NCP chief Sharad Pawar on Sunday alleged that the Centre has handed over the probe in the Elgar Parishad case to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) as the previous Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra wants to “hide something”. Pawar, who earlier demanded that a Special Investigation Team (SIT) be set up to probe the case in which human rights activists have been arrested for alleged links with Maoists, said the Centre should have taken the Maharashtra government into confidence before handing over the case to NIA.

The former Union minister also asked whether speaking against the government is an “anti-national” activity. “There seems to be something that the then Fadnavis government wants to hide, hence the investigation has been handed over to NIA. When the Koregaon-Bhima violence took place, the Fadnavis government was in power,” Pawar told reporters in Jalgaon.

Meanwhile, Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge on Saturday said Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s decision to allow the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to take over the Elgar Parishad case was “not fair”.

It is the Centre’s prerogative to investigate the Elgar Parishad case, but it should have taken the state into confidence, said Pawar, whose party is an alliance partner in the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government. “Koregaon-Bhima, and Elgar Parishad, held in Pune a day before the violence, are two different issues. Is writing rebellious literature and speaking against the government an anti-national activity?” he asked.

Every year people gather at Koregaon Bhima (a village in Pune), but some people went to nearby villages and “turned them against those who regularly visit the place”. Police have taken action against these people, including (right-wing leaders) Sambhaji Bhide, Milind Ekbote, Pawar said.

In a change of stand, the Maharashtra government recently said it has no objection to NIA taking over a probe into the Elgar Parishad case.

The Centre last month transferred the probe in the case from the Pune Police to NIA, a move then criticised by the state Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government.

Violence broke out between Dalits and Marathas in the village of Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1, 2018. This happened a day after an event in Pune called the Elgar Parishad was organised to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818 between the East India Company and the Peshwa faction of the Maratha Confederacy. One person died in violence during a bandh called by Dalit outfits the following day. The Pune Police claim the conclave was backed by Maoists.

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. The nine activists, currently in jail, are among 11 people booked by the NIA in the Elgar Parishad case.

Pune police have so far booked 23 persons and arrested nine among them for their alleged links with the banned CPI-Maoist group. The police further alleged that the Elgaar Parishad, a conference organized at Shaniwar Wada on December 31, 2017, ahead of the 200th commemoration of the battle of Koregaon Bhima, was held as part of the strategy of and with the funds given by CPI-Maoist.