On Wednesday, February 10, The Washington Post reported that the laptop of Rona Wilson, an accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, was attacked with “malware to infiltrate” prior to his arrest and that the software deposited at least ten incriminating letters on his computer. The newspaper has cited a report by a Massachusetts-based digital forensics firm Arsenal Consulting. This firm had examined an electronic copy of the laptop after Wilson made a request.
The Pune Police had arrested Wilson, a well-known social activist, accusing him of plotting against the nation. It had accused Wilson and eleven others of plotting to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The police accusation was based on “proof” that they recovered from Wilson's laptop.
The activists’ arrests happened when the Bharatiya Janata Party was in power in Maharashtra. The case was referred to by many BJP leaders on various platforms, including political ones. When the government changed in November 2019 and the current Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi – an alliance between the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress – came to power, the Bhima Koregaon case was back in conversation.
The NCP chief Sharad Pawar had publicly demanded that the case be reopened. Leaders from his party and the Congress had alleged that the BJP used the case to muzzle dissent against it and to create a rift between two social groups in Maharashtra. When Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh chaired a meeting to check whether they could reopen the case, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over the case the very next day, on January 25, 2020. Since then the matter is being handled by the central agency which comes under the Union home department
Given the background and the recent revelation, the case has again caused a stir in Maharashtra’s politics. NCP leader and Minister for Housing, Jitendra Awhad, has asked for a re-investigation into the case. “After this new report, many like us feel that our doubts about the case were valid. If somebody has infiltrated and planted controversial documents in the laptop and the case is being made on that basis then it will be a gross injustice to the accused. Aside from that it is also a serious crime of tampering with evidence. We have seen how the case was used politically to suppress voices. It is why I think this case deserves to be re-investigated,” said Awhad.
Maharashtra Congress’ chief spokesperson Sachin Sawant said that the BJP had a lot of explaining to do. “We have seen the NIA hastily took over the case when the MVA government tried to reopen it. After these new revelations we can guess the reason behind it. The MVA should take steps not just to bring the truth out but to also find the real accused in the Bhima Koregaon riots and expose the larger controversy behind it. The Congress will request the Home Minister to reopen the case now and investigate it,” said Sawant.
Former Bombay High Court judge and senior social activist, B.G. Kolse Patil, demanded immediate action by the MVA government. “The state government should intervene now. It must expel those officers who came up with these fabricated evidences. Also, an inquiry should be set up into entire incident. The state government has enough right now to intervene after The Washington Post expose,” he said, adding that such “practices to fabricate evidences, fix ideological opponents and create tensions between communities has been there since Gujarat 2002."
Prakash Ambedkar, the grandson of B.R Ambedkar and a Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi leader, had also faced a number of allegations in the Bhima Koregaon case. He said he would go through the Arsenal Consultancy report and issue a statement later.
Wilson’s lawyer, advocate Rohan Nahar, said that his arguments now stand validated by Arsenal Consulting. “The police had no evidence since the beginning. First they tried to allege that the Bhima Koregaon riots was a result of Elgar Parishad but failed to produce a single proof. Later on they came up with a larger conspiracy to assassinate the PM. However, we had been saying since the beginning that the police were trying to fix all the accused by any means, that their motives were political and thus they were building false cases. This report could be the last nail in the coffin,” Nahar said. “They should respect the law from here on in and drop these false charges immediately and release all the accused,” Nahar said.
Meanwhile sources in the Maharashtra home ministry said that they will keep a watch on how the Bombay High Court reacts to the new revelations. “The lawyer of one of the accused (Rona Wilson) has filed a PIL citing these reports and requested that the case be squashed. Now the case is with the NIA so, we will wait for an HC order as of now,” said a senior officer.
Newsclick tried to reach out to Home Minister Anil Deshmukh and MoS Satej Patil for a reaction. The copy will be updated with their response when it is forthcoming.