The two-member commission set up by the State government to probe the causes of the Bhima-Koregaon clash that occurred on January 1, 2018, and identify those responsible for it has received another extension for a period of three months.
According to advocate Ashish Satpute, a lawyer for the commission, the State Home department issued a letter on November 8 granting it an extension till February 8, 2020.
This is the fourth extension granted by the government, which had formed the commission, comprising retired Kolkata High Court chief justice J.N. Patel and former Maharashtra chief secretary Sumit Mullick, in February 2018 to inquire into the sequence of events leading to the New Year’s Day violence in Bhima-Koregaon and the adjoining villages, which left one person dead besides heightening tension across the State.
The commission has so far received nearly 500 affidavits — from victims, Dalit outfits, NGOs, right wing groups, government, and police officials — across Pune, Mumbai and Thane.
Since its constitution, the commission has been granted two extensions of four months each and another extension of six months before being given this three-month extension.
Ambedkarite parties have repeatedly expressed concern over the allegedly tardy progress of the two-member commission. Outfits like the Republican Yuva Morcha have accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of trying to shelter the true perpetrators.
“The commission was supposed to submit its finding within four months. However, proceedings have dragged on for 18 months now. We hope that this fourth extension is the last such required by the panel to wrap up the probe,” said Republican Yuva Morcha’s State president Rahul Dambale.
He said leaders of fringe right wing outfits like Sambhaji Bhide which had an affinity with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had not yet been investigated.
In its status report submitted to the government, the commission secretary said so far examination of 17 witnesses has been completed and that eight have been partially heard. Also, it said more than 50 witnesses are needed to be called.
For several Dalit activists, the narrative of the Bhima-Koregaon battle, where Mahar community members fought under the Union Jack to allegedly defeat Peshwa Bajirao II’s numerically superior forces in 1818, signified a major step in the ongoing struggle against caste oppression and Brahminical domination.
While lakhs of Dalits converge near the victory pillar (Ranstambh or Jayastambh) each year to pay their respects, the celebrations in 2018 were marred by the clash.
Since then, there have been two investigations. The Pune Rural police have lodged an FIR against Hindutva leaders Mr. Bhide and Milind Ekbote, naming them as the orchestrators of the violence. The Pune City police have conducted multi-city crackdowns and have arrested nine lawyers, writers, intellectuals and activists, including advocate Surendra Gadling, professor Shoma Sen, poet P. Varavara Rao, and Sudha Bharadwaj for their alleged links with Maoist outfits and for their roles in the ‘Elgaar Parishad’ and the subsequent Bhima-Koregaon clash.