'Rioters at Sharad Pawar home were drunk, attack premeditated'

The investigation by Gamdevi police points to a well-planned conspiracy, complete with provocative speeches, social media posts and plans for media coverage

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar (File photo)
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar (File photo)

Gautam S. Mengle / Mumbai

Even as security outside Silver Oak Estate, the Mumbai residence of Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, has been stepped up following the attack on his house, the investigation by the Gamdevi police points to a well-planned conspiracy, complete with provocative speeches, social media posts and plans for media coverage.

A mob of nearly 100 people, men and women combined, had marched up to Silver Oak on April 8 and pelted stones as well as footwear, causing serious injuries to a police constable and rendering him unconscious. The Gamdevi police went on to arrest 110 accused in connection with the riot, all of them Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) workers, including advocate Gunaratna Sadavarte. According to the police, Sadavarte incited the protesting MSRTC workers, which led to the riot.

Following the incident, State Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil announced that additional police personnel had been deployed at and around Silver Oak. Further, the senior police inspector in charge of Gamdevi police station has also been suspended, as the major security and intelligence lapse happened on his watch.

Meanwhile, in a joint investigation with the Gamdevi police, the Azad Maidan police have conducted inquiries with several witnesses, who have recorded statements saying that Gunaratna Sadavarte, at around 6.30 p.m. on April 7, came to Azad Maidan and met the protestors. During this time, he addressed the protestors and made provocative speeches against leaders like Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut and Anil Parab and NCP’s Sharad Pawar and Nawab Malik. He further incited the protestors to conduct “such a protest outside Pawar’s Baramati residence on April 12, that he shouldn’t be able to leave his house.” An officer who is part of the investigation said that five witnesses, including three policemen, have all attested to this in their statements.

The police also suspect that at least some of the rioters were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident, and have sent their blood samples for testing. Gunaratna Sadavarte is currently in police custody, while the other 109 accused are in judicial custody.

Some important clues have also emerged from the cell phones seized from the arrested accused. In particular, one of them, Mohammed Tajuddin Sheikh, had made a post on social media platforms after the riot, which said, “All MSRTC workers in the State are hereby informed that the “chappal fenk andolan” outside Silver Oak today was a genuine one. The reason behind it is that in the last Kolhapur assembly, Pawar had said he would merge the MSRTC with the State government, but did not do so, due to which 112 of our brethren died by suicide. Many of you have been calling me up today. I just want to tell you to throw footwear and break bangles at Pawar’s house before leaving Mumbai. I request that none of you be afraid.”

The police have also found other chats that contained provocative messages like “Danke Ki Chot Pe, Bharosa Kaale Coat Pe” and “Savdhan Sharad Savdhan Sharad Savdhan Sharad”, with pictures of Gunaratna Sadavarte and his wife.

“Apart from these messages, there are several videos of Gunaratna Sadavarte that we have found, all of which show him making provocative speeches targetted at Pawar. Chandrakant Suryavanshi, a correspondent with a Marathi YouTube news channel, is a wanted accused in the case. He has deleted many of the videos featuring Gunaratna Sadavarte that he had earlier uploaded. Investigations have also revealed that they were in touch before the offence was committed,” a senior Mumbai Police officer said.

Another officer added, “After Gunaratna Sadavarte’s arrest, some of the MSRTC workers came to the police station and recorded statements saying that he collected Rs 530 from each of them as ‘expenses’ for the merger, and did not issue any receipt or acknowledgement for the money. We are trying to find out what the money was used for, and how much the total amount was.”

A study of Gunaratna Sadavarte’s cell phone shows that he has deleted his WhatsApp chats, which need to be recovered. The police are also trying to recover his old phone, as his current phone shows that WhatsApp was only installed on it on April 1 this year.

The police, however, have found one suspicious message on Gunaratna Sadavarte’s current phone, a message sent by a suspect to Gunaratna Sadavarte which simply says, “Sir, send reporters.”

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Published: 13 Apr 2022, 12:48 PM