Former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Monday hit back at NCP chief Sharad Pawar for his statement over the arrest of activists in the 2017 Elgar Parishad case, saying some of them had been put behind bars for their "Maoist links" when the Congress-NCP coalition government was in power in 2007.
Fadnavis, who is the Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, also said that words like "urban naxal" and "urban naxal front" were mentioned in a list issued by then Manmohan Singh government of Congress in which Pawar served as a minister.
Terming the arrest of activists in the Elgar Parishad case "wrong" and "vengeful", Pawar on Saturday demanded that a Special Investigation Team be set up under a retired judge to probe the action taken by Pune police.
Interacting with reporters here, Fadnavis wondered how could the arrest of activists by his government is termed "communal" while the fact is that the same set of people were prosecuted during the erstwhile Congress-NCP government.
"I am surprised after hearing the statements of Pawar saheb in connection with the Elgaar case. He said particular people from the Dalit community were arrested for reciting poems, singing songs or possessing particular literature," Fadnavis said.
He also said that the background of the arrested persons needs to be checked.
"Sudhir Dhavale was arrested when R R Patil of the NCP was a home minister (during 2003-08 and 2009-14). Other activists like Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferriera were arrested when Home ministry was with the NCP in 2007," the former CM said.
Fadnavis, who handled Home ministry when he helmed the state during 2014-19, claimed that it was the Manmohan Singh government which had issued a list of some "front organisations of a banned Maoist outfit in Parliament, and Pawar was a part of that government".
"Now when the arrests were made when the Congress-led government was in power at the Centre they were appropriate, but the same were dubbed communal when the BJP government took action," Fadnavis said sarcastically.
According to Pune police, the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on Dec 31, 2017, was supported by Maoists and inflammatory speeches made at the event led to caste violence at Koregaon-Bhima war memorial in the district the next day.
Pune police had arrested nine activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Varavara Rao in connection with the case.
Fadnavis also accused Pawar of "selective reading" of observations made by Justice D Y Chandrachud and ignoring the remarks of two other judges of the Supreme Court.
A three-judge bench of the SC had in the past refused the plea seeking the immediate release of the activists.
Justice Chandrachud, in his judgement dissenting with the majority, had said that the arrest of the five accused was an attempt by state to muzzle dissent, and dissent is symbol of a vibrant democracy.
"A leader of the stature of Sharad Pawar should not take a (politically) convenient stand on the case. Because of such a stand, the morale of the police will go down," Fadnavis said while referring to Pawar's statement that officers of Pune Police involved in arresting the activists should be suspended.
A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi remarked that there were no detention centres in India, Fadnavis said his government had put up a proposal to set up a facility for temporary keeping of foreign nationals whose visas have expired.
"Yes. Cidco (City and Industrial Development Corporation) was asked to provide a land (in Navi Mumbai) to set up a centre for those foreigners who are found living in India beyond the visa expiry period. It is wrong to call such a facility a detention centre," he said.