Sorry Modi ji, ‘Divert and Rule’ doesn’t seem to be working this time

Why is Sambhaji Bhide not being arrested or even interrogated in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence? The reason, it would appear, is that Sambhaji Bhide is revered as a guru by Narendra Modi

PTI photo
PTI photo

Mala Jay

Narendra Modi’s ‘Divert and Rule’ doesn’t seem to be working this time.  Despite raising a hue and cry about a purported assassination plot by so-called Urban Naxals – with dark hints of possible international funding -  a nagging question continues to remain unanswered:  Why is Sambhaji Bhide not being arrested or even interrogated in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence against Dalits?

The Police State-style swoop on a handful of well-known social activists was clearly meant to divert the attention of the Media and the general public from the real culprits behind what happened at Bhima Koregaon nine months ago and also from the startling revelations about the Sanatan Sansthan’s direct involvement in the murder of Gauri Lankesh and other rationalists.

However, while the raids and arrests last Tuesday have sparked off the expected protests, they have failed to deflect demands for greater urgency in uncovering the truth behind and the links between the Lankesh-Pansare-Kalburgi-Dabolkar killings and incidents like Bhima Koregaon.

On the contrary, even more questions are being asked than before on whether men like Sambaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote have any special relationships with powerful political personages.

Even the pro-Establishment media seems to smell a rat in regard to the atrocious police action against a poet in Hyderabad, a lawyer in Faridabad, a journalist in New Delhi and a priest in Ranchi on the fateful morning of August 28.

Not many are convinced about the authenticity of the claim of a devious Sriperumbadur-style plot to take down the Prime Minister.  Even less find it credible that human rights crusaders who have spent half a lifetime peacefully fighting for the poor and downtrodden can suddenly turn into would-be assassins.

Perhaps Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar phrased it most bluntly – he said he had no doubt whatsoever that the raids on social workers across Maharashtra, Goa, Delhi and Hyderabad had nothing to do with Urban Naxalism and everything to do with diverting attention from the Sanatan Sanstha and its alleged involvement in the cold-blooded murders of Dabolkar, Pansare, Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh.

After the violence at Bhima Koregaon on New year’s Day this year that left one dead, several injured and the Dailt community in shock and outrage, Maharashtra Chief Minister Fadnavis was constrained to order a CID investigation – little realizing that it would snowball into an major embarrassment for his own party’s stalwarts and saffron supporters.  But the probe so far has unraveled evidence that pro-Hindutva groups are responsible for the agitation. Two names that have emerged are those of Sambhaji Bhide, a former RSS worker and Milind Ekbote, a former BJP corporator from Pune.

This is proving awkward for those at the helm, both in Mumbai and Delhi.  Because a complaint was filed against the two the rural police had no other option but to register FIRs against Bhide and Ekbote -  containing serious charges under Section 307 amounting to attempt to murder and the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.

Predictably enough, although nine months have passed, no arrest has been made. Now suddenly the question being asked is - Why is the Police – which had displayed such alacrity and efficiency in raiding and arresting so-called urban naxals on the flimsiest of pretexts – exhibiting such reluctance to take the named suspects in the Bhima Koregaon violence into custody despite tangible evidence?

The reason, it would appear, is that Sambhaji Bhide is revered as a guru by Narendra Modi, Devender Fadnavis and Uddhav Thackeray.

During his campaign in the 2014 elections, Modi addressed Sambhaji Bhide (whose real name is Manohar) as a Mahapurush (great personality) and great Tapasvi (sage) in his speeches and lavished praise on him for the devotion to Hindutva causes.

Modi invariably made it a point to visit Bhide’s home at Sangli to seek his blessings. Local newspapers quoted him as saying during his rally speeches:  “Mein Sambahji Bhide guruji ko bahut saalon se jaanta hoon and bahut abhari hoon. Kyunki unhone mujhe nimantran nahi dete hain - mujhe hukum dete hain.  Aur aap lok aathi guruji ka hukum, sunhe ke aur palan karne ke. ….”  He even went to extent of claiming that Bhide was a gold medalist and nuclear physicist who had sacrificed his career to work in the service of Hindutva.

There are also newspaper records to show that both Narendra Modi and Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray had sought Bhide’s blessings and bowed their heads when he reprimanded them for contesting the elections separately and thereby weakening the saffron alliance at that time.

After such reverence, it is obviously unthinkable for either Modi or Thackeray or for that matter Devender Fadnavis to allow their guruji to spend even a day behind bars on charges attempt to murder and of inciting violence against Dalits.

Even otherwise, arresting him would be putting at risk the Hindutva votebank.   Because being a staunch devotee of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Sambhaji Bhide has a built a huge following in several parts of Maharashtra, particularly Sangli, Satara and Kolhapur.  He is considered an expert on Maratha history and has a large following.

He is the founder president of Shiv Pratishtan which organizes youth treks to Maratha forts where Bhide delivers lectures on Shivaji Maharaj and his exploits.  In television interview a year ago, Bhide had made no secret of his hardline views - as a patriotic and die-hard Shivaji follower he said, he regards Pakistan as India’s Enemy No. 1.  Acccording to him,  “Poison has to be countered with poison and the only way to deal with Pakistan is with weapons”.

