In a shocking twist to the Bhima Koregaon case, the name of Manohar ‘Shambhaji’ Bhide has been dropped from the case as police claim that they have found no evidence against him. The Pune Police submitted as much before the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) in Mumbai on May 4, 2022, reported Indian Express.
Readers would recall that Bhide’s name was included, along with that of Milind Ekbote, in a First Information Report (FIR) filed by Dalit Rights activist Anita Sawale, just a day after the violence broke out on January 1, 2018. The duo had been accused of instigating the violence by making inflammatory speeches in the run up to the anti-Dalit violence at Bhima Koregaon where one person was killed and several injured.
Though Ekbote was arrested by the Pune Rural Police after the Supreme Court rejected his anticipatory bail plea, chargesheeted in the case and later released on bail, Bhide was never arrested as police say they never had any evidence against him.
Meanwhile, a Mumbai-based lawyer moved SHRC against Bhide’s name being included in the case. Indian Express quoted his complaint as asking, “How long will a sword of FIR hang over the head of Bhide guruji?” He cited a statement by former Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Phadnavis saying no evidence was found against Bhide.
Following this the SHRC sought a status report from the Pune Rural Police. On May 4, a report dated May 3 and signed by Superintendent of Police Abhinav Deshmukh that said police have not found any evidence against Bhide was submitted to the SHRC. The report further said his name was dropped from the case.
The commission has now posted the matter for final hearing on July 4.
Bhide, a former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) worker, is a controversial figure who has been active in propagating militant Hindutva ideology and building Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan. He has been rather active in the past three decades in supposedly ‘spreading awareness’ on the life of Maratha warrior king Shivaji. It is noteworthy that Bhide also faces charges of instigating communal riots in Miraj-Sangli in Sangli district during Ganpati immersion, over an arch sporting a poster depicting the slaying of Afzal Khan. Though a demand was made for his arrest, the then Congress-NCP government didn’t take any action against him. He also played a major role when his organisation ransacked theatres to protest the film, Jodha Akbar in 2008.