Bhima-Koregaon case goes to NIA; Maha government unhappy
The move is likely to spark a tussle between the Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) government at the Centre and the Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-Congress government in Maharashtra over the issue of the Centre not consulting the state, which was reviewing the case investigations this week.Updated: Jan 25, 2020 00:15 IST
The National Investigation Agency (NIA), a Central agency that looks into cases of terror, was on Friday directed to take over the investigation of the 2018 Bhima-Koregoan violence, in which activists and lawyers have been jailed for alleged Maoist links.
“A decision has been taken to transfer the investigation to the NIA,” said a senior official from the Union home ministry, who did not want to be named. However, the ministry, to which the NIA reports, refused to officially comment.
The move is likely to spark a tussle between the Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) government at the Centre and the Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-Congress government in Maharashtra over the issue of the Centre not consulting the state, which was reviewing the case investigations this week. Both the NCP and the Congress have criticised the Centre’s decision, calling it an encroachment on state powers.
Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh said the case was handed over to the NIA without the state’s consent.
“The Central government chose to transfer it to NIA without taking our permission. The decision violates the Constitution and I condemn it,” Deshmukh told the Hindustan Times.
Deshmukh said he came to know about the Centre’s decision around 9.30pm on Friday.
“The Centre’s move is suspicious. If the state government is investigating any case, the Centre has to take its permission before handing over the same to the NIA. In this case, no such permission was taken. The Bhima-Koregan case is a very sensitive issue and the state government was probing the case seriously. I am surprised over the Centre’s move,”Deshmukh added.
Violence had broken out near the Bhima-Koregaon war memorial in Pune on January 1, 2018, leaving one dead and several others injured. Dalits visit the memorial in large numbers as it commemorates the victory of British forces, which included Dalit Mahar soldiers, over the army of the Brahmin Peshwa rulers of Pune in 1818. The Pune Police had filed cases against activists and intellectuals linked to Left and Dalit movements, who had given speeches at Elgar Parishad, a gathering held on December 31, 2017. The activists were accused of inciting violence and were picked up in raids across the country. The police had claimed the organisers of the event had Maoist links. The Maoists are a banned terror group. The NIA has the power to take over investigations, which it feels has a bearing on national security.
On Thursday, Deshmukh had held a meeting with senior home department and police officials over starting a re-investigation into the case.
Significantly, NCP chief Sharad Pawar recently wrote a letter to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, demanding a probe by a special investigation team (SIT) in the case. Pawar said the erstwhile BJP-led government “abused” its power to book activists and called the arrests a conspiracy.
Pawar alleged that the action against them appeared vengeful and wrong and needed to be probed by an SIT headed by a judge or senior bureaucrat. He also alleged that few senior officials from the Pune Police commissionerate had “misused their power” and needed to be investigated.
Pawar had in December 2019, too, taken a press conference and demanded that the government appoint an independent probe to thoroughly investigate the case.
Meanwhile, Dalit leader and Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi (VBA) chief Prakash Ambedkar described the Centre’s move suspicious.
“The Central government is afraid that it has done something wrong and hence it haspicked its agency to probe the matter. It is time chief minister Uddhav Thackeray protests before the Central government that law-and-order is a state subject and state agencies will probe this matter,” said Ambedkar.
“This is undue interference into state’s matters. The Centre did not even consult the state government before asking NIA to take over the probe. There is something suspicious about it,” said Congress leader and state public works minister Ashok Chavan.
NCP leader and state minister Chhagan Bhujbal said no state government can support such an action by the Centre and this will lead to anarchy.
“The NIA can probe the case if either the high court or the Supreme Court passes an order or the state asks the Centre to hand over the case to NIA. Why the case was transferred to NIA now and not before is only because the government has changed here. I am of the view that the state should not share any information with NIA related to the case,” Bhujbal said.
Earlier in the day, former minister of state for home Deepak Kesarkar said that cases registered against the ‘left-wing activists’ for their involvement in the Elgar Parishad were in accordance with the evidence the police had come across.
“I know the facts of the case and can say that the arrests were according to the evidence the police had. Even the court had admitted the veracity of the evidence. It would not be possible for me to reveal more information about the arrests as an independent panel led by retired judge JN Patel is probing the case. The facts will come to the fore once the probe is completed,” said Kesarkar, who is a Sena leader.