Pune: Union Minister for Social Justice Ramdas Athawale, on Tuesday, said that right-wing activists Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide were behind the Koregaon-Bhima riots.
He said the government would arrest them soon. Athawale was addressing a press meet in the wake of the recent caste tensions in the State and the increasing demand for a conclusive investigation into the Koregaon-Bhima violence.
Athawale said that he and his party strongly believe that the Koregaon-Bhima incident was a pre-planned conspiracy. Bhide and Ekbote were responsible for the riots. Referring to the Maratha community, Athawale said, “The Marathas and the Dalits were collectively fighting against enemies of the region in the past. This incident is a threat to their unity. This has damaged the social fabric of Maharashtra. We strongly condemn such attempts to disturb peace in the State.”
When questioned about the responsibility of the government in handling the events, Athawale said it was not the government, but the police who failed. “It was the failure of the police at some level. After the Vadhu Budruk event, there were several meetings and protests where 1,000-1,500 youths from the area had gathered. The police should have stopped them then to avoid this situation,” he said.
There are talks in political circles that Athawale is also trying to consolidate his position as the leading proponent of Ambedkarite politics after the rise of Prakash Ambedkar in the post-Koregaon-Bhima scenario. This was evident when Athawale said, “Just because Prakash Ambedkar gave the call for the bandh does not mean that his stature has risen as a leader. My party is at the forefront of the struggle. I am not a paper tiger but a real tiger.” He said that Jignesh Mevani should stop ‘colluding with Naxals and making irresponsible statements.
Athawale said that the Elgar Parishad or the Naxalites have nothing to do with the Koregaon-Bhima violence. He said, "There is no role of Naxalites in the riots. They are our friends. We are supportive of their cause, but their methods are wrong. They should come into the mainstream and our party will make sure to make ministers out of them.”
He said that there was no question of him resigning in protest. “I am one of the few ministers from my community. I help hundreds of people using my position. The Republican unity should happen not to take away ministries but to add more ministers from the Ambedkarite parties,” he said.
Athawale was accompanied by Deputy Mayor Siddharth Dhende, who was recently in the news after a committee that he headed gave a report saying that there was conclusive evidence against Bhide and Ekbote.
Inspector General of Police Vishwas Nangre-Patil had denied the existence of any such committee. When asked to comment on this, Dhende said, “Nangre-Patil is lying. He was present at meetings of the committee. We have the minutes of the meeting as well as all the records and proofs found by the committee.”
Jibe at Uddhav Thackeray
When asked about Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray’s decision to contest elections on their own without a coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Athawale said that he would advise Uddhav to stay together. “It is clear that Narendra Modi will be chosen as the Prime Minister again in 2019. It is better that Shiv Sena stays in the coalition. He will also need my party, as without me, he can never become the CM,” Athawale said.