Mumbai: A day after Dalit protests rocked Maharashtra and brought Mumbai to a halt, Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh president Prakash Ambedkar, who had given the strike call, indicated the protest will resume if chief minister Devendra Fadnavis did not honour his assurances.
On Thursday, Ambedkar reiterated his demand for immediate arrests of Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan’s founder Sambhaji Bhide and Samasta Hindu Aaghadi’s Milind Ekbote for their “conspiracy to create violence against peaceful Dalits in Bhima Koregaon on 1 January."
Ambedkar, grandson of Bhimrao Ambedkar and a former member of Parliament, met Fadnavis on Thursday with a set of demands.
Later, Ambedkar told reporters that the chief minister had agreed to halt the “combing operations" launched by the Maharashtra Police to apprehend those protesters who had indulged in acts of violence and arson.
“We told Fadnavis that the people who had come on streets to protest were ordinary karyakartas (workers). If the police gives us lists of people who have indulged in serious crimes during these protests, we will take these people to police stations and let the law take its course. But the combing operation is carried out for terrorists and not for ordinary protesters. Fadnavis has agreed to stop the combing operation," he said.
Ambedkar said he expected the chief minister to implement these assurances, failing which the Ambedkarites may resume the protest. “I cannot guarantee that the protest would remain under control if the government does not fulfil the promises it has made," he said.
Meanwhile, Maharashtra remained by and large peaceful on Thursday after three days of trouble and tension triggered by stone-pelting against Dalits at Bhima Koregaon on the outskirts of Pune where they had gathered to pay respects to the valour of Mahar (a Dalit caste) soldiers who had fought alongside the British Army against the Peshwas in the third Anglo-Indian war in 1818.
Except for an unsuccessful rail blockade attempt in Thane city adjoining Mumbai, the state remained relatively quiet except for a controversy regarding denial of permission for a students meet in Mumbai where Dalit activist and newly elected Gujarat legislator Jignesh Mevani and student leader from the Jawaharlal Nehru University Umar Khalid were scheduled to speak. Ambedkar said the chief minister had told him that the permission was denied to maintain law and order in the state and that the organizers had been informed much prior to the event.
In Sangli, hometown of Sambhaji Bhide against whom a First Information Report (FIR) has been lodged in Pimpri-Chinchwad, a rally was organized by his supporters who claimed Bhide had nothing to do with the violence in Bhima Koregaon.