Sambhaji Bhide is a religious leader with all-party support, while Milind Ekbote is an ex-BJP corporator who grabs headlines for pushing a Hindutva agenda.
Mumbai: A religious leader from Sangli who attracts youth in large numbers and was visited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Maharashtra election campaign.
A Pune-based Hindutva activist who has dabbled in politics and has a habit of making headlines.
These are the two people Dalit groups allege orchestrated the Bhima-Koregaon violence.
The Pimpri-Chinchwad police booked 85-year-old Sambhaji Bhide, who heads Shri Shivpratishthan, and 56-year-old Milind Ekbote, leader of Samasta Hindu Aghadi, late Tuesday night under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Both organisations have denied any involvement in the clashes.
In defence of ‘guruji’ Bhide
Avinash Markale, a leader in the Shivpratishthan, said: “In the more than 30 years that our organisation has been around, Bhide guruji has never even once spoken about castes or communities. We don’t look at that at all. Our ideology has been to work for Hindutva, promote the teachings of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, and work for the country’s benefit.”
Markale said Bhide was in Sangli on the day the violence broke out at Bhima-Koregaon, and he neither made nor received any phone calls. He is said to have paid a condolence visit to former Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) legislator and minister Jayant Patil at Sangli, and later addressed a public gathering at Bhor taluka.
Markale added the Shivpratishthan did not even have anything to do with an incident at Vadhu Budruk, a few kilometres from Bhima-Koregaon, where there were clashes over a plaque erected for Govind Gaikwad, a Dalit who is said to have performed the last rites of Maratha king Sambhaji, son of Shivaji. The clashes were a precursor to the Bhima-Koregaon unrest on 1 January, in which one person was killed and several injured.
“Whatever happened there was completely at the behest of the villagers. We have absolutely no opinion on the Dalit version of any historical event, because we have thousands of volunteers across the state and we never ask anyone’s caste,” Markale said.
When Bhide made the headlines
Bhide, whom Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited during the election campaign in Maharashtra and praised as an inspiration, is said to have the covert support of all political parties. “Young volunteers from across political parties in Sangli-Kolhapur join him in his activities,” a local leader said.
In 2008, Bhide sparked off protests in Sangli over the screening of Bollywood film Jodha Akbar, leading to the police resorting to a lathi charge. Bhide’s supporters, in response, pelted stones. At that time, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government in was accused of going soft on him.
More recently, in June this year, the Pune police registered a case against Bhide and his followers for obstructing the waari, a procession of varkaris (pilgrims) to Pandharpur.
Locally, Bhide, who was earlier with the RSS, is known as a simple, well-educated man, with a master’s degree in nuclear science and an immense power to attract the youth. Giving ideological lectures about Hindutva and Shivaji’s teachings and taking youths to the various forts of Shivaji are the usual activities that the Shivpratishthan is known to organise.
Ekbote, a one-man organisation
In contrast, Pune’s Milind Ekbote does not enjoy clout across party lines, or even a mass following. A Pune-based BJP leader said: “He is his organisation and his organisation is him. He furthers a Hindutva agenda, but does not really stand for any class or community. He is an opportunist who drives his own personal agenda.”
Ekbote had switched off his phone and remained unavailable for comment, but released a media statement condemning the Bhima-Koregaon violence. It stated: “Some groups are taking advantage of the situation to malign me and my organisation. My organisation has a number of Dalits, and we consider Dr B.R. Ambedkar as one of our ideals.”
Ekbote, a former RSS man, comes from a family of Sangh volunteers. His sister-in-law Jyotsna Ekbote is a BJP corporator in Pune. Milind himself has dabbled in politics, first as a BJP corporator for one term, and then contesting the 2014 state assembly elections on a Shiv Sena ticket and losing heavily to the BJP candidate.
Through his Samasta Hindu Aghadi, he is known to take up Hindutva-related issues such as rounding up tempos on the suspicion of carrying beef, opposing the Haj House project in Pune, and extending support to the Sanatan Sanstha, even when the government was seeking a ban on the group. In December 2014, Ekbote also organised a function to award a ‘Hindutva Shourya Puraskar’ (a bravery award) to Dhananjay Desai, chief of Hindu Rashtra Sena accused in the murder case of Pune-based Muslim techie Mohsin Shaikh.
According to his affidavit for the 2014 elections, Ekbote has 12 criminal cases registered against him, related to criminal intimidation, assault, prostitution, public mischief and defiling places of worship, among others.
Mr. Sambhaji Bhide unfortunately is not a leader involved in today’s most priced and sought after subjects like Dalit politics or Leftist seperatist politics or fabian socialism or minority appeasement politics. He is simply a social leader patronizing the values built by the great Shivaji Maharaj and other reformists that in today’s world is loosely coined as Hindutva and RSS idealogue. The founder of RSS (1925) Dr Hedgewar was an eminent medical practitioner and Prof Golwalkar was a Marine Scientist so intellectuals can be social leaders.
How and when did this 85 year old get a Masters degree in nuclear science? And what is he doing in life climbing forts and giving boring lectures on Hinduism instead of using all that knowledge of nuclear science to do something constructive in life? What a waste of a degree
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