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NIA probe into Bhima-Koregaon case: BJP, MVA face off over ‘urban naxal’ narrative, NCP tries to shore Dalit votes

UPDATED ON JAN 26, 2020 12:47 AM IST

While the tussle between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Centre and the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government over the probe into the 2018 Bhima-Koregaon violence is over the narrative of “urban naxals”, for the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), it is also a bid to consolidate Dalit votes.

Among the MVA allies, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has taken the lead to contest the BJP’s “urban naxal” narrative, with party chief Sharad Pawar pushing for a review of the investigation carried out under the erstwhile BJP government’s tenure and questioning the branding of arrested activists as “urban naxals”. The Congress, too, has supported this stand openly. However, the Shiv Sena has avoided making any statements on the issue so far.

While Pawar has been consistent about his opinion over the Bhima-Koregaon probe, there is also a clear political angle to this stand: It is a bid to reach out to the Dalit community that has been patently unhappy with the BJP. The majority of the community, which makes up 13% of the state’s population, is currently split between the Congress-NCP combine and Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), even as BJP ally, Republican Party of India’s Ramdas Athawale continues to enjoy some support base among Dalits in urban areas.

Ambedkar’s outfit, which was formed after the Bhima-Koregaon violence, damaged the Congress-NCP alliance’s prospects in both the Lok Sabha as well as the Vidhan Sabha polls. If not for VBA, the BJP might not have touched 100-seat mark in the state Assembly polls.

With the National Investigation Agency (NIA) now taking over the probe into the Bhima-Koregaon violence, the MVA government’s stand against the Centre is likely to win it support from Dalits in the state. And, the BJP, which is aware of this, is digging its heels to show that the investigations carried out under its government were on the dot as they uncovered a Maoist conspiracy that has repercussions for the country. “This government, especially the NCP, is clearly reaching out to the Dalits with its explicit stand against the ‘urban naxal’ narrative. The party is looking at expansion in Vidarbha, where such a stand will help it expand its base. It will also help the NCP earn lost foothold in cities like Mumbai. The NCP leaders’ statements point to a well-coordinated strategy to corner the BJP on this issue and shore support of Dalits,’’ said political analyst Hemant Desai.

Pawar, as well as state home minister Anil Deshmukh, have questioned the haste with which NIA took over the Bhima-Koregaon inquiry. “Why the haste just when the state was looking at setting up an SIT? It’s because of the fear of being exposed. They are afraid the truth will come out,’’ said Pawar, while speaking to reporters in Mumbai on Saturday. The violence on January 1, 2018, occurred when Dalits had gathered near the war memorial to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle, in which the British army, led by the Mahar regiment, won against the ruling Peshwas. The violence had sparked Dalit protests and a bandh across the state. The police investigations under the Fadnavis regime, had pointed to a Maoist conspiracy and led to the arrest of several activists with purported Maoist links. It had also led to alienation of the Dalit community as no action was taken against Hindu hardline leaders like Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, who, Dalit leaders had alleged, were responsible for the violence.

Former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, meanwhile, backed the NIA probe and said the MVA government was indulging in politics of votes. “Maharashtra Police had investigated this case in great detail to uncover the network of ‘urban naxals’. Charge sheets have been framed. Despite this, the government, in a bid to play politics of votes, questioned this probe,’’ he said. “I think the decision to give it to the NIA is correct. The Maharashtra investigations had shown that the ‘urban naxal network’ is spread across India.”

‘MAHA MAY CONDUCT OWN PROBE’

State energy minister Nitin Raut said the state may not cooperate with the Centre, and may conduct its own probe. “We will take a call in the next cabinet meeting. We may not cooperate with NIA and launch a probe by the Maha SIT,” he said, adding BJP has a “grudge” against those who organised Elgar Parishad. “How can anyone call retired justices BG Kolse-Patil and PB Sawant, who were the main organisers urban naxals? If you criticise the govt, you become naxals for them [BJP]. They are taking country towards autocracy,” he added.

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