Elgar Parishad case: BJP leaders threaten Prez Rule; state seeks legal view
Two senior Maharashtra BJP leaders cautioned the state government on Tuesday over not cooperating with the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the Elgar Parishad case, and said it will have to face dismissal if probe documents are not handed over to the central agency. In an interaction with mediapersons, former finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said the NIA Act allows the Centre to take over a case from a state government and that this law was introduced by the Congress-led UPA government in 2008.
Later in the day, state BJP president Chandrakant Patil said the Uddhav Thackeray government will have to face legal consequences if it does not cooperate with the NIA.
“If the state government is acting against the Centre’s decision, then there could be a constitutional logjam,” Mungantiwar said. “The governor will have to intervene. The existing law says that if states act against constitutional provisions, then the Centre can intervene and dismiss the state government.”
The Elgar Parishad (Elgar is a clarion call in Marathi) case refers to the December 31, 2017, eponymous event in Pune organised by over 250 NGOs to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima-Koregaon, a town 160 km east of Mumbai.
On January 1, 2018, violence broke out at Bhima-Koregaon where thousands of Dalits had converged to commemorate the battle. One person was killed. In the months following the violence, several activists including Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira, Gautam Navlakha, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao, were arrested by Pune Police, who claimed that the December 31, 2017, event in Pune was organised by Maoists and said they were also involved in the violence the next day.
Pune Police on Monday had not granted NIA officials access to the case papers saying they had no instructions from the state director general of police.
State home minister Anil Deshmukh on Tuesday said his department has received the Union Home Ministry’s letter, intimating the state that the Centre is taking over the probe.
“The Director General of Police (DGP) has received the letter from the Central government. It has been forwarded to us. We will decide our course of action only after we receive legal advice,” Deshmukh told HT.
Former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis however said once an NIA probe had been ordered, the state government had no choice but to comply. “There is no confusion. Once technicalities are completed, Maharashtra police will have to hand over (the case) papers to the NIA team,” Fadnavis told HT on Tuesday.
Earlier in January, the Maharashtra government had begun a review of the Elgaar Parishad case, with a special investigation team (SIT) under consideration. Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar had demanded an SIT probe on December 22 last year.
On Tuesday, though, both the Congress and the NCP – partners of the Shiv Sena in the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government – criticised Mungantiwar and the BJP over the issue. Congress leader and PWD minister Ashok Chavan said Mungantiwar’s “threat” was “a case of day-dreaming by BJP leaders”.
He said, “There was no reason for the Centre to hand over the case to the NIA. They have to take consent from the state government before while handing over a case to a central agency. This is tantamount to interference in what is essentially a state subject.” NCP leader and state minister Nawab Malik said his party dares the Centre to dissolve the MVA government. “Let the BJP try and dissolve this government. We will see how they do it. They are afraid of getting exposed, especially over the cooked up claims of a Maoist conspiracy to assassinate the PM,” said Malik. He added, “Nothing stops us from carrying out or ordering a review of this investigation. We will take a call soon.”