Mumbai: The cases related to the 2018 Bhima Koregaon violence were handed over to the National Investigation Agency that reports to the Centre, a day after the Maharashtra government held a review meeting with the Pune police officers on the status of the politically sensitive investigation.
The NIA taking over the investigation in the case has led to a fresh flashpoint between the Centre and the state as the Vikas Aghadi government was considering whether to drop the cases filed against intellectuals and social activists or set up an SIT to probe them within a week. The Centre does not need the state's permission before transferring the case.
The state's home minister Anil Deshmukh said the probe was handed over to NIA without the Maharashtra government's consent. “It is against the Constitution, I condemn it,” he said.
Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and Deshmukh had on Thursday held a review meeting with Director General of Police Subodh Jaiswal and State Intelligence Commissioner Rashmi Shukla to take a call on pursuing the matter.
In the politically charged case, critics have accused the BJP-led central government of jailing activists opposed to its ideology and branding them as "Urban Naxals".
Revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat of the Congress also tweeted that the state government was not consulted before the decision. “Without consulting Maharashtra government, the decision of Central Government, abruptly handing over Bhima Koregaon case to NIA is unconstitutional and against the federal structure of Union of India. We strongly condemn it,” he said.
Earlier in the day, NCP chief Sharad Pawar had also written to CM Uddhav Thackeray seeking constitution of an SIT to probe the cases and had also said officers involved in “framing the people in the case” need to be suspended.
Violence had broken out between Dalits and Marathas in the village of Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1, 2018. This happened a day after an event in Pune called the Elgar Parishad was organised to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818 between East India Company and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Confederacy. One person died in violence during a bandh called by Dalit outfits the following day.
Later that year, the Pune Police arrested nine activists in connection with the violence, and accused them of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).
Using the term “urban Naxals” to describe the activists, Pune Police had alleged that speeches made by people at the Elgaar Parishad had instigated the violence. Those arrested were Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao.
A second investigation conducted by Pune rural police had led to FIRs against Hindutva activists Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide for allegedly inciting the violence. While the Supreme Court granted Ekbote bail, the police never arrested Bhide.
The chargesheet filed by police in a Pune court had further alleged that a letter recovered from one of the accused, Rona Wilson, had revealed an “assassination conspiracy” against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On Thursday, deputy CM Ajit Pawar had reportedly told the Pune Police that the letter allegedly showing the assassination plot appeared to be a spoof obtained from suspicious sources. While asking the police to substantiate the claim, it had given the police 15 days, according to The Hindu.
Earlier this month, Maharashtra's home minister, NCP's Anil Deshmukh, had said he asked for a detailed report on the Bhima Koregaon case, including its current status, and criticised the BJP for labelling dissidents and its critics “urban Naxals”.