrapati Shivaji and Sambhaji Maharaj. I do not know if the government had recommended his name even after the refusal.”
Among other names recommended with Bhide, were water conservation activist Popatrao Pawar, medical field practitioners Dr Anil Kumar, Dr Rumi Fardu Behramji, Dr Aswhin Mehta, Dr Ragini Parekh and actors Prashant Damle and Asha Parekh.
Centre approved three names from the list of 66 in 2016 and one from the list of 44 in 2017. This year, the state recommended 84 names, from whom three were awarded with the Padma awards.