The Union Home Ministry’s decision to intervene in the Elgar Parishad probe and hand over the case to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is flawed for many reasons. Though the law allows the Centre to transfer a case to NIA without consulting the state government concerned, the context and timing of the decision raises questions.
First, it threatens to undermine the spirit of federalism. That the Centre took the call a day after the Maharashtra government reviewed the chargesheet filed in the case is unlikely to be seen as mere coincidence. The state government had also hinted that a special investigation team could be asked to probe the case, investigated by the Pune police since 2018. Besides, Sharad Pawar, the architect of the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government in Maharashtra, has criticised the arrests and incarceration of activists and intellectuals in the case. While the Pune police reports to the state government, the NIA is answerable only to the Union Home Ministry. Second, the Elgar Parishad case has gone through the investigation process and reached the courts — bail pleas in the case have been heard by the Supreme Court. For the Union Home Ministry to intervene at this juncture and change the investigating agency is tantamount to undermining this process. Even if the state government orders a review of the case, it will have to pass the test of the courts. With the Centre ordering the NIA to take over the investigation, the cloud over the case has grown bigger. The NCP and Congress have termed the intervention as a political ploy to protect the previous BJP government, under which the Elgar Parishad case was filed. Third, the credibility of the NIA as an independent investigative agency itself is being questioned. An impression has formed that the agency, set up in 2008 following the Mumbai attacks to probe acts of terrorism, is just another arm of the Centre, another “caged parrot” meant to serve its political masters.
The Elgar Parishad case has been contested as politically motived from the beginning. The police claim that the Parishad and the Bhima Koregaon incident are related and point towards a deep-rooted conspiracy involving Maoists etc. has also been disputed. The non-BJP political groups have claimed that the police made these charges to protect Hindu right-wing groups, which they accuse of triggering the violence in Bhima Koregaon. Whatever the merits of the claims and counter-claims, the probe has been completed and the case is waiting to be heard by the court. Any attempt to unilaterally change the course now will be seen as motivated and driven by bad faith. That will hurt the Centre and the investigative agency and further politicise a case already fraught.
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