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Maharashtra: Despite Hate Speeches, Role in Violence, BJP's Vikram Pawaskar Goes Scot-Free

Electronic evidence, independent witnesses, and at least four FIRs point to the direct involvement of the BJP Maharashtra vice-president in public incitement of communal tension in the western Maharashtra region.
Vikram Pawaskar. Photo: Facebook

Mumbai: Between January and September 2023, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Vikram Pawaskar was actively involved in delivering several hate speeches and flaring up communal tensions in the twin districts of Satara and Sangli in western Maharashtra. Electronic evidence, independent witnesses, and at least four FIRs point to his direct involvement in both public incitement of communal tension in the region and his conspiratorial role in the violent attack on a mosque in Satara district that claimed one life and serious injury to over a dozen. But for an entire year, the police have failed to initiate any kind of action against him.

Since the Maharashtra police have failed in their duty, Shakir Islal Tamboli, a 50-year-old rights- activist moved a writ petition before the Bombay high court last month. The elaborate petition, filed through his lawyer Lara Jesani, and represented by senior advocate Mihir Desai, chronicles events where Pawaskar had incited Hindu youth in the region.

Also read: Police Say Peace Has Been Restored in Maharashtra’s Satara, But Muslim Community Still in Fear

On Friday, February 9, when the case came up for hearing, the public prosecutor Hiten Vengaonkar submitted an affidavit before the court on behalf of the Satara police and once again issued a clean chit to Pawaskar. The affidavit was in response to the observations made by a division bench of justices Manjusha Deshpande and Revati Mohite Dere in the last hearing on January 24. The judges, taking note of the seriousness of the charges levelled against the police and Pawaskar, had asked the police to tell the court why no action was initiated against Pawaskar.

Interestingly, on Friday, as the case came up for hearing, advocate Abhinav Chandrachud appeared before the court and said he wanted to “intervene” on behalf of Pawaskar. Since Abhinav Chandrachud had not filed an intervention application, the court didn’t grant him permission.

Pawaskar is BJP’s Maharashtra state vice president. Originally from Karad in Satara district, in recent years, Pawaskar has managed to gain control over the western Maharashtra region. Before him, it was another Hindutva leader Manohar alias Sambhaji Bhide, who was notorious for making communally charged statements in the region. Now as Bhide, who is close to 90- year-old, has slowly phased out from public space, Pawaskar is being intentionally propped as the new Hindutva face of the region. Pawaskar’s father, Vinayak Pawaskar, is an established Hindutva leader in western Maharashtra and considered close to deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.

Vikram Pawaskar (right). Photo: Facebook

Tamboli, who has been closely following Pawaskar and other disruptive Hindutva groups like Bhide’s Shiv Pratishthan, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and Sanathan Sanstha in the region, says that over the past year, these organisations have been given a free pass to make inflammatory speeches and provoke people to directly attack the Muslim community. Each time these organisations, under an umbrella name Sakal Hindu Samaj organised events in the region, Tamboli intervened. Like days before the first speech delivered by Pawaskar on January 24, 2023, Tamboli had notified the local police and their district representatives against the possible communal flare-ups in the region.

The police didn’t take action and Pawaskar, as predicted by Tamboli, made insensitive and hate-filled statements against the Muslims. He openly called for a social boycott of the community and worse, threatened to harm children born to Muslim women. This, he claimed, was the only way to protect the “Hindu stree- dhan”, a patronising term coined by him to address Hindu women. Over 3,500 people had attended Pawaskar’s public event and the video clips of his derogatory speech were widely circulated. In this particular incident, the FIR was filed only five months later in May following repeated letters to both the local and district police. However, no action was initiated against Pawaskar or other men involved in the event.

When the high court questioned the prosecution for lack of action against Pawaskar, Vengaonkar had told the court that the police were waiting for a forensic report of the videography done at the event. The court had expressed surprise over the need for a forensic examination of the video that the police had themselves recorded.

Similarly, in another similar public event in June, Pawaskar made a similarly inciteful speech. Here too, the police filed an FIR but no action was taken. On September 10, finally, a mosque was attacked in Pusesavali village and 30-year-old Nurul Hasan Shikalgar, an engineer and a man who ran a local earthmover, was killed in the attack. Over a dozen other men suffered grievous injuries. In this incident, the police while arrested the attackers, the initial FIR didn’t have a mention of criminal conspiracy that went into orchestrating the attack.

Only after the media reports and consistent pressure from the Muslim community and rights activists like Tamboli, did the police finally enhance the sections. Section 120 (B) of the Indian Penal Code for criminal conspiracy was finally added and the complaint and other independent witnesses spoke of the conspiracy meeting that was organised at another person Sanghram Mali’s house. At least six independent witnesses have testified before a magistrate under section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Tamboli says that the atmosphere was already vitiated in the region and many like him were ebing vigil. “So, the moment I heard about this conspiracy meeting, I wrote to the Inspector General of Kolhapur Range,” Tamboli told The Wire. The residents of Pusesavali village too met the Superintendent of Police Sameer Shaikh and informed him about the threat they anticipated to their lives. Shaikh had accepted the letter but again, no action was taken.

Soon after the Pusesavali incident, The Wire had contacted a senior police official privy to the incident, who, on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the letter. The officer had claimed that the “men claimed that they had a threat to their lives from the Hindus” and that “it was a generic statement.”

Only that it wasn’t.

Following the violent attack, at least six witnesses including those who had overheard Pawaskar and others at the conspiracy meeting and those attacked at the mosque have given elaborate details of Pawaskar’s direct involvement. The police in the chargesheet too mention Pawaskar, yet haven’t made him an accused in the case.

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