Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani and former JNU student Umar Khalid were among those who had participated in Elgaar Parishad on December 31, 2017 (File/Express Photo by Pavan Khengre)
The Elgaar Parishad case, which the NIA has decided to take over from Pune police, is one of the two ongoing investigations related to the Koregaon Bhima violence witnessed on January 1, 2018. This one is based on an FIR filed in Pune alleging that banned Naxalite groups had organized the Elgaar Parishad, an evening programme organised in the city on December 31, 2017, on the eve of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. Police claims that speeches made at Elgaar Parishad were at least partly responsible for instigating violence the next day.
The other investigation is into the act of violence itself. That investigation is based on FIRs filed by two Dalit women, who had alleged that Hindutva groups were behind the January 1, 2018 violence in which one person from the Maratha community was killed and several others were injured. In various cases of violence, about 200 people were booked for their alleged involvement, and questioned, but all of them are out on bail now.
The Elgaar Parishad case became prominent because of the arrests of some high profile activists and lawyers, some of who are in jail for over a year now. The initial investigation had focused on the people and groups who had organized the Elgaar Parishad. Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mewani and former JNU student Umar Khalid were among those who had participated in Elgaar Parishad and made speeches. Pune police claims what while carrying out the investigation, it had stumbled upon material that provided clues about the operations of a larger underground network of banned Naxalite groups.
In June 2018, the Pune police had arrested five activists and lawyers from Pune, Nagpur and Delhi, claiming that these had links to banned Naxalite organization, CPI(Maoist) and had played a role in organizing the Elgaar Parishad. Later that year, in August, the Pune police carried out simultaneous searches at the houses of eight prominent activists in Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Goa and Ranchi. Its bid to arrest the activists was foiled by judicial intervention, but three months later, it managed to arrest four of them, including Chhattisgarh-based Sudha Bhardwaj, and Hyderabad-based Varavara Rao. They have been in jail ever since. The others, Anand Teltumbde, a Goa-based academic and professor, and Delhi-based Gautam Navalakha have managed to obtain judicial reprieve against their arrests.
In the courts, the Pune police has claimed that the arrested activists had active links to the CPI(Maoist) which was engaged in destablising the country, and working against national security. It had even claimed that the arrested people were associated with a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Last month, Pune city police had filed ‘draft charges’ against 19 out of the 23 accused persons booked in this case under sections of IPC and UAPA. The chargesheet stated that the accused had arranged the Elgar Parishad through “frontal” organisation Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) for “creating communal disharmony” and had “enacted provocative songs, short plays, dance, and distributed books and circulated printed Naxal literature to exploit the communal sentiments of Dalits and other classes across the state, and provoked them in the name of caste in order to create violence, instability and chaos in district Pune, at various places, including Bhima Koregaon, and in the state of Maharashtra.”
The new government in Maharashtra had said it would reexamine the Elgaar Parishad case. On Wednesday, a team of Pune police had made a presentation before deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and home minister Anil Deshmukh about the status of the case.