Mumbai: Setting the stage for a long battle with the Centre, the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance partners on Tuesday were catapulted onto the same page when they declared that the Elgar Parishad and Bhima-Koregaon incidents were 'separate' and vowed to protect the interests of Dalits, rights activists and intellectuals.
Intervening in the issue, Shiv Sena President and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said in Sindhudurg that the "two incidents are different", virtually endorsing ally Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar's stance for the past three weeks.
"These are separate topics. I will not hand it to the Centre. I want to make it clear there will be no injustice to my Dalit brothers," he asserted.
"The Ambedkarite fraternity is concerned with the Bhima Koregaon riots. I have not given over the investigations into the clashes to the Centre, nor will I do so in the future," assured Thackeray.
Terming as "unfortunate" the atrocities committed on the Dalit community members during the Bhima-Koregaon caste riots, the CM pointed out that the Centre has taken over the Elgar Parishad case (December 31, 2017) and not the Bhima-Koregaon matter (January 01, 2018).
Incidentally, Thackeray had been under the fire of allies NCP-Congress after the probe was handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) last week.
Addressing the media for the third consecutive day, Pawar concurred with Thackeray and said that the Elgar Parishad had the participation of around 100 organisations where many sang patriotic songs, recited poems and expressed their anguish over the government, while in Bhima-Koregaon, some Hindu organisations and activists were involved in the riots.
"In Bhima-Koregaon, the Maharashtra police have said many things in the investigations. People have been coming there for decades and the locals have always cooperated with them. But that day (Jan. 01, 2018), (Hindutva) leaders like Sambhaji Bhide alias Bhide Guruji and Milind Ekbote spoiled the atmosphere there," Pawar said.
He accused the police of dragging people from the Elgar Parishad into the Bhima-Koregaon case though they had no connections with it, reiterating that the Centre should have consulted the Maharashtra government before handing it over to the NIA.
State Congress President and Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat attacked the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Centre on the issue, saying the manner in which the case was handed over to the NIA is a matter of "doubts and concern".
"The Centre is trying to brand people associated with progressive, Dalit and Pro-Ambedkar movements as 'Naxals'. It is wrong to take action against them just because they spoke against the government. This is nothing but an attempt to gag them," Thorat said sharply.
He made it clear that the Congress party would not support anyone who has crossed the limits with ulterior intentions, but the timing and manner in which the case has been handed over to the NIA raises even more suspicions.
Thorat pointed out in the past Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M. M. Kalburgi were also eliminated to silence their progressive thought and now the BJP government is portraying intellectuals as 'urban Naxals'.
In a related development, Republican Yuva Morcha (RYM) President Rahul Dambale has demanded that Thackeray's consent to transfer the Elgar Parishad case to NIA had angered secular and Dalit groups besides disappointing the NCP-Congress.
"If the CM is truly concerned about not tolerating injustice to the Dalits, then he must immediately constitute a Special Investigation Team to probe afresh the Bhima-riots, and fast-track the probe by the judicial commission," Dambale said.