Mumbai: Sambhaji Bhide, who is one of those accused of instigating violence against the Dalit community in Pune district, has claimed innocence and appealed for a thorough inquiry into the matter.
Eighty-five-year-old Bhide, who heads Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, issued a statement saying, ''The allegations of a conspiracy made against me are completely baseless. I demand the Government to investigate this matter thoroughly. Strong punishment must be given to whosoever is guilty."
The right-wing leader also attacked Prakash Ambedkar, the chief of Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) leader and the grandson of Dr. BR Ambedkar, for making false allegations against him.
"Prakash Ambedkar blamed me for the conspiracy behind the Bhima-Koregaon violence which is incorrect. This should be thoroughly probed,'' he added.
Speaking to reporters, Bhide said that he was never involved in any conspiracy to divide communities.
On Thursday, Bhide met with Sangli district collector with thousands of his supporters and demanded the withdrawal of charges against him.
A day after the Bhima Koregaon violence on January 2, Pimpri Police in Pune district filed a case against Bhide and others under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and under various sections of the IPC including an attempt to murder as one person was killed in the caste clashes.
The Pimpri Police had also booked Pune-based Milind Ekbote of Hindu Ekta Aghadi under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and under various sections of the IPC including an attempt to murder.
Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) leader Prakash Ambedkar had alleged that Hindu Ekta Aghadi and Shiv Pratishthan were responsible for the Bhima Koregaon violence in which one person was killed.
The violence had occurred at an event to mark the 200th-anniversary of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon in which the British Army comprising Dalits had defeated the Peshwas. A large section of Dalits sees the historical battle as the defeat of the 'casteism' of upper-caste Peshwas.
The duo was booked after one Anita Salve approached the Pimpri police alleging that she and her friend were attacked by a group of people near Vadhu Budruk village adjacent to Bhima Koregaon on Monday.
She alleged that the entire attack and arson was orchestrated by Bhide and Ekbote. Salve, 39, is a social worker and the member of the Bahujan Republican Socialist Party.
Bhide is known among his followers as 'Bhide Guruji'. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Uddhav Thackeray and Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis are among those who admire him for his social works.
He is right-wing Hindu activist and an ardent admirer of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. He has a big following in western Maharashtra.
A gold medallist in Chemistry, Bhide has worked as a professor in Pune-based Sir Parshuram College.
A former RSS member, Bhide founded the Shiv Pratishthan Hindustan, which is mostly active in Sangli, Satara and Kolhapur districts in western Maharashtra.
Dalit protests erupted across Maharashtra, including Mumbai, in the aftermath of the violence in Pune during the 200th-anniversary celebrations of the Bhima Koregaon Battle.
(With Agency inputs)