The NCP chief dodged questions on the role of Hindutva leaders, Shambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote.
THE Koregaon Bhima Commission of Inquiry, on Thursday, called upon Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sharad Pawar to depose as a witness before the commission. Pawar, who in his additional affidavit in April 2022 said that India’s sedition law under Section 124-A of the IPC should be scrapped, testified before the commission that “If any person makes a speech within the ambit of the Constitution of India and Parliamentary Democracy, then he cannot be called anti-national.”
The NCP supremo was cross-examined by Advocate Kiran Channe, who had asked whether labelling those who spoke out during the Elgar Parishad event as ‘traitors’ and ‘anti-nationals’, would amount to abuse of political power by the then state government. To this, Pawar deposed that using constitutionally protected speech did not make one ‘anti-national’
During the cross-examination, Pawar also said that he learnt after the violence broke out following January 1, 2018, that there were “some right wing persons” who tried to “create (a) tense atmosphere in Vadu Budruk”.
When asked by the lawyer Channe as to how he defined right-wing ideology, Pawar said that “By right wing I mean persons who (are) taking advantage of the fault lines (relating to religion and caste) in society spread hatred amongst different sections of the society.”
Meanwhile, the NCP chief remained mum on questions posed regarding Hindutva leaders Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, previously accused of being involved in the violence after which charges were later dropped against them. Earlier, Pawar at a press conference in February 2020 had alleged the role of Hindutva groups in the violence, and raised suspicions regarding Bhide and Ekbote.
However, responding to questions posed by advocate Bansode in his deposition, Pawar stated that he did not know Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote personally and had “only read about them through media”. Pawar also avoided the lawyer’s question as to his awareness about the creation of a trust by Bhide and Ekbote in the name of “Dharmaveer Sambhaji Maharaj Smruti Samiti” at Vadhu Budruk.
Noting that he planned to raise in Parliament the issue of scrapping sedition law, Pawar, a member of the Rajya Sabha, in his deposition also informed the probe panel that the Elgar Parishad speeches “may have been an outcry against oppression and atrocities committed against weaker section”, reiterating that this did not amount to committing any offence under law.