Pawar slams CM’s decision to let go of Elgar Parishad caseUpdated: Feb 14, 2020 23:42 IST
A day after Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray agreed to transfer the contentious Elgar Parishad case to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), his party’s coalition partner Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar said the decision was “more inappropriate” than the Centre’s announcement of the transfer.
On January 25, the Central government had directed the NIA to take charge of the probe.
The Maharashtra home ministry, led by NCP’s Anil Deshmukh, had opposed this move, asserting that the state will look at setting up a special investigation team (SIT).
On December 21, Pawar had demanded the setting up of an SIT under a retired high court judge, terming the arrest of activists in the Pune Police case “wrong” and “vengeful”. He had also demanded that the police officers responsible for the arrests be suspended.
The Maharashtra home ministry had initially opposed the transfer in a Pune sessions court, but in Friday’s hearing, following Thackeray’s diktat, agreed to the transfer. The case will now be heard in the NIA court in Mumbai on February 28.
On Thursday, Thackeray had overruled Deshmukh using what the home minister said were the chief minister’s “discretionary powers”. Pawar, who was instrumental in stitching together the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) – a post-poll coalition of the Shiv Sena, the Congress and the NCP – said in a media conference in Kolhapur , “Maintaining law and order is a state subject. It is inappropriate to encroach upon these rights, and Maharashtra supporting this move is even more inappropriate.”
This is the first instance of Pawar criticising chief minister Thackeray’s decision since the formation of the MVA government on November 28 last year. Deshmukh had said on Thursday that the NCP had a difference of opinion with the chief minister, but had directed the state’s director general of police to convey the chief minister’s decision to the sessions court in Pune.
A home department official had told HT on Thursday that Thackeray had arrived at his decision following consultations with Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, the state advocate general.
At the Kolhapur conference, Pawar added, “It is the chief minister’s right (to transfer the case). He can indeed take such a decision. But there are complaints that the conduct of a few police officers and some home department officials was objectionable. We have received such complaints, especially from the Jain community. The Centre decided to transfer the case on the same day a meeting was held to investigate the behaviour of these officials.”
Prior to his December 21 press conference in Pune on the subject, Pawar had written a letter to the chief minister demanding the formation of an SIT. In the letter, he had stated that the erstwhile BJP-led government had “abused” its power to book activists and that their arrests was a conspiracy.
Pawar had said, “It is wrong to imprison activists on the charge of sedition. Voicing extreme views is allowed in a democracy. The action of Pune police is wrong and vengeful. It is misuse of power by the police commissioner and some other officers. They attacked the basic freedom of people and one cannot be a mute spectator to this.”
The Elgar Parishad case has been a bone of contention between the NCP and the BJP from 2018. The case is about the controversy that erupted on New Year’s Day in 2018 on the banks of the Bhima river, where hundreds of thousands of people, many of them Dalits, had gathered to mark the anniversary of an 1818 victory of the British army, manned primarily by Dalit soldiers, over the Peshwa, the then rulers who instituted oppressive caste practises. A group of unidentified men on bikes attacked the visitors and pelted stones, killing one person and injuring 40.
The police investigation initially pointed at the involvement of far-right Hindu groups but then concentrated on an event held in Pune on December 31, 2017 called the Elgar Parishad. Police said the event was funded by Maoists, and that provocative speeches made at the gathering triggered the clashes. In June and August of 2018, police arrested nine prominent activists and raided the homes of many others in Delhi, Mumbai and other cities.
Two charge sheets were filed – first in November 2018 against several activists for their alleged Maoist links, and a supplementary charge sheet in February 2019.
Those accused of helping Maoists include activists Sudha Bhardwaj, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferriera, Vernon Gonsalves, Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut and Sudhir Dhavale. Maoist leaders including Ganpathy, Kishan Da alias Prashant Bose and Prakash alias Rituparn Goswami were also named by Pune Police in the case.
Soon after receiving Pawar’s letter, NCP leader and deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar held a meeting with home department officials to review the case. The department said it was considering appointing an SIT, but before it could arrive at a decision, the Centre had transferred the case to the NIA, stating that the case concerns national security.
On Friday, Shiv Sena leaders did not react to Pawar’s statement. Party spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut didn’t respond to calls and text messages. PWD minister and Congress leader Ashok Chavan said Pawar’s statement won’t have an adverse impact on the government. “The Centre’s decision sounds political as NIA’s intervention was unwarranted. I don’t think Pawar’s remark will make any political or adverse impact on the government. We are free to come together on certain issues and policies. There are also issues that need to be addressed,” Chavan said.