Maharashtra Hindutva leader in police custody till March 19

Pune: A Pune court on Thursday sent to police custody till March 19 Hindutva leader Milind Ekbote who has been accused of provoking the January 1 caste riots of Bhima-Koregaon in Maharashtra.

Ekbote, leader of the rightwing Hindu Ekta Aghadi, was arrested on Wednesday after the Supreme Court dismissed his plea for anticipatory bail.

His arrest followed two First Information Reports (FIRs) lodged in early January by Dalit activists Sushma Andhare and Anita Salve against Ekbote and another rightwing leader from Sangli, Sambhaji Bhide alias Guruji.

The complainants accused them of instigating, planning and orchestrating the violence during the 200th anniversary celebrations of the Anglo-Maratha War between the army of Peshwa Bajirao II which was vanquished by a small force of East India Company that comprised a large number of Dalits.

During the rioting that shook Bhima-Koregaon and surroundings, a youth from Nanded was killed and properties worth over Rs 13 crore was damaged or destroyed.

Ekbote has been charged with provoking the riots, criminal conspiracy, rioting armed with deadly weapons, unlawful assembly, defiling places of worship with intent to insult religion and more.

Earlier, Pune Rural Police summoned Ekbote on at least five occasions but he appeared only once and then allegedly failed to cooperate in the probe.

Meanwhile, he applied for anticipatory bail in Pune Sessions Court which was rejected on January 22 and again dismissed by the Bombay High Court on February 2.

Thereafter, the Pune Sessions Court issued an arrest warrant against Ekbote, who moved the Supreme Court for interim bail which was granted till March 14 but only after rapping the state government for tardy progress in the investigations.

In its report to the apex court, the state government said he was not cooperating with the investigation.

Accordingly, a bench of Justice M.B. Lokur, Justice Kurien Joseph and Justice Deepak Gupta dismissed Ekbote’s bail plea on Wednesday.