Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar will appear before the Koregaon-Bhima Commission, which is conducting an inquiry into the January 2018 caste violence in Pune district, on April 4, Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik said in Mumbai on Wednesday.
Malik, who is the NCP's national spokesperson, said the commission had asked Pawar, who is a Rajya Sabha member, when it would be convenient for him to depose as a witness before it.
"Pawar said April 4 in the afternoon will be convenient for him as Parliament session would be over by then. Accordingly, the Commission has summoned him on April 4," Malik told reporters at the state secretariat in Mumbai.
He also said that the NCP continues to believe that the 2018 caste violence was 'pre-planned', while adding that that commission headed by Justice (retd) J N Patel, whose term ends on April 8, could get a fourth extension.
While Pawar has already filed an affidavit before the panel, others such as Bharatiya Janata Party leader and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis haven't, he claimed.
"We have been maintaining from day one that the violence was pre-planned. Pawar will put forth his stand before the commission," Malik said.
Asked about the commission's term ending on April 8, he said the government will think about it and grant an extension.
Earlier in the day, the commission's lawyer Ashish Satpute had said the panel had summoned Pawar as a witness.
The NCP chief will appear before the commission in Mumbai. The panel sat in Pune earlier, but its hearings were shifted to the state capital in view of the coronavirus outbreak in Pune.
Apart from Pawar, the commission has also summoned then Superintendent of Police (Pune Rural) Suvez Haq, then Additional SP Sandip Pakhale, then Additional Commissioner of Police Ravindra Sengaonkar and then Pune Collector Saurabh Rao, advocate Satpute added.
Pawar had filed an affidavit before the commission on October 8, 2018.
In February this year, Sagar Shinde, a member of the social outfit Vivek Vichar Manch, filed an application before the commission, demanding that Pawar be summoned in view of certain statements made by him in the media about the 2018 caste violence.
Shinde claimed that at a press conference in February 2018, Pawar alleged that Hindu right-wing activists Milind Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide had created a 'different atmosphere' in Koregaon-Bhima area.
"In the same press conference, Mr Pawar also alleged that the role of Pune city police commissioner is doubtful and must be investigated," Shinde's plea said, adding that he had reasons to believe that Pawar had more information beyond what the NCP chief had stated in his affidavit.
In his affidavit, Pawar had accused the then state government (led by the BJP) and law and enforcement authorities of failing to protect the interest of common people who lived in Koregaon Bhima area.
However, Pawar had also said he would not be able to describe the 'chronology of the said events as that would be the domain of the existing law and order machinery', or to make specific allegations against any organisation.
But an active role of 'right-wing' forces behind the violence could not be ruled out, the NCP chief had said.
Gathering of anti-social elements in large numbers at Koregaon-Bhima indicated a failure of law enforcement agencies, he had added.
Last month, the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government in Maharashtra gave a 'final extension' to the commission till April 8.
Violence erupted in the area around Koregaon-Bhima War Memorial on January 1, 2018, during the 200th-anniversary celebrations of the 1818 battle of Koregaon-Bhima.
Dalits commemorate this battle in which forces of the East India Company, which included soldiers of the Mahar caste (a Dalit community), defeated the Brahmin Peshwa of Pune.
But some right-wing groups opposed the celeberation in 2018.
The Pune Police later alleged that 'provocative' speeches at the Elgar Parishad conclave held on December 31, 2017, triggered the violence the next day.
The conclave organisers had links with Maoists, the police claimed.
In December 2019, Pawar had termed the arrests of Left-leaning rights activists in the Elgar Parishad case 'wrong' and 'vengeful' and demanded a Special Investigation Team to probe the action taken by Pune police.
The Union government, meanwhile, transferred the Elgar case to the National Investigation Agency.