In a major raid conducted across five states on Tuesday, the Pune police arrested five activists on charges of being Naxal sympathisers and investigate their alleged connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence that rocked Pune in January this year.

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

The homes of Kranti in Telangana, Stan Swami in Chhattisgarh and Anand Teltumbde in Goa were also raided.

The authorities confiscated belongings like phones, cameras, laptops, SIM cards and also seized documents and writings from the residence of the activists.

This is the second time that the police have taken such an action. On 17 April, the Pune Police swooped on over half a dozen Dalit activists and those involved with the Kabir Kala Manch, which organised an Elgar Conference in Pune on 31 December 2017.

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

According to the police, the speeches made by the activists arrested today at the Elgaar Parishad conclave, a day ahead of the bicentennial celebration of the battle of Bhima Koregaon, were one of the triggers for the violence that was gripped Pune the next day.

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 letter

In June, police in Pune 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.

The letter written by a person identified only as ‘R’ reportedly mentions a plot to kill the Prime Minister on the lines of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

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.

Who are the five?

Varavara Rao is poet, writer and activist known for his revolutionary literature. A police team from Pune arrested the revolutionary writer from Hyderabad after searching his house and the houses of his family members and friends including a journalist.

Rao was shifted to the government-run Gandhi Hospital for a medical check-up. He is likely to be produced before a court in Hyderabad before shifting him to Pune.

Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira are Mumbai-based activists. Gonsalves has been reportedly arrested before under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Arms Act in 2007 under which he served sentence till 2013.

Sudha Bharadwaj is a visiting professor of Law and Poverty, and tribal rights at the National Law University (NLU), Delhi. She is a civil rights activist and the general secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Chhattisgarh.

Her daughter Maaysha told ANI that a team of 10 people came in the morning. “They didn’t have a search warrant but were carrying another document. They checked our mobile phones and laptops and took all passwords,” she was quoted as saying by ANI.

Navlakha is journalist and civil rights activist who is also involved with PUCL. He has also served as a convener for International People’s Tribunal for Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir.

A 10-member team of Delhi Police’s Special Cell accompanied the Pune Police team to a residence in Greater Kailash 1, but Navalakha was not found there. He was arrested from Nehru Enclave.

He was taken to a city court for taking transit remand and from the court, he was taken to the Special Cell office in Lodhi Colony. He was kept there until a Delhi High Court order instructed officials to not take Navalakha out of the national capital till it hears the matter tomorrow morning.

A bench of justices S Muralidhar and Vinod Goel said Navalakha will remain at his residence under police guard and will be allowed to meet only his lawyers.

He was then escorted to Nehru Enclave from the Special Cell office.

All the persons arrested have been booked under various sections of the IPC including sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.) and 120 (Concealing design to commit offence punishable