Case taken away from the police after Pawar wrote to Uddhav seeking SIT probe into arrests of writers, activists

The 2018 Bhima-Koregaon violence case has been taken away from the Pune Police and handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The move comes days after NCP leader Sharad Pawar wrote to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray demanding a special investigation team (SIT) probe into the arrests of writers and activists allegedly involved in Elgar Parishad, connecting them to the Bhima-Koregaon violence in Pune on January 1, 2018. The Maharashtra government on Thursday had begun reviewing the cases filed by the Pune Police.

Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Sanjay Kumar confirmed late Friday that the case was transferred to the NIA. “The chief secretary and the director general of police received a letter on Friday informing that the Bhima-Koregaon violence probe has been handed over to the NIA,” Kumar told this newspaper. He refused to comment on the reasons behind the move.

According to the Pune Police, the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, was supported by Maoists and inflammatory speeches made at the event led to caste violence at the Bhima-Koregaon War Memorial in the district the next day (January 1, 2018). The Left-leaning activists arrested during the probe had links with Maoists, the police claimed, booking them under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao were arrested in the case.

Last month, Pawar had termed the arrests as “wrong and vengeful” and demanded an SIT probe.

Earlier, pro-Hindutva leader Milind Ekbote, an accused in the case, was discharged by the commission headed by Justice (retired) Jai Narayan Patel, which is conducting an inquiry into the violence.

While the Pune Police Commissioner K Venkatesham told Mumbai Mirror that he “wasn’t aware” that the NIA had taken over the case, Maharashtra’s Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, from the NCP, called the move an “interference” by the Narendra Modi government at the Centre. “It is only after Maharashtra government decided to probe the matter thoroughly that the Centre chose to interfere and move the case to the NIA without our permission. I condemn and oppose this,” he said.

The NCP, which formed the government in the state with the Sena and the Congress, was quick to point out that Pawar’s letter to Uddhav had “set the alarm bells ringing in Delhi”. “Within a day of Pawar saheb demanding an SIT probe into the Bhima-Koregaon violence, the Ministry of Home Affairs transfers the case to NIA. What is the BJP afraid of? Why has the party suddenly lost faith in the Maharashtra Police?” NCP spokesperson Mahesh Tapase asked.

From the time the Left-leaning activists and writers were arrested in the case, several BJP leaders and supporters used the terms “urban naxals” and “tukde-tukde gang” to describe them. Advocate Nihal Singh Rathod, who is representing the arrested activists in court, termed the NIA taking over the probe as “mala fide intention of the Centre”. “The charge sheet was filed on November 15, 2018. Why is the case transferred to the NIA now? We have been questioning the motives of the Centre right from the beginning,” Rathod said.

Housing Minister Jitendra Awhad, an NCP leader, said the Centre’s motive “was very clear”. “The Centre cannot take away the case without permission from the state. The move flouts Constitutional norms and breaches the state’s rights,” he said.

The Pune Police said the violence was a result of infammatory speeches made by ‘Maoists’. Pawar termed the activists’ arrests as unfortunate