Sharad Pawar on why Centre sent Koregaon-Bhima probe to NIA

This is for the first time that a non-Shiv Sena leader has featured in a marathon interview series in the party mouthpiece. Photo: PTI (File)

NCP chief Sharad Pawar alleged on Saturday that the Union government transferred the probe into the Koregaon-Bhima violence case in a hurry to the NIA, because it feared that fresh investigation by the Maharashtra government would “expose” the dubious actions of the previous BJP-led dispensation in the state.

The Union home ministry transferred the probe to the National Investigation Agency soon after the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government in Maharashtra took steps to go to the root of the case, Pawar claimed.

Speaking to reporters, Pawar noted the case was transferred to the central agency days after he wrote to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, alleging that the violence was the result of a conspiracy hatched by the then BJP-led government with the help of police, and sought an SIT probe.

“The deputy chief minister (Ajit Pawar) and home minister (Anil Deshmukh) called a meeting (of police officials) to know the factual position. But within four-five hours of that, the Centre handed over the probe to its agency,” Pawar claimed.

While the Union government has got some additional rights (to transfer a case) under the NIA Act, law and order is a state subject, the NCP chief noted.

He also questioned the reason for handing over the case to the NIA “in a hurry”.

“It shows there is substance in the allegation that some officials misused powers to arrest people, including innocent ones,” the former Union minister said.

“I think this (fresh probe by the state) would have exposed (the earlier government) and to avoid that this has been done,” Pawar said, terming the Union home ministry’s action as dubious.

The NCP president also questioned the branding of Left-leaning activists arrested in connection with the case as ‘Maoists’. Then-chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had not mentioned any Maoist connection when he spoke about the Koregaon-Bhima violence in the Assembly, Pawar claimed.

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Pawar also asked the state government to probe “behaviour” of the police officers who probed the case even though the matter has been transferred to the NIA now.

Shiv Sena leader Deepak Kesarkar, a minister of state for home in the Fadnavis-led government, had said on Friday that there was evidence against the arrested activists.

Pawar disagreed with Kesarkar, saying he did not know how much information was shared with Kesarkar when he was a minister of state, he added.

“The minister of state for home does not have as much powers as a (cabinet) minister,” he said.

According to Pune police, the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, was supported by Maoists and inflammatory speeches made at the event led to the caste violence at the Koregaon Bhima war memorial in the district the next day.

During the course of the probe into the violence, the police 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.