The National Investigation Agency on Tuesday opposed the plea challenging the transfer of the Elgar Parishad case investigation from the Pune Police, saying that it was fighting the “Naxal plague” in the country, reported India Today.

The central agency made the statement in an affidavit on a plea by activists Surendra Gadling and Sudhir Dhawale, who are accused in the case. They have challenged the transfer of the case from the Pune Police to the central agency in January 2020.

Both Gadling and Dhawale were arrested in 2018 in connection with the case, which pertains to a first information report alleging that banned Naxalite groups had organised the Elgar Parishad in Pune on December 31, 2017. The police claim that the speeches made during the event led to violence the next day.

On Tuesday, the NIA said in its reply that the Centre had suo motu directed it to take up investigating the case in view of the gravity of the offence and as it had implications on “national security”, reported The Indian Express.

The NIA also said that it was only discharging its “obligated duties as per law” in the case. The central agency sought the dismissal of the petition, claiming that submissions made by the petitioners were “reckless” and “misleading”, reported Bar and Bench.

It said that the petitioners were trying to mislead the court in a bid to thwart the investigation into the case. “That the petitioner had gone to the extent of scandalising and questioning the credibility of the NIA who are fighting for prevention of unlawful and terrorist activities in the country in which the Naxal plague has caused destruction at many levels,” the affidavit said.

The affidavit said that the central agency had no “personal agenda” against the accused as the petitioners were projecting. It claimed that the NIA was taking actions based solely on incriminatory material evidence showing the involvement of each of the accused.

Claiming that the petitions were an abuse of the process of the law, the NIA said: “The petitioners and the other accused persons in this case have made it tradition to file writ, PIL [public interest litigation], directly or through others, particularly when the investigation is in progress.”

The Maharashtra government is yet to file an affidavit on the petition. The court has asked the state government to file its reply.

The matter will be heard on July 23.

The Elgar Parishad case

The first Elgar Parishad event was held in Pune’s Shaniwar Wada on December 31, 2017, a day before lakhs of Dalits from across India gathered at the village of Koregaon Bhima to commemorate the 200th anniversary of a battle in which a Dalit contingent of the British army defeated the region’s Peshwa Brahmins.

Since June 2018, 16 activists and intellectuals have been arrested and denied bail for allegedly provoking the violence, operating as “urban Naxals” with Maoist connections and carrying out “anti-national” activities. They include educators Anand Teltumbde, Shoma Sen and Hany Babu, Adivasi rights activist Stan Swamy, poets Sudhir Dhawale and Varavara Rao, lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, and activists Gautam Navlakha, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves.

The second Elgar Parishad on January 30 was organised as a tribute to the 16 arrested activists as well as a reiteration of their anti-caste, anti-Hindutva ideologies. The date of the event marked the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and the birthday of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student of Hyderabad Central University whose death by suicide in 2016 had triggered a nationwide movement against casteism in educational institutions.