The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party on Saturday criticised the Centre’s decision to transfer the investigation of the Bhima Koregaon case to the National Investigation Agency, PTI reported. The case was so far being investigated by the Pune Police.

Ten rights activists were arrested in 2018 in connection with the case, when the Bharatiya Janata Party was in power in the state. The party lost power in November, following which the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress formed an alliance government.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said Bhima-Koregaon was “a symbol of resistance that the Government’s NIA stooges can never erase”.

“Sudden taking over of Bhima Koregaon riot case by NIA after Maha Vikas Aghadi govt [government] started reinvestigation into inquiry of Pune police, clearly substantiates conspiracy of BJP,” Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said. Wondering why it took the investigating agency two years to find out that the case fit under its jurisdiction, Sawant said he strongly condemned the decision.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar said the Centre handed over the case in haste because “they were afraid that truth will come out”, reported the Hindustan Times. He said: “The state has all the right to probe this matter.” He added that speaking up against injustice is not Maoism. “It will be unfair to put people in jail by labelling them Maoists.”

Maharashtra minister and NCP’s state unit chief Jayant Patil said the Centre had “different motives” for transferring the case to NIA. He, however, did not elaborate on the motives, reported PTI.

NCP spokesperson and state Minority Affairs Minister Nawab Malik called it a “cover-up” by the Centre to hide the previous BJP government’s alleged wrongdoings.

Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh accused the Centre of taking a unilateral decision. “The Bhima Koregaon violence case was handed over to the NIA without taking the state’s consent,” he told a local channel. “There was no communication made from the Centre before transferring the case. The decision has come at a time when we were trying to find out the real reason behind the case. We were also ensuring that no innocent should be convicted but Centre unilaterally transferred the case to the NIA which is against the Constitution.” The home minister said they will take legal advice before taking next step.

The minister, who belongs to the Nationalist Congress Party, also alleged that the Centre took the decision after the new Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government in Maharashtra decided to “go to the root of the matter”.

Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Anil Deshmukh met Pune Police officials on Thursday morning to review cases related to the violence. Pawar reportedly told the police that a letter recovered from Delhi-based activist Rona Wilson last year, allegedly showing a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appeared to be a spoof obtained from suspicious sources. Pawar also reportedly told the police that the source of this email containing the letter and other evidence in the 5,000-page chargesheet against 10 activists under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act must be substantiated in 15 days, else the Maharashtra government would appoint a Special Investigation Team to take another look at the case.

Bhima Koregaon case

Violence broke out between Dalits and Marathas in the village of Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1, 2018. This happened a day after an event in Pune called the Elgar Parishad was organised to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818 between the East India Company and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Confederacy. One person died in violence during a bandh called by Dalit outfits the following day.

The Pune rural police had booked Hindutva activists Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide for allegedly inciting the violence. While the Supreme Court granted Ekbote bail, the police never arrested Bhide.

Later that year, the Pune Police arrested 10 activists in connection with the violence, and accused them of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). Most of the activists are still in prison. Last month, eight of the 10 accused in the Bhima Koregaon case had written a letter to the Maharashtra Human Rights Commission, alleging that the previous BJP-led state government had imprisoned them because they were dissidents.