Tussle brews between Sena and NCP over CM’s stand on Bhima-Koregaon case

Bhima Koregaon

Trouble has been brewing among the coalition partners of Maha-Vikas Aghadi, particularly between the Shiv Sena and the NCP when the architect of the coalition government, Sharad Pawar slammed the chief minister Uddhav Thackeray for handing over the Koregaon-Bhima case to National Investigation Agency.

A day after the Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, who belongs to his party, said that Chief Minister Thackeray had “overruled” him on the Koregaon-Bhima probe, in which right activists have been arrested for alleged connection with Naxalites, Pawar joined him and criticised the state government. It was not right for the union government to hand over the investigation to the NIA. But it was even more wrong for the state government to support the transfer of the case, the NCP supremo rued. However, he also said the order of investigation by the central agency cannot be said to be illegal or improper. But before doing so, it should take a nod from the state.

The relations among ruling allies were more aggravated when the Maharashtra minister and the NCP spokesman, Nawab Malik, asserted that there should a parallel enquiry along with NIA by the state government in the case while endorsing Pawar’s statement in this regard. The new development has given an enough indication that differences of allies are growing day by day.

The case relates to the alleged inflammatory speeches at the Elgar Parishad conclave, held at Shaniwarwada in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the police claimed, triggered violence near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial the next day. The Pune police have claimed the conclave was backed by the naxalites, and arrested activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao for alleged Maoist links. Pawar, who made it possible for the Shiv Sena, Congress, and the NCP to come together to form the government in the state, had demanded a probe by the special investigation team (SIT).

Pawar supporters pointed out that the NIA was given the case at a time when the process of setting up the SIT was initiated by the state government. Meetings took place between 9 am and 11am and the Centre took the decision to hand over the case to the NIA at 3 pm (on January 25), he said. The Maharashtra government should not have supported the Centre’s move, Pawar said. Crying foul, the NCP-Congress attacked the BJP -led Central government “for exceeding its brief for sheer political reasons” over the issue.

A piqued Pawar accused the BJP of harbouring “an acute fear” of being disrobed in the Koregaon-Bhima-Elgar Parishad case and chose to post-haste hand it over to the NIA. He reiterated his demand for a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to conduct an in-depth independent investigation to “unravel the truth” over the Pune Police’s probe into the case and “directed” the state to initiate a parallel enquiry into the matter.

The Congress youth icon, Rahul Gandhi also strongly condemned the move and said that anyone opposes Modi-Shah (MOSH) he or she will be branded as either urban naxalite or anti-national. And the Koregaon-Bhima is one of such examples. “Anyone who opposed the MOSH agenda of hate is an ‘Urban Naxal’. Koregaon-Bhima is a symbol of resistance that the government’s NIA stooges can never erase,” Gandhi said in a sharp tweet. The NCP-Congress appear firm on setting up an SIT to re-look at the high-profile and sensitive case which could bring out skeletons of the former BJP-regime and its investigators, prompting the Centre to hastily shift it to NIA.

Pawar contended that many prominent personalities and legal luminaries such as former Supreme Court Judge PB Sawant, former Bombay High Court Judge BG Kolse-Patil and others have raised objections to the manner in which the case was probed by Pune Police in which activists were arrested from different parts of India and branded ‘urban Naxals’. On Jan. 1, 2018, caste riots erupted when over 100,000 Dalits converged to celebrate the historic Jan. 1, 1818 victory of a small 800-strong force of the Mahar caste of the Bombay Native Infantry of the British East India Company over a battalion of the huge 28,000-strong army of the Peshwa Bajirao II in Koregaon-Bhima after a 12-hour battle.

The differences grew further when a perturbed Pawar held a meeting of NCP ministers and senior leaders in Mumbai in this regard on Monday. The meeting unanimously decided that there should be a parallel enquiry into the case. Besides, the meeting expressed its reservation over Thackeray’s assent to National Population Register (NPR), a move criticised by both the NCP and the Congress. The NCP feels that the party would attract the sympathy of dalits and minorities by opposing these two issues. During the meeting, Pawar reportedly apprised them about the party’s stand on contentious issues.

It seems that the on-going tussle is not just between the Centre and Maharashtra. It is also between the Shiv Sena and the NCP, both major partners in the Maharashtra government. Their stand on the matter reflects the pressure of their voter bases. The NCP’s voters are secular, progressive, whereas the Sena is a Hindutva party. So, there was a clash and we must understand that such clashes are eminent in the future.