Is the Maha Vikas Aghadi, the political coalition between the Shiv Sena, Congress, and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra, as infrangible as it was originally assumed to be? A rift seems to have recently originated between the NCP and the Shiv Sena over the Maharashtra government’s decision to transfer the investigation of the Bhima Koregaon case to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

Expressing his disappointment on the state government’s decision, Sharad Pawar said, “Maharashtra government’s decision of handing over the Bhima Koregaon case to NIA isn’t right.”

Pawar’s statement comes as a day earlier, Shiv Sena did some refashioning of its earlier stance on the issue.

Notably, when the BJP-led central government transferred the probe in the Bhima Koregaon case from the Pune Police to the NIA the last month, the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government in Maharashtra had criticised the move. Thereby, all three parties were on the common thread in their opposition to the Centre’s decision. Chief Minister and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray had even said that the Union government has all rights to step into the probe, but it should have taken the state government into confidence before handing over the investigation to NIA. He said the case was handed over to NIA when NCP chief Sharad Pawar was demanding a probe into it by a Special Investigation Team (SIT).

However, on February 13, Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Sanjay Kumar announced that the state Home department has “no objection to the case being entrusted to the NIA”. This is widely being seen as a revision of the Shiv Sena’s original stance of opposing the Centre’s move and thereby indicates a potential rift in the Maha Vikas Aghadi political coalition.

The NIA last week filed an application before a sessions court in Pune, seeking transfer of case papers, seized data, court records and proceedings to the special NIA court in Mumbai. However, the prosecution then opposed NIA’s application, saying the reasons given by the central probe agency in its plea were not legal and sufficient to transfer the case to a special NIA court.

Violence had taken place near the Koregaon Bhima memorial during the bicentennial celebration of an 1818 battle where the East India Company’s forces, which included sepoys of Mahar caste, a Dalit community, defeated the army of the Brahmin Peshwa ruler of Pune.

Dalits commemorate the victory as a symbol of the defeat of the old Brahmanical order. Pune Police had claimed that inflammatory statements made a day earlier at Elgar Parishad conclave in Pune on December 31, 2017, allegedly backed by Maoists, led to the violence. During the probe, the police arrested Left-leaning activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao for alleged Maoist links.

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