Violence erupted in Maharashtra's Pune on Friday, 9 February, as a car with journalist Nikhil Wagle and two others in it was attacked allegedly by workers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The alleged attack took place over Wagle's controversial remarks on BJP leader LK Advani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Visuals of the attack show ink being thrown, and stones and eggs being pelted on the car while Wagle, activist Vishwambhar Choudhary, and senior advocate Asim Sarode were en route to an event 'Nirbhay Bano - Fight for Democracy and Freedom of Expression'.
Wagle was one of the key speakers at the event.
Heavy police deployment was ensured at the venue after tensions were on the rise since Thursday following the city BJP unit's warning to the organisers against Wagle attending the event.
The police is yet to issue a statement on the attack and the identity of the attackers.
'Won't Let Wagle Attend Event': What Transpired Before Attack
A case was registered against Wagle on Friday in Pune's Vishrambagh police station over his alleged controversial remarks against PM Modi and Advani, after the latter was awarded the Bharat Ratna.
Wagle called the FIR, which was lodged by BJP leader Sunil Deodhar, an attempt to block his address at the event in Pune.
Pune BJP city president Dheeraj Ghate had formally submitted a letter to police commissioner Amitesh Kumar on Thursday for permission to be denied for the event.
Ghate, in his letter, urged that Wagle's address could destroy the peaceful atmosphere in the city. Ghate also gave a public statement to disrupt Wagle's speech at the event.
The city unit of the Aam Aadmi Party and Nationalist Congress Party Sharadchandra Pawar, meanwhile, extended their support to the event.
Taking to X, Wagle had posted: "Pune city BJP president has threatened to disturb our Nirbhay Bano meeting tomorrow evening at Sane Guruji Smarak, if police don’t ban the meeting. Friends, this meeting is against undeclared emergency. We need to save our democracy."
Hours ahead of the attack on Friday, Ghate, along with his supporters, arrived at the venue where an altercation took place with the organisers and members of Opposition parties. Ghate and his supporters raised slogans against Wagle and were later detained.
Taking to Facebook, Ghate said: "We do what we say! Nikhil Wagle, who calls himself a progressive journalist but feeds naxalites, had made objectionable statements about our sage-like personality Bharat Ratna Lal Krishna Advani ji and the country's respected Prime Minister Narendra Modi only to gain publicity. As a protest, the Mahayuti (ruling alliance) did tit-for-tat on behalf of Pune city."
Even after the altercation, Wagle said: "Friends, come what may, the meeting will take place. At present we are surrounded by senior police officers."
'Pune Police Knew But They Let the BJP Goons Attack': Wagle
Visuals show a mob throwing eggs, stones, and ink at the car while some can be heard in Marathi calling out to Wagle to get out of the car.
The attack took place near Pune's Deccan Chowk despite heavy security by the police and the organisers. A woman was also injured in the attack.
Addressing the event later, Wagle said: "The police knew that an attack was going to take place. But they acted the way the police acts in movies. The police force of Maharashtra is in the BJP's pockets."
"If anybody is responsible for this attack, it's the Pune police. This is my clear allegation. They knew what was going to happen but they still gave scope to the BJP for it to happen. This triple-engine government has ruined Maharashtra," Wagle said, as his supporters raised slogans against Pune police.
'Total Lawlessness in the State'
Leaders of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), the Opposition alliance in the state, strongly condemned the event.
"Nikhil Wagle presented his thoughts to the people in a democratic way. Attacking Nikhil Wagle by smashing his car and opposing his views is unacceptable. Everyone has the right to follow the rules and organise an event. We have always been saying the ruling party is taking the law into its hands. This is raising tensions in the state and creating an atmosphere of fear among the people," Congress leader Vikay Wadettiwar said.
NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar) MP Supriya Sule called it an attack on freedom of speech.
"Strongly condemn the attack on Nikhil Wagle, a voice of truth and a beacon of journalism. This is not just an assault on an individual but an attack on freedom of speech itself. The deteriorating law and order situation in Maharashtra under the BJP regime, that is tacitly enabling such acts, is alarming and warrants strictest accountability," MP said.
Shiv Sena (UBT) leader took to X to say: "Brazen bid to murder democracy by BJP in Pune. MVA will not be deterred. Shame on Devendra Fadnavis who is ordering cadre to harm and injure hapless daughters of Maharashtra. The state will not forgive you."
'Action Will Be Taken Even If They Are from BJP': Fadnavis
Speaking to the media, Maharashtra deputy CM Devedra Fadnavis said that strict action will be taken against those accused.
"Nobody should take the law in their hands. Whoever is responsible, whether it is from the BJP or not, we will take action. But at the same time, inciting people's sentiments, using objectionable statements against the country's tallest leaders is wrong. No matter how objectionable anybody's remarks are, it is our and the police's responsibility to maintain law and order and they will do their job well," Fadnavis said.
Maharashtra deputy CM and NCP leader Ajit Pawar said that lawlessness has no place in a democracy.
"Such incidents will not be tolerated in the Maharashtra of Shahu, Phule, and Ambedkar. Nobody can take the law in their hands. I will speak to the police commissioner. I will order for CCTV visuals to be examined and witnesses to be examined," he said.
Pawar is also the guardian minister of Pune.