Mumbai: In an effort to keep up the heat on the Bhima-Koregaon issue, the opposition in Maharashtra has accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government of trying to “hide the truth" behind violence in Bhima-Koregaon near Pune in the first week of January.
The opposition Congress has claimed that the two-member committee to probe the violence is actually an attempt to “cover up and shield the real culprits" of the violence.
Last week, the Devendra Fadnavis government appointed a probe panel under former Calcutta high court chief justice J.N. Patel and comprising Maharashtra chief secretary Sumit Mullick. Before the government formed this panel, the Bombay high court declined to lend a serving judge to head the probe panel as requested by the state government. The Congress has criticized the Fadnavis government for announcing on its own in January that the Bhima-Koregaon violence would be probed by a sitting judge. Sachin Sawant, Congress party spokesperson for Maharashtra, has questioned the propriety of the chief minister’s announcement when the authority to appoint judges entirely rested with the judiciary.
“This is a big embarrassment for the state government since it had announced on its own that a sitting judge would probe the violence when it is the Bombay high court which is the right authority to take this decision. In 2002, the Supreme Court had clarified that serving judges should be appointed only if the issue in question was of grave significance. The Bhima-Koregaon violence was grave enough and it has had national repercussions. Yet, the state government failed to make a strong case for a probe under a sitting judge," Sawant told reporters on Saturday.
Between 31 December 2017 and 3 January, parts of Maharashtra, including Pune and Mumbai, were engulfed in incidents of arson and stone-pelting triggered by the violence in Bhima-Koregaon where thousands of Dalits had gathered to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle in which the British Army, which had a strong Mahar (Dalit caste) regiment, had defeated the Marathas led by the Pune-based Peshwa rulers on 1 January 1818. While the opposition described the clashes as an attempt to create animosity between the Dalits and the Marathas, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis has termed the violence as a “condemnable act" but blamed “certain politicians" for exploiting the violence for political ends.
Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, leader of the opposition in Maharashtra legislative assembly, has questioned the inclusion of the Maharashtra chief secretary in the probe panel. “The very inclusion of the chief secretary raises doubts over the intent of the state government. In the first place, there should have been a probe under a sitting judge. Far from it, the state government has also included its own representative in the panel which clearly means there is an attempt to hide the truth," Vikhe-Patil said.
Sawant also pointed out that the probe panel had no authority to investigate criminal offences and though it had been formed under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, its report was not binding on the government. “There are reasons to believe that the government itself played a dubious role in the Bhima-Koregaon issue but the panel won’t get into this aspect because it has a state government representative," Sawant said.