Mumbai: As part of a massive outreach programme planned in Maharashtra, both Union home minister Amit Shah and state home minister Devendra Fadnavis were in Nanded on June 10. Only 10 days before their visit, the district had witnessed a dastardly incident in which a 24-year-old Dalit youth, Akash Bhalerao, was killed by a caste Hindu Maratha mob. The community and anti-caste activists had expected the two to visit the family. Instead, the police put an anti-caste leader under detention till Shah, Fadnavis and other BJP leaders had left the city.
Rahul Pradhan, president of Yuva Panther and a known anti-caste leader from the region, has been at the forefront of seeking justice for Bhalerao’s family. Eight persons, all belonging to the Maratha community, have been arrested for their role in Bhalerao’s killing. Bhalerao was stabbed by the men, allegedly for his role in ensuring Ambedkar Jayanti celebrations in Bondhar Haveli village. The court on Wednesday, June 14, sent them to judicial custody.
On June 10, even before Pradhan had woken up in the morning, the police landed at his doorstep and asked him to report to the police station. “The policemen said nothing. Just asked me to come along to the police station. But since it was already known that Shah and Fadnavis were in town, I knew what this was about,” Pradhan shared.
Pradhan was put under “preventive detention” at the Local Crime branch (LCB), attached to the Superintendent of Police’s office in Nanded City for over 13 hours. Here, Pradhan says, he was asked about his social organisation, the names of its active members, and if they had plans to boycott the BJP leaders in any way. “We have been trying to amplify the case and find ways to get Bhalerao’s family justice. But this effort is looked at as a criminal act,” Pradhan says. The Wire tried to reach the LCB office but has not heard back. The story will be updated as and when any response is received.
Pradhan had sent representations to both chief minister Eknath Shinde and his deputy Fadnavis seeking intervention in the case. He hasn’t received any response from them.
At the public event, Shah challenged former Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray about his political stances on certain issues. Shah provocatively spoke about the issue of triple talaq (a form of divorce followed under the Muslim personal law which has been outlawed), the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, and reservation for Muslims among other things. But there was no mention of the issues of growing communal violence and caste hatred in the state.
Our leader Hon Union HM @AmitShah ji’s few questions to Shri Uddhav Thackeray while addressing a grand public gathering in #Nanded today.
आमचे नेते, देशाचे कणखर आणि यशस्वी गृहमंत्री मा. अमितभाई शाह यांनी आज नांदेडमध्ये एका विशाल जनसभेला संबोधित केले. या सभेत त्यांनी काही प्रश्न… pic.twitter.com/we9DmqW9IV
— Devendra Fadnavis (@Dev_Fadnavis) June 10, 2023
This is not the first time that Pradhan has been kept in detention. Following the Bhima Koregaon violence in Pune rural region on January 1, 2018, protests were carried out on a massive scale. In the Marathwada region, Pradhan was one of the leaders at the forefront, organising and mobilising the Bahujan youth to demand justice. This activism led to his arrest and multiple cases were slapped against him and other members of his organisations. Pradhan was also externed from Nanded and neighbouring districts for a short period. He later challenged this externment order and subsequently got a stay order on it.
Since then, Pradhan has been detained by the LCB each time Fadnavis is in the city. He says, “The police simply take me to their office and make me sit there the entire day until the leader has left the town.” This, Pradhan says, is especially done when a BJP leader is in town. “I have been working for close to two decades. I didn’t face this in the past,” he adds.