The National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over the probe into the 2018 Koregaon-Bhima violence on Friday, a day after the Maharashtra government held a review meeting with senior Pune police officers to take a call on pursuing the matter.
The centre's decision has given rise to yet another face-off with the Uddhav Thackeray government, which was seen to be preparing to withdraw all cases against intellectuals and social activists accused of inciting the clashes. "Handing over the Koregaon-Bhima probe to the NIA is against the constitution and I condemn it," said Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, adding that the decision was taken without the state government's consent.
Maharashtra Housing Minister Jitendra Awhad, who was just as angered by the "unconstitutional action", sought to remind the centre that law and order is a state subject. "The direct action of the centre to take over the Koregaon-Bhima case amounts to insulting the constitution. The constitution clearly speaks on the relation between the centre and state. Defence goes to centre while law and order comes to state. When you take over certain subjects of a state, you trample on its constitutional rights," he said.
In the politically charged Koregaon-Bhima case, critics have accused the BJP-led central government of jailing activists opposed to its ideology and branding them as "Urban Naxals".
Former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis backed the centre's decision, claiming that his successor -- Uddhav Thackeray -- had decided to let "certain Urban Naxals" named in the case off the hook for political reasons. "The Maharashtra Police conducted a probe and exposed the Urban Naxals. Even the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Maharashtra police. Ever since the new government came to power, some people -- for the sake of votes -- have been demoralising the police. Chargesheets had even been filed in some cases, but they tried to alter charges for the sake of votes," he said.
The case involves violence that erupted near Koregaon-Bhima in Pune district on January 1, 2018, while Dalit groups were celebrating 200 years of a British-era battle. The Pune police had filed cases against activists and intellectuals who gave speeches at Elgar Parishad, a gathering held on December 31, 2017, preceding the celebrations. They were accused of inciting violence and subsequently picked up in raids conducted across the country.
The police, then controlled by the erstwhile BJP government led by Devendra Fadnavis, claimed that the organisers of the gathering have Maoist links.