The Maharashtra government on Thursday withdrew 348 of the 649 registered cases related to the Bhima Koregaon case, and 460 of the 548 cases in connection with the Maratha quota protests in 2018, ANI reported, quoting state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh.

The state is ruled by the Maha Vikas Aghadi, an alliance that was born late last year when the Shiv Sena quit its alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party and entered a tie-up with the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress. Deshmukh is a leader of the Nationalist Congress Party.

Earlier this month, the Centre had transferred the Elgar Parishad inquiry from the Pune Police to the National Investigation Agency, on approval from Shiv Sena chief and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. However, this did not go down well with the Nationalist Congress Party, whose chief Sharad Pawar condemned the move.

On February 18, Thackeray announced that the state government will investigate the Bhima Koregaon case. The Chief Minister’s Office said that the Elgar Parishad inquiry and the Bhima Koregaon probe are two different cases.

The erstwhile Devendra Fadnavis-led government in Maharashtra had approved 16% reservation for the Marathas in jobs and education in November 2018, after sustained protests. However, the protests had also taken a violent turn, and a bandh was observed in Maharashtra earlier this year.

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 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.