Bhima Koregaon violence: Case transfer to NIA triggers row
The Maharashtra government intensified its attack on the Centre on Saturday as the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over the probe into the Bhima Koregaon violence, with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party of trying to cover up the previous state government’s wrongdoing in the case.
The Union home ministry formally directed the central agency to take over the investigation from the Pune Police on Saturday, a day after a political decision was made for the move, two senior officials said on condition of anonymity.
On January 1, 2018, peaceful protesters were attacked at Bhima Koregaon by an unidentified group of men who torched vehicles, ransacked shops and sparked violence that left one dead and at least 40 people injured.
Hundreds of thousands of people gather at Bhima Koregaon every year to mark the anniversary of an 1818 war between the British and the Peshwa. Many Dalit leaders believe the war was won by the British with the help of Dalit soldiers in the regiment, who defeated a large army of the Peshwa, who were said to have instituted oppressive caste practices. The police have said that provocative speeches at Elgar Parishad conclave in Pune on December 31, 2017, led to the violence, and Maoists were behind the conclave. They later arrested several Left-leaning activists including Telugu poet Varavara Rao and Sudha Bharadwaj for alleged links to Maoists.
On Saturday, the Maharashtra Congress and the NCP alleged that the sudden move by the home ministry to transfer the probe substantiated the “conspiracy” by the BJP. The NCP also alleged that the Centre’s move was aimed at covering up the wrongdoings of the previous BJP-led government in Maharashtra.
The NCP, Congress and Shiv Sena tied up to form the government in Maharashtra after last year’s assembly elections. While the BJP emerged as the single-largest party in the state polls, it fell out with its ally Shiv Sena over sharing power and failed to form a ruling combine in Maharashtra.
“Sudden taking over of Bhima Koregaon riot case by NIA after Maha Vikas Aghadi govt started reinvestigation into inquiry of Pune police, clearly substantiates conspiracy of BJP. Why it took 2 yrs for NIA to find that case is fit under its jurisdiction? Strongly condemn!” Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said in a tweet.
“Why did it take NIA two years to find out that the case is fit under its jurisdiction. Strongly condemn the decision,” he said.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, too, attacked the Centre over the move. “Bhima-Koregaon is a symbol of resistance that the Government’s NIA stooges can never erase,” he tweeted.
NCP spokesperson and state minority affairs minister Nawab Malik described the decision as a “cover-up” by the Centre to hide the wrongdoings of the previous BJP-led government in the state.
The case was being probed by the Pune Police and the Centre’s decision to hand over the probe to the NIA on Friday came a day after the police briefed Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and home minister Anil Deshmukh about the status of the probe.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar has previously demanded that a Special Investigation Team (SIT) be set up under a retired judge to probe the action taken by Pune Police in the case.
On Saturday, Pawar alleged that the Union government transferred the probe to the NIA fearing that a fresh investigation by the new Maharashtra government would expose dubious actions of the previous BJP-led dispensation. He said the case was transferred to the central agency days after he wrote to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, alleging that the violence was the result of a conspiracy hatched by the then BJP-led government with the help of police.
“The deputy chief minister (Ajit Pawar) and home minister (Anil Deshmukh) called a meeting (of police officials) to know the factual position. But within four-five hours of that, the Centre handed over the probe to its agency,” the NCP chief said.
Former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, however, welcomed the Centre’s decision to hand over the case to the NIA. Fadnavis, who held the home portfolio when the incident took place, said the state police had unearthed a huge network of “urban Naxals’ and submitted all the evidence gathered to the court. “The Supreme Court had also supported the police action,” the BJP leader said.
The Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi government was trying to mislead people about the probe for votebank politics, he alleged.
“Attempts are being made to lower the morale of the police and put them under pressure. The decision to hand over the probe to NIA is appropriate,” he said.
With inputs from agencies