Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar on Saturday said the arrests of nine activists in connection with violence in Bhima Koregaon was wrong and vengeful, and added that he would ask for a Special Investigation Team to probe into the actions of the Pune Police, The Indian Express reported. The Nationalist Congress Party is in power in the state along with the Shiv Sena and the Congress.

Pawar called for the suspension of police officers who made the arrests and criticised the city police chief. “We will ask the chief minister for an SIT…to probe the police action,” said the NCP leader. “Facts should be verified.” A senior serving or retired officer, or a sitting or retired judge can head the investigation team, he added.

Violence broke out in Bhima Koregaon village near Pune on January 1, 2018, between Dalits and Marathas, a day after an event in Pune called the Elgar Parishad that was organised to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818 between the East India Company and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Confederacy. A bandh called by Dalit outfits the following day also saw incidents of vandalism, and one person died. The activists – Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao – were arrested in June and August 2018 in connection with the violence, and they were accused of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). The Pune Police chargesheet also alleged that a letter recovered from one of those accused had revealed an “assassination conspiracy” against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Pawar agreed that there were “very strong opinions expressed in the speeches” at the Elgar Parishad event. “In a democracy, people take such positions,” said the Nationalist Congress Party leader. “I have seen this in the past, during the Samyukta Maharashtra movement. But people were not booked for treason then...This entire investigation needs to be looked into. It appears that police misused their powers and we can’t be mute spectators to this…The conduct of the Pune Police Commissioner and some of his aides is highly objectionable.”