PUNE, Maharashtra — The Maharashtra government refused to hand over the Bhima Koregaon case to the National Investigation Agency, until it did. The state home ministry under the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)’s Anil Deshmukh was opposed to the NIA, but the Shiv Sena Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray wasn’t.
Senior police officers in Maharashtra are suspected of having gone behind the back of the state government to send an “SOS” to the Union Home Ministry in Delhi, urging the NIA to take up the case. The Maharashtra state government tried to stop the NIA from seizing the case-files in a Pune court, only to reverse its stance a day before the court was scheduled to rule in the matter.
In June 2018, the Pune police launched a series of country-wide raids targeted at lawyers and human rights defenders involved in fighting politically-charged legal cases involving Dalit issues, Adivasi rights, and those accused of supporting the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). Those arrested soon after the raids included celebrated Dalit rights lawyer Surendra Gadling, lawyer, and trade unionist Sudha Bhardwaj, Ambedkarite activist Sudhir Dhawale, Adivasi rights activist Mahesh Raut, writer Arun Ferreira, and retired university professor Vernon Gonsalves.
In November 2019, it emerged that a “state-actor” — most likely the Government of India — had deployed the controversial Pegasus snooping software developed by the Israeli NSO Group to break into the electronic devices of several individuals associated with those arrested. The Israeli government classifies Pegasus as a cyberweapon and doesn’t allow its sale without a valid export license.
In this context, the conflicting signals emerging out to Maharashtra reveal Bhima Koregaon case encapsulate many separate strands of India’s current state of political crisis: the continued politicisation of the Indian police, the arrest and prolonged detention of citizens without charges or sufficient evidence, the...