The Elgar Parishad case became prominent because of the arrests of some high-profile activists and lawyers, some of whom are in jail for years now. The initial investigation had focused on the people and groups who had organized the Elgar Parishad. Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani and former JNU student Umar Khalid were among those who had participated in Elgar Parishad and made speeches. Pune police claimed that while carrying out the investigation; it had stumbled upon material that provided clues about the operations of a larger underground network of banned Naxalite groups.
In June 2018, the Pune police had arrested five activists and lawyers from Pune, Nagpur and Delhi, claiming that these had links to the banned Naxalite organization, CPI (Maoist) and had played a role in organizing the Elgar Parishad. Later that year, in August, the Pune police carried out simultaneous searches at the houses of eight prominent activists in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Goa and Ranchi. Its bid to arrest the activists was foiled by judicial intervention, but three months later, it managed to arrest four of them, including Chhattisgarh-based Sudha Bhardwaj, and Hyderabad-based Varavara Rao. They have been in jail ever since. The others, Anand Teltumbde, a Goa-based academic and professor, and Delhi-based Gautam Navalakha have managed to obtain judicial reprieve against their arrests.
In the courts, the Pune police have claimed that the arrested activists had active links to the CPI(Maoist) which was engaged in destabilising the country and working against national security. It had even been claimed that the arrested people were associated with a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi but no such claims could be proved by agencies or cops.
The Elgar Parishad was an event held on 31 December 2017 to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon Bhima. It was organised by a coalition of 260 non-profit organisations at Pune’s Shaniwarwada Fort and had approximately 35,000 people in attendance. The program consisted of a number of cultural performances, speeches and slogans. On 1 January 2018, violence broke out at Bhima Koregaon, where lakhs of Dalits had converged to commemorate the battle. One person was killed, and three others were injured.
In the months following the event, a number of people present at the event were arrested under laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). This included Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Mahesh Raut, Sudhir Dhawale and Shoma Sen. However, Justices BG Kolse-Patil and PB Sawant refuted their claims. The Justices said that it was the two of them who were the main organisers and sole funders of the event and that they had held a similar event against communalism and Hindutva in October 2015 at the same venue.
Every year on the first day of January, thousands of people belonging to the Dalit community (Mostly Mahars) gather near the ‘victory pillar’ in Koregaon to celebrate an event that took place 2 centuries back. Dalit groups observe this day as a victory over the forces of the upper caste Peshwas. This year the event turned into a violent episode, as the Dalits and Upper casts’ rightists clashed very badly.
However, according to various think tanks and prominent personalities, Elgar Parishad has no connection with Naxalites. Prakash Ambedkar has also stated that the objective of Elgar Parishad was to bridge the growing divide between Marathas versus OBC and SC/STs. He finds no reason for linking Elgar Parishad’s activities with Maoists or Bhima Koregaon violence.
Maha Vikas Aghadi in Maharashtra had said it would re-examine the Elgar Parishad case. A team of Pune police had made a presentation before deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and then the home minister Anil Deshmukh about the status of the case but no conclusion was drawn. There was a difference of opinion between Uddhav Thackeray and Ajit Pawar over the same issue.
So far, The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has submitted 17 draft charges against the accused in the Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case under various sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) before a special court in Mumbai. The draft states, the accused attempted to “wage war against the governments of India and Maharashtra.” The accused recruited students from various universities, including Jawaharlal Nehru University and Tata Institute of Social Science for the commission of terrorist activity and that there was a specific allegation against Anand Teltumbde that he “knowingly caused evidence to disappear with the intention of screening the offenders from legal punishment.
The criminal conspiracy was with the intention of “bringing about the cession of a part of the territory of India” and “incited individuals to bring about such secession and disrupted the territorial integrity of India.” The accused had, “intent to strike terror in the people, any section of the people in India and in the state of Maharashtra by using explosive substances like logistics, wires, nails, nitrate powder, and possessing and transporting sophisticated weapons like, Chinese QLZ 87 Automatic Grenade Launcher and, Russian GM-94 Grenade Launcher and M-4 with 400,000 rounds which by its very nature was to cause or likely to cause death or injuries to any person or persons or loss of or damage to or destruction of properties and was an attempt to do or cause the death of public functionary. But so far none of these claims is proven against them. Most of them are senior citizens and languishing in jail.
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