Modi’s guruji is also clear in his mind that India belongs to Hindus. In his opinion at a moment in history when the Hindu religion is on the verge of spreading throughout the planet, even to talk of secularism is a sign of weakness.

There are those who say that since Bhide is of advanced age, close to being an octogenarian, all demands for his arrest are cruel and churlish.  However, they do not evince similar compassion in the case of Varavara Rao who is 77 or Father Stan Swamy who is 83.

Nor do they view Varavara Rao as a well-known Telugu poet and college principal with four decades of teaching experience.  The police, they point out consider him a suspect in a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Similarly, Stan Swamy is a Christian priest and hence should be deemed as guilty till he is able to prove his innocence.  It matters little that he has devoted a lifetime working for tribal welfare in Jharkhand and had not even heard of Bhima Koregaon till the police raided his humble abode in Ranchi.

Also involved in tribal welfare is Sudha Bharadwaj a lawyer who takes up tribal rights cases - but she is also an engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur, who renounced American citizenship despite being born in Massachusetts and has spent the last 30 years fighting against MNC mining companies usurping adivasi land in Chhattisgarh.  She too was nabbed by the police from her Faridabad residence at dawn last Tuesday and is currently under house arrest thanks to the apex court order asking for valid grounds for suspecting her of conniving to devise a devious Sriperumbadur-style plot to take down a Prime Minister.

Similar is that case of Gautam Navlakha -  well-known Delhi-based journalist, Penguin author, human rights campaigner and regular contributor to the Economic and Political Weekly.  He too was raided at 6 a.m. on Tuesday and had all his books, papers and electronic equipment seized.  For the same reason: suspected of being a dreaded “urban terrorist” with links to the Modi assassination plot.

Several others too were raided and labeled as wanna-be terrorists -  In Mumbai, the home of activist Vernon Gonsalves and his lawyer wife Susan Abraham, was also raided at around 6 am.  Lawyer Arun Ferreira also received a similar police visit.   In Hyderabad, the police turned up at the residences of Varavara Rao’s two daughters, Pavana and Anala, and their husbands Satyanarayana, a college professor, and Kurmanath, a journalist,  Raids were also simultaneously conducted at the homes of others like Kranti Tekula and Naseem, both suspected of being in the ring of conspirators.

Unfortunately for Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha and all their fellow suspects in the Modi murder case, despite their lifetime of selfless service in the cause of the oppressed and exploited, they lack Sambhaji Bhide’s exalted status as the Prime Minister’s revered Guruji.

In Goa, the target was another suspected “urban guerilla” – award-winning writer and management guru Anand Teltumbde.  Professor Teltumbde, incidentally, holds a post-graduate diploma in management from IIM Ahmadabad and a mechanical engineering degree from Nagpur’s prestigious Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology.

That apart, Teltumbde has also been an Executive Director of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd and the CEO of Petronet India Ltd and handled assignments in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania and China. In fact, he was a member of the study group on Petroleum Deregulation in 1995 and worked on several government nd corporate committees.

A management teacher at the Goa Institute of Management, Prof. Teltumbde has also taught post-graduates and doctoral students at various other management institutes and has even been a Ph D examiner.  He has published more than 20 research papers in reputed international journals in the areas like Business Strategy, Production Research, Ergonomics and Information Technology.

He is the recipient of awards and recognitions for his social work too -  Ambedkar Centenary Award (UK), Ram Manohar Lohia Centenary Award, Vikas Ratna and Maharashtra Foundation (USA).  In 2014, the Karnataka State University conferred on him an honorary doctorate.

Considered a noted scholar on people movements and Dalit causes, he has authored several books and contributed articles in magazines like Outlook India, Seminar, Frontier and Economic & Political Weekly (in which he writes a regular column 'Margin Speak').

All said and done, it was a glorious red-letter day in the history of law and order in India under BJP-RSS rule.   A nefarious attempt to assassinate the Prime Minister has been nipped in the bud – most probably nipped even before any of the alleged co-conspirators could even plant the seeds of their evil thoughts.

The simultaneous surgical operation across the country was well-coordinated and precise.  The suspected ring leaders have been nabbed and neutralized in Mumbai, Delhi, Ranchi, Goa and Hyderabad -  much before they could have turned from being poets, writers, journalists, lawyers and management gurus into deadly Urban Terrorists.

This was second swoop on the murderous gang members who have spent their whole life planning to physically eliminate Narendra Modi.  The first surgical strike was on June 6 – when in another coordinated operation the police had arrested Professor Shoma Sen in Nagpur,  Rona Wilson from Delhi,  Sudhir Dhawale in Mumbai and many oothers including Surendra Gadling and Mahesh Raut.

The raids and arrests of teachers, thinkers and human rights crusaders have collectively achieved the main objectives – to protect the Prime Minister from physical liquidation and also to deflect attention away from the investigation of cases against Hindutva leaders Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide, who have been accused of provoking the violence in Bhima Koregaon in January.

Unfortunately for Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Anand Teltumbde, Gautam Navlakha and all their fellow suspects in the Modi murder case, despite their lifetime of selfless service in the cause of the oppressed and exploited, they lack Sambhaji Bhide’s exalted status as the Prime Minister’s revered Guruji.

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