Pune police arrested Rona Wilson in Delhi, Sudhir Dhawale in Mumbai and Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut and Surendra Gadling from Nagpur

A file photo of policemen in Bhima-Koregaon after the violence on 31 December 2017-1 January 2018. Photo: PTI

A file photo of policemen in Bhima-Koregaon after the violence on 31 December 2017-1 January 2018. Photo: PTI

Nagpur: In an early morning swoop down on Wednesday, Maharashtra’s Pune police arrested five activists, including Rona Wilson, an activist and Jawaharlal Nehru University alumnus, in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence in late December last year. While Wilson was picked up from Delhi, Dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale was arrested in Mumbai. Activists Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, and lawyer Surendra Gadling were arrested from Nagpur.

A senior police official in Nagpur who is associated with the state’s anti-Naxal operations told Mint on the condition of anonymity that all those arrested have been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

“We have been able to establish the money trail between these Naxal sympathisers and Naxals ahead of the Elgar Parishad in Pune on December 31, 2017. Offences were registered against some of these activists including Dhawale in January only for the violence that broke out in Bhima-Koregaon on 1 January that we believe their inflammatory speeches at the Elgar Parishad triggered. We have accumulated more evidence in the last few months and have a stronger case now,” the official said.

The Elgar Parishad was organised by Dalit activists and intellectuals on 31 December near Shaniwarwada in Pune which was the seat of power for the Peshwas who were the military and administrative head of the Maratha empire.

Bhima-Koregaon on the outskirts of Pune holds a significant symbolic position in the Dalit folklore because some Dalit historians and activists believe the battle of Bhima-Koregaon on 1 January 1818, which the Peshwas lost to the British army, accelerated the fall of the Peshwas.

According to this Dalit narrative, the Mahar regiment (Mahar is a Dalit caste to which Babasaheb Ambedkar belonged) which fought on the side of the British army was instrumental in this victory. The Peshwas were Brahmins and considered by Dalit activists as the caste oppressors.

Thousands of Dalits had gathered in Bhima-Koregaon on 31 December-1 January to commemorate the “valour and victory” of the Mahar regiment over the Peshwas on the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon. Incidences of arson and stone pelting were reported from Bhima-Koregaon and adjoining villages. One person died in the violence and several were injured. The violence triggered a Dalit backlash and Maharashtra bandh on 3 January which saw more instances of arson and stone pelting.

On the charges made by Dalit activists, the police filed first information reports (FIRs) against Hindutva activists Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote for “inciting the violence”. Ekbote was later arrested and is out on bail. The Pune police also filed an FIR against Dalit activist and Gujarati legislator Jignesh Mevani for making “an inflammatory speech” at the Elgar Parishad.

Sudhir Dhawale is the state president of a co-ordination committee formed for the Elgar Parishad.

Earlier, the Pune city police had on April 17 conducted searches at the residence of Dhawale, Wilson, Gadling, Elgaar Parishad organizer Harshali Potdar, and also Pune-based Sagar Gorkhe, Deepak Dhengle, Ramesh Gaichor and his wife Jyoti Jagtap, all artists of “cultural group” Kabir Kala Manch (KKM).

A complaint lodged by one Tushar Damgude at the Vishrambag police station had accused Dhawale, Potdar and members of KKM of promoting enmity and disturbing peace. The complainant had also alleged that the suspects, as per the strategy of banned CPI-Maoist, tried to mislead Dalits and incite violence.

About the arrested :

Rona Wilson: A native of Kerala, Wilson is currently based in Delhi and is the public relations secretary of the Committee for Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP). He has been active in campaigning against laws like UAPA and Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA). He is supposed to be a close aide of Delhi University professor G N Saibaba, who was arrested in May 2014 and convicted and sentenced him to life imprisonment by a Gadchiroli court in March last year.

Police sources said after Saibaba’s conviction, Wilson allegedly took over his task of “co-ordination” between left wing extremist outfits in urban and jungle areas of country and also the international network.

Sudhir Dhawale: A Dalit activist and editor of Marathi magazine ‘Vidrohi’, Dhawale founded the Republican Panthers Jatiantachi Chawal to provide a common political platform for Dalits. He also launched a movement called Radical Ambedkar. He was previously arrested in January 2011 on charges of sedition for his alleged Maoist links. However, he was acquitted of all charges by a Gondia court in May 2014. Dhawale was active in organising the Elgaar Parishad in Mumbai

Surendra Gadling: Based in Nagpur, Gadling, a lawyer, is general secretary of Indian Association of People’s Lawyers. Known to be a tribal and Dalit rights activist, he has been providing legal aid to those arrested for Maoist links, including Saibaba and Dhawale. He had provided legal help to Kabir Kala Manch artists who had been questioned by Nagpur police in September 2013 on allegations of carrying banned literature.

Shoma Sen: Nagpur-based activist Shoma Sen is a professor for English subject at the Nagpur University. She has been under the police scanner of investigating agencies for her alleged links with the left wing extremists. She was present for the Elgaar Parishad in Pune. Her husband Tusharkanti Bhattacharya was arrested last in August year by the Gujrat police in connection with a 2010 case related to Maoist activities but was later released on bail.

Mahesh Raut: Mahesh is a former Prime Minister Rural Development (PMRD) Fellow. He is alleged to be the link between jungle operatives and urban outfits of the Maoists. He has been active in the Maoist affected Gadchiroli district for last few years. In April 2014, when Raut was a PMRD fellow, he was detained by the Gadhchiroli police with his aide Harshali Potdar, after two Maoists arrested from Koinvarshi village revealed that the duo was supposed to accompany them to meet senior Maoist leaders in jungles. But Raut and Potdar were not arrested by the police and were released after questioning. Raut had recently shifted to Nagpur