Maharashtra to review non-serious cases over political protests

The Uddhav Thackeray-led government on Wednesday decided to review all police cases related to social and political protests over the last five years so as to ensure the “innocent are not punished,” senior Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde said.

The government, however, clarified that the cases it is considering withdrawing are non-serious in nature and that some, such as those registered for anti-state activities against the Elgar Parishad organisers will not be reviewed.

There was outrage in several quarters on Wednesday, following newspaper reports that the so-called Elgar Parishad cases will be withdrawn. Activist Gautam Navlakha is currently out on bail. Besides him, four others — Varavara Rao, a poet-activist from Telangana; Arun Ferreira,lawyer and human rights activist; Vernon Gonsalves, an activist and former academic; and Sudha Bharadwaj, another civil rights activist and advocate — are accused in the case. The others are lodged in jail.There are five activists – Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson – who are also in jail after being arrested last year.

The Shiv Sena’s political allies, especially the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), have demanded that criminal cases filed against people involved in the Bhima-Koregaon, Nanar refinery, and Aarey car shed protests, the Maratha reservation and the farmers’ rallies, and the Dhangar march be withdrawn. Senior minister and NCP leader Jayant Patil said on Wednesday that “non-serious cases registered for protests in Bhima-Koregaon and Maratha reservation agitations will be withdrawn after the review.”

As for the Elgar Parishad cases, he said these were before the Supreme Court and that “ the law will take its own course”.

NCP MLA Dhananjay Munde, Congress MP Hussain Dalwai and Congress leader Arif Naseem Khan have demanded the withdrawal of the cases against those booked for organising the Elgar Parishad ahead of the Bhima-Koregaon violence. Munde, in his letter to chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, said: “Many innocent intellectuals, social activists, and writers have been booked by terming them Naxalites. The cases should be immediately withdrawn. The previous Bharatiya Janata Party government suppressed the voice of the people talking against it.”

“By taking back cases against those involved in Aarey or Nanar refinery protests, the government is showing its anti-development face,” BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari said. “There is a clear attempt to protect urban Naxals and to pressure the government to shield Naxalite activities as both Congress and NCP have sought withdrawal of such cases,” he added

To be sure, the process of withdrawing cases in the Bhima-Koregaon violence of January 1 and 2, 2018 and in the Maratha reservation protests in June and July 2018, began during the term of the Devendra Fadnavis-led NDA government in which the Shiv Sena was a partner.

A majority of the cases in the Maratha agitation has already been withdrawn. The Fadnavis government constituted a cabinet sub-committee under then finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar in October 2018. Cases were registered against 371 people in the Bhima-Koregaon violence, while 328 people were booked in the Maratha agitation. The director general of police submitted a review of the cases. Later, the Mungantiwar committee withdrew cases against 271 Maratha protesters.

“The decision of withdrawal of the cases will be taken either by the home minister or the cabinet sub-committee appointed by the new government,” said an official from the home department who asked not to be named. “Most of the 371 cases can be withdrawn by the respective courts where the charge-sheets are registered if the government recommends it.”

On Tuesday, Thackeray set up a high-power committee to review cases pertaining to these two protests.

Advocate Rohan Nahar, who is representing activists Varavara Rao and Rona Wilson in the Elgar Parishad case, said: “ Frankly this is no surprise. I was expecting this all along… This is nothing but a political gimmick,” he said.

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