Pawar queries ‘hurried’ shift of Bhima case
The Union home ministry on Saturday confirmed the transfer of the Bhima-Koregaon probe to the federal National Investigation Agency, which has prompted Maharashtra’s government and ruling allies to condemn the “unilateral” move and allege a ploy to prevent the truth being revealed.
A Union home ministry source said the case had been transferred “hurriedly” to the NIA on Friday evening, a day after NCP chief Sharad Pawar had urged chief minister Uddhav Thackeray to form a special investigation team under a retired judge to probe the matter.
“The Centre got a whiff that the state government was set to constitute an SIT to reinvestigate the case against the arrested rights activists, and transferred the probe,” a home ministry official said in New Delhi, seeking anonymity.
The case, which relates to caste violence in Bhima-Koregaon near Pune two years ago, has witnessed the arrest of eminent rights activists on the charge of links to an alleged Maoist plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Maharashtra’s ruling Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance believes the activists were framed.
“I think the central government fears it will be exposed, the truth will come out. So the decision has been taken,” Pawar said on Saturday.
Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh alleged the Centre’s move was “against the Constitution” because the state had not been consulted, and said legal advice was being sought.
Under the NIA Act, the agency can take up any case anywhere in the country but the convention is to consult the state government.
“Usually, the Centre consults state governments before handing over any case to the NIA, but the home ministry transferred this probe on its own,” the Union home ministry source said.
Deshmukh had in a Friday night tweet revealed the case transfer but the Centre would not confirm it till Saturday, when the home ministry spokesperson merely said the NIA had “taken over the probe”. He refused further details.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Anyone who opposes the MOSH agenda of hate is an ‘Urban Naxal’. Bhima-Koregaon is a symbol of resistance that the government’s NIA stooges can never erase.”
“MOSH” appears a portmanteau for “Modi” and “Shah” (Union home minister Amit Shah). “Urban Naxal” is one of the epithets BJP leaders and supporters tend to hurl at the government’s critics, such as those arrested in the Bhima-Koregaon case.
Many Maharashtra ministers have condemned the Centre’s decision to transfer the case to the federal terror-probe agency, which has been under the scanner over the acquittal of several Hindu terror suspects.
Pawar said on Saturday: “Why did it take the NIA two years to determine whether the case came under its jurisdiction?”
He said that speaking out against injustice did not amount to Maoism: “It’s unfair to put people in jail by labelling them Maoists.”
Maharashtra home minister Deshmukh had earlier this month summoned senior Pune police officers to Mumbai to review all aspects of the case and sought a detailed status report.
Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh has already challenged the NIA Act in the Supreme Court citing jurisdictional problems.
Caste violence had broken out on January 1, 2018, near the Bhima-Koregaon war memorial after the bicentennial celebrations of a Dalit-dominated colonial army’s defeat of the Brahmin Peshwas.