Bhima Koregaon Violence: Who Are Sambhaji Bhide & Milind Ekbote?
As the ripples of the Bhima Koregaon clashes spread throughout Mumbai, everyone is asking the same question — how did the violence begin? On Monday, an FIR was filed against two men — Milind Ekbote from Samast Hindu Aghadi and Sambhaji Bhide of Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan for sparking stone-pelting and the subsequent violence.
But who are the men at the center of the violence against Dalits in Maharashtra and the ensuing chaos in the state? Here's a quick look.
Sambhaji Bhide and His PM Modi Connection
Known as 'Bhide Guruji' by his followers, 85-year-old Sambhaji Bhide is no stranger to controversy. In 2008, he led the protests against Ashutosh Gowariker's historical romance film Jodhaa Akbar, and was booked for ransacking theaters and halting screenings of the movie. A year later, he sparked unrest in Sangli in Maharashtra over the depiction of an "artist's impression of assassination of Adil Shah's army commander Afzal Khan by Shivaji Maharaj", reports Mumbai Mirror.
When Prime Minister Modi visited Sangli, also Bhide's hometown, in 2014, he praised Bhide and is reported to have said, “I did not come to Sangli on my own, but I was given orders by Bhide Guruji to visit his city, and here I am.” Here’s a video of PM Modi speaking about Sambhaji Bhide. (Note: The Quint is unable to independently verify the authenticity of the attached video.)
A physicist by training, Bhide completed his MSc in nuclear physics and was a professor of physics at Pune's Fergusson College. Later, he joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as a pracharak and founded an organisation called "Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan." Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan focuses on spreading the teachings and information on the life of Shivaji Maharaj and his son Sambhaji Maharaj. Despite his age, Bhide has a significant following among the young in areas like Sangli, Kolhapur and Satara and has an impressive social media following on Facebook.
56-year-old Milind Ekbote has been in an out of power in Pune, as a BJP and Shiv Sena corporator. His first stint was in 1997, when he was a BJP corporator in the city. In 2002, he was denied a ticket, and lost the election on an independent ticket. But with his organisation, 'Hindu Ekta Manch' in 2007, he came into prominence by leading protests against Valentine's Day. He has 12 cases of rioting, trespassing and other charges against him, out of which he has been convicted in five, reports Mumbai Mirror.
Responding to the Bhima Koregaon violence, Ekbote has issued a statement where he says he is “saddened by the inconvenience caused to Dalits due to rioting after their visit to Bhima Koregaon”, and has condemned “the act of rioting,” reports The Indian Express. Commenting on Dr BR Ambedkar, he added that he considers them as “icons.”