Finally, Maharashtra's newly-formed Maha Vikas Aghadi Government gave up. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray 'overruled' Home Minister Anil Deshmukh and cleared the file to handover the Elgar Parishad probe to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) which is under the Union Government’s Home Ministry. This happened after the tussle between alliance partners the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) went on for almost twenty days.
Now, Deshmukh’s Home Ministry is mulling over options and intend to form a Special Investigation Team (SIT) in connection with 21 other cases in the Bhima Koregaon violence.
On Thursday, Deshmukh addressed a press conference. "We had received advice from legal experts and the judiciary that under law, the NIA has the right to take the case into their hands. But, it was also a matter where the Centre is trying to undermine the authority of the state government. Law and order is state subject. So, we were of the opinion that the SIT should have been constituted to probe all the cases of violence and conspiracy. I have suggested the same but the CM, in his capacity, overruled the suggestion and decided to handover the probe to NIA," he said. He added that being CM, Thackeray can overrule any minister. With the press conference, it was now clear that the Centre’s knee-jerk reaction to get the case into its own hands was not going to be contested in court.
The Bhima Koregaon violence was planned by Hindutva forces, the Pune police said in its first affidavit in court. Sambhaji Bhide, a leader of Shri Shiv Pratishthan, has good relations with Thackeray. Shiv Sena is a known Hindutva party. It broke away with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and joined hands with NCP and Congress as soon as the BJP reneged on an assurance over the CM post. Aside from that, Thackeray has been saying time and again that the Hindutva ideology has not been given up by him or his party.
In such a case, Thackeray allowing the NCP to challenge the NIA decision in the apex court would have come as a blow to his ideological base and evoked a strong reaction from his supporters. To avoid the issue and to not let the BJP play it up either, Thackeray decided not to challenge the Centre in court.
On the other hand, NCP chief Sharad Pawar has publicly demanded the formation of an SIT into the matter. His letter to CM Thackeray demanding the same in January this year kick-started the entire matter. On January 23, HM Deshmukh along with Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar held a meeting with senior officers and reviewed the case. It was clear at the end of the meeting that the SIT had almost been finalised. But, prior to that on the very same evening, the Centre moved fast and took over the case invoking the NIA Act.
"This 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. 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," said senior political observer Padmabhushan Deshpande.
There are a total of 22 cases related to the entire controversy surrounding Bhima Koregaon. The NIA will now take over the Elgar Parishad case. However, the other 21 cases are with the Maharashtra police. "We are now taking advice on whether an SIT could be formed in these other cases too. This will be worked out soon," said Deshmukh. It also means that the NCP has not given up on the case yet.
"Any investigation into the matter will only take place with better coordination between these two parties. They will have to sit together and work out a strategy else the faultlines will get exposed time and again. This will also damage the image of the government at large," said a senior NCP leader who wishes to stay anonymous.