The Maharashtra Police said on Friday there were “clear links” between the five arrested activists and Naxals.

“When we were confident that clear links have been established then only we moved to take action against these people, in different cities. Evidence clearly establishes their roles with Maoists,” ADG (Law and Order), Maharashtra Police, Parambir Singh said at a press conference in Mumbai.

He added that letters exchanged between the activists point to the plotting of a “Rajiv Gandhi-like” incident.

“An email letter, between Rona Wilson and a CPI-Maoist leader, speaks of ending ‘Modi-raj’ with a ‘Rajiv Gandhi-type incident’,” Singh told reporters.

“Case was registered on 8 January about an incident of 31 December 2017 where hate speeches were delivered. Sections were imposed for spreading hatred. Investigation was conducted. Almost all the accused were associated with Kabir Kala Manch,” he was quoted as saying by ANI.

According to the Pune police, speeches made by some arrested activists at the Elgaar Parishad conclave, a day before the bicentennial celebration of the battle of Bhima Koregaon, were one of the triggers for the violence that was gripped Pune on 1 January 2018. The violence left one person dead and ended with Maharashtra shutdown on 3 January called by the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, headed by Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of BR Ambedkar.

The senior police officer added that investigation revealed a big controversy being plotted by Maoist organisations.

“Police has seized “thousands of letters” exchanged between the overground and the underground of Maoists,” the senior police officer said.

“The accused were helping them to take their goals forward,” he said, adding that a terrorist organisation was also involved following which, on 17 May, sections under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act were imposed.

According to the police, the letter also sought money for procuring grenade launchers.

The police said that the Central Committee of Maoists never communicates directly with overground workers and instead chooses a network of couriers and password-protected devices to exchange messages.

The ADG said that the Pune police was able to crack the password-protected evidences obtained from the accused containing the messages exchanged between the overground workers and Maoists.

He added that the five activists arrested on Tuesday, 28 August, only after thorough analysis of the evidences over a period of two months.

At the press conference, the ADG also read out passages from the letters obtained from the accused.

House arrest of five activists

The five activists arrested are Varavara Rao (Telangana), Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Pereira (Mumbai), Sudha Bharadwaj (Chhattisgarh), Gautam Navlakha (Delhi).

On Wednesday, 29 August, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the Centre and the Maharashtra government asking them to explain the grounds on which five eminent human rights activists of the country were arrested in a coordinated operation conducted across states.

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Deepak Misra, and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, also prevented the police from keeping the five activists into custody but said they can be kept under house arrest.

Read More: SC issues notice to Centre, Maharashtra | Orders house arrest of activists till 5 Sept

Hearing a petition filed by historian Romila Thapar, economist Prabhat Patnaik, Satish Deshpande, economist Devaki Jain and human rights activist Maya Daruwala, the apex court observed that “dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If dissent is not allowed then the pressure cooker may burst”.

The petitioners said that the arrests are an attempt “to silence dissent, stop people from helping the downtrodden and marginalised people across the Nation and to instil fear in minds of people”.

“The timing of this action leaves much to be desired and appears to be motivated to deflect people’s attention from real issues,” the petition read.

The apex court has scheduled the next hearing for Thursday, 6 September, by which time both the Centre and the Maharashtra government will have to file their responses.

Who else has been arrested?

The police had also arrested prominent human rights activists like Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale besides raiding Harshali Potdar, Jyoti Jagtap, Ramesh Gaychor and Sagar Gorke in June.

The same month Pune police had allegedly recovered a letter mentioning a plan to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the house of one of the five persons arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence.

It also referred to requirement of Rs 8 crore to purchase an M-4 rifle and four lakh rounds to execute the plot. The letter reportedly mentioned Varvara Rao’s name.