That a group of ministers of the Maharashtra government thought it prudent to recommend Sambhaji Bhide, the right-wing leader who stands accused of inciting the violence at Bhima Koregaon in January, for or a Padma award in 2015 is hard enough to believe, let alone the fact that Bhide refused to accept it.
An RTI filed by the Hindustan Times, which gave the newspaper access to documents from the state government’s protocol department, reveals that such a recommendation had been made by a high-power committee comprising of ten senior ministers.
The founder of Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, 84-year-old Sambhaji Bhide was named the First Information Report (FIR), along with another right-wing leader Milind Ekbote, for instigating violence on January 1 as thousands of Dalits gathered in the area to commemorate the 200th anniversary of a historic battle in which 22 Mahar soldiers died. One person was killed in the clashes and in the days that followed, Maharashtra was rocked by a series of protests taken out by Dalits.
He also faces charges of instigating communal riots in Miraj-Sangli in Sangli district during the Ganpati immersion in 2009. The members of his organisation also ransacked theatres to protest the release of Jodha Akbar in 2008.
According to Hindustan Times, Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of Dr B.R. Ambedkar, criticised the government’s decision said that it stemmed from ‘intellectual bankruptcy’.
Ambedkar has been at the forefront of the battle to get Bhide and Ekbote arrested for their role in the violence. In early February, the Supreme Court had said that in the event of Ekbote’s arrest, he should be released on bail on furnishing a bond of Rs 1 lakh. But in the latest, the apex court reprimanded the Maharashtra police for not doing its job and arresting Ekbote.
The court said that its previous order granting Ekbote anticipatory bail till February 20 should not have stopped the police from arresting him, Hindustan Times reported. “Inspite of our order and his availability, you [did] not arrest him,” the judges told the counsel. “There is no single attempt made to arrest him. Should we hold the investigation now?”