Maharastra, Sep 03,2018 : The arrest of 10 activists, intellectuals and lawyers from across the country, some in June this year, and some on August 28, has sparked accusations of political vendetta.
Most of those arrested by the Maharashtra Police are Left-leaning.
They have been primarily charged with inciting inter-caste violence that erupted in the village of Bhima Koregaon, near Pune, in January this year, when members of a scheduled caste community, celebrating the anniversary of the victory of a regiment of their caste over the Maratha empire, clashed with Marathas.
Several houses and cars were burnt in which one person was killed and at least three were injured.
Specifically, the activists have been booked for their alleged role in an event called the Elgar Parishad that took place a day before the riots, where police say inflammatory speeches played a role in inciting the violence.
One of the first FIRs filed after the violence, however, accused Hindutva groups, not Leftists, of inciting the violence.
The complainant was Anita Savale, a member of Bahujan Republican Socialist Party, who named two Hindutva leaders, 56-year-old Milind Ekbote and 85-year-old Sambhaji Bhide.
Five people are in jail, while the other five are under house arrest after an intervention by the Supreme Court
Ekbote runs the Samasth Hindu Aghadi and Bhide heads the Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan.
According to Ms Savale’s FIR, members of their organisation led the attack. "The violent crowd was calling their (Ekbote and Bhide’s) names and they were wearing shirts with the name of their organisations." Ms Savale told NDTV.
But the police seem to have given far greater weightage to an FIR filed four days later, by a 38-year-old Pune-based businessman called Tushar Damgude.
It was Mr Damgude’s FIR that brought in the Maoist angle, naming six organisers of the Elgar Parishad for making inflammatory speeches, distributing pamphlets and books with provocative content that he claimed led to the violence next day.
"From our freedom fighters to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, they were referred to as extortionists, oppressors of scheduled castes, is it not problematic?" Mr Damgude told NDTV.
Both FIRs purport to be eyewitness accounts; the contrast in the police response to these two FIRs, however, is striking.
Based on Mr Damgude’s complaint, the Pune city police has so far raided the houses of at least 17 people across six states - Delhi, Haryana, Telangana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Goa, arresting 10 individuals in all: an assortment of left-leaning activists, writers, professors and lawyers.
They have all been slapped with terror charges. Five people are in jail since June, while the other five are under house arrest after an intervention by the Supreme Court.
The charges against them have expanded far beyond the Pune riots, stretching to a Maoist plot to assassinate the Prime Minister.
By contrast, acting on Mr Savale’s complaint, the police arrested Ekbote on March 14. He walked out on bail within a month.
He has been charged with attempt to murder, promoting enmity between different groups and the Atrocities Act - all serious charges, but not as stringent as the anti-terror laws under which the Left-leaning activists have been booked.
No action has yet been taken against Bhide. The police say they have found no evidence against Bhide yet.
Sambhaji Bhide has drawn praise from PM Modi during an election rally in Sangli, Maharashtra, in 2014
In fact, they are yet to question him.
The police, however, told NDTV that they will file a charge-sheet against Ekbote and that they have evidence showing his involvement in inciting the violence.
They found that the people in the violent mob are active members of Ekbote’s organisation who distributed provocative pamphlets two to three days before the incident. They have also recovered call detail records of Ekbote with members of the mob.
Moreover, there are 24 criminal cases pending against Ekbote, which include cases of promoting enmity between communities, rioting and criminal intimidation.
Mihir Desai, an advocate for the Left activists says the lopsided response is because of political reasons.
Bhide is said to be a former member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and has drawn praise from Prime Minister Narendra Modi during an election rally in Sangli, Maharashtra, in 2014.
"I am extremely grateful to Bhideji, because he didn’t invite me, he ordered me. I have known Bhide Guruji for many years now, when we were learning about public service, we were given Bhide Guruji’s example, he is a great man," PM Modi had then said.
The Pune police has denied any pressure.
Curiously, Mr Damgude, the complainant against the Left activists is also an admirer of Bhide.
His Facebook page contains a litany of criticisms against the Left.
"Whether Bhide is innocent or guilty will be decided in court. What ideology I follow is not pertinent to this case," Mr Damgude said.