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Meet the leaders charged with stoking Pune violence: Physics gold medallist, ex-corporator

Anita Savale, a member of the Bahujan Republican Socialist Party, has filed a case against Sambhaji Bhide of the Shiv Pratisthan group and Milind Ekbote of the Hindu Ekta Aghadi

pune Updated: Jan 03, 2018 22:42 IST
Yogesh Joshi
Yogesh Joshi
Hindustan Times, Pune
Bhima Koregaon,Maharashtra bandh,Pune
Sambhaji Bhide (foreground, orange turban) is charged with inciting violence at Koregaon Bhima.(HT Photo)

The two men booked for violence that brought Pune, Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra to a standstill fancy themselves as protectors of cows, Hindutva and Maratha pride.

Sambhaji Bhide, a gold medallist in physics, and Milind Ekbote were booked for January 1 violence at Koregaon Bhima that left a man dead and angered Dalits, who on Wednesday called a Maharashtra bandh.

Violence broke out at Koregaon Bhima, 40km from Pune, where hundreds of thousands of people, most of them Dalits, had gathered to mark the anniversary of an 1818 war between the British and Peshwa Bajirao II.

Many Dalit leaders believe the war was won by the British with the help of Dalit soldiers who defeated a large army of the Peshwa, who allegedly instituted oppressive caste practices.

Despite tight security, some groups waving saffron flags allegedly pelted stones at the gathering and it degenerated into a riot.

Bhide and Ekbote were booked for stirring trouble.

Ekbote, a former corporator who unsuccessfully contested the 2014 assembly election on a Shiv Sena ticket, refuted the charge, saying few organisations were trying to shift the blame on Hindutva outfits.

“We condemned the violence at Koregaon Bhima. Me or my organisation has never discriminated between Dalits and non-Dalits,” he said.

Bharipa Bahujan Samaj leader Prakash Ambedkar accused Ekbote and Bhide of instigating violence by visiting Vadu village.

Tension gripped Vadu, 3km from Koregaon Bhima, last week after 49 people were booked for allegedly vandalising a nameplate at the tomb of Govind Mahar Gaikwad.

A Dalit farmer, Gaikwad had defied Aurangzeb’s to arrange the final rites on Chhatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj, who was murdered by the soldiers of the Mughal Emperor.

Ekbote, a known hardliners, and his followers are often in news for cow vigilantism in Pune and neighbouring districts.

The 60-year-old has 12 cases against him, with most pertaining to promoting enmity between various groups.

He and his Hindu Ekta Aghadi members regularly intercept vehicles carrying cows and have got police complaints filed against those trafficking animals for slaughter.

Two days before the Koregaon Bhima anniversary, Ekbote had addressed a press conference in Pune and spoken against a Dalit event planned at Shianiwarwada area of the city on December 31 to commemorate the battle.

Bhide is a former Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh worker and came of his own in late 1980s when he launched Shiv Pratisthan after he fell out with the BJP’s ideological parent.

He sees himself as an ardent follower of Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji and every year takes youngsters for a tour of Maratha forts across the state.

His Shiv Pratisthan activists visit the Raigad fort every day for the upkeep of Shivaji’s samadhi.

Bhide, who considers himself a keeper of Maratha pride, faced a police case for tearing off posters of Jodhaa Akbar for alleged controversial references in the film.

Sangli and adjoining towns had observed a complete shutdown when Bhide was hurt during a cane charge in February 2008 after he and his workers stopped the screening of the film.

He was in the news during 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Raigad fort on his invitation.

Bhide hails from Sabniswadi in Satara district and has a master’s in physics, with a gold medal, from Pune University.

He taught in a college for a few years before he moved to Sangli in 1975 and became an RSS pracharak. Though he gave up his RSS membership, he continues to be a staunch Hindutva activist.

First Published: Jan 03, 2018 17:20 IST