The Maharashtra government has withdrawn at least six riot cases against right-wing leader and the main suspect in Koregaon-Bhima violence Sambhaji Bhide, the response to an RTI has revealed. Hundreds of workers of the Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, headed by Mr Bhide, have been cleared in rioting cases. Rioting charges have also been dropped in dozens of cases involving BJP and Shiv Sena leaders and supporters.
The police, however, have clarified that no charges against 85-year-old Sambhaji Bhide and others have been removed in Koregaon-Bhima violence case.
"The investigation is in progress," Pune Superintendent of Police (SP) Sandeep Patil told news agency ANI.
Three of the six cases dropped against the former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's (RSS) member were related to violence following the release of Hindi film Jodhaa Akbar.
In the protests led by the Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, hundreds of activists tore down posters of the film and shouted slogans outside a multiplex in Sangli, about 375 km from Mumbai. The protesters went on a rampage throwing stones at cops and damaging buses and vehicles, including a police van.
Maharashtra's Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said the withdrawls were done in accordance with the government resolution (GR) issued by the previous Congress-NCP government. "The GR says that cases of protests and movements initiated for public can be withdrawn," he said.
The information revealed by the RTI added that at least eight circulars were issued by the Maharashtra government since June last year asking for withdrawal of cases against Mr Bhide, leaders of the BJP and Shiv Sena and thousands of party workers.
The RTI, filed by Mumbai-based activist Shakeel Ahmed Shaikh, had sought information since 2008 on the number of cases withdrawn against political leaders and individuals. The reply to the RTI said that the first such notification was issued in 2017 during the BJP-Sena regime.
"The Maharashtra government has withdrawn 41 cases in the last one year. Of these 14 cases were dropped against MLAs, BJP and Sena leaders and their party supporters," Mr Shaikh told NDTV.
Had these cases not been withdrawn against Mr Bhide, the Koregaon-Bhime violence could have been avoided, the activist added.
Sambhaji Bhide is accused of instigating violence against the 200th anniversary celebrations of the Koregaon-Bhima battle. The violence that occurred near the war memorial at Koregaon-Bhima near Pune on January 1 had triggered a sharp reaction from Dalit organisations, which called for a shutdown in Mumbai and elsewhere in Maharashtra.
A report by a 10-member committee formed by the Pune Police said that the violence in which one person was killed and many injured was orchestrated by Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote. Mr Bhide was named in the FIR registered in the case.
While Mr Ekbote was arrested and released on bail, Sambhaji Bhide wasn't even questioned due to lack of evidence. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis also told the house that there was no evidence of his role in instigating the violence.
The violence resurfaced in August after five activists were arrested following multi-city raids by the Pune Police. The police said these "urban Naxals" used the Elgar Parishad event to whip up sentiments that triggered the violence in Koregaon-Bhima.
Four of the activists continue to be under house arrest.