Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Tuesday said that the state government would investigate the Bhima Koregaon case, days after it handed over the Elgar Parishad inquiry to the National Investigation Agency based on a directive from the Centre.
“Elgar and Bhima Koregaon are two separate topics,” the Chief Minister’s Office tweeted. “The issue facing my Dalit brothers is about Bhima Koregaon and I will not give it to the Centre. I want to make it clear that there will be no injustice to Dalit brothers.”
Last week, Pawar had expressed unhappiness about the Elgar Parishad case being handed over to the National Investigation Agency, and criticised the state government. On Sunday, he said the conduct of police personnel in the case needs to be investigated by a retired High Court judge.
Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, a leader of the Nationalist Congress Party, had said last week that Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief, overruled him to allow the central agency to investigate the Elgar Parishad case.
On Sunday, Pawar alleged that the Narendra Modi government had transferred the Elgar Parishad case to the National Investigation Agency to hide certain facts that would have implicated the previous Devendra Fadnavis-led Bharatiya Janata Party government.
Bhima Koregaon and Elgar Parishad cases
On January 1, 2018, violence erupted between Dalits and Marathas near the village of Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra’s Pune district, where lakhs of Dalits had converged to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon. Dalit Mahar soldiers fighting for the British Army defeated the Brahmin Peshwa rulers of the Maratha empire in the battle in 1818. This happened a day after an event in Pune called the Elgar Parishad was organised to commemorate the battle. One person died in violence during a bandh called by Dalit outfits on January 2.
The police investigations first focused on Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide – two Brahmin Hindutva leaders who were accused of stirring up anti-Dalit sentiments in the region in the last two weeks of December. Ekbote was briefly arrested and granted bail, though Bhide was neither detained nor questioned.
The Pune police conducted raids on several activists in April 2018, followed by two rounds of arrests that targeted 10 activists. On June 6, 2018, they arrested Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut from Nagpur, Sudhir Dhawale from Mumbai, and Rona Wilson from Delhi. On August 28, 2018, the police arrested five more activists – Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao and Gautam Navlakha.
By this time, the accusations against the activists had grown from inciting the violence in Bhima Koregaon to alleged involvement in a nationwide “Maoist” conspiracy to destabilise democracy, overthrow the government by setting up an “anti-fascist front” and plotting to assassinate Narendra Modi. All of the activists were labelled as “urban Naxalites” and accused of being members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).
The two cases were so far being investigated by the Pune Police, but last month the Centre transferred the Elgar Parishad inquiry to the National Investigation Agency.
Corrections and clarifications: Two separate inquiries into the Bhima Koregaon violence are being conducted. Only the Elgar Parishad investigation has been handed over the National Investigation Agency. The article has been edited to make the distinction clear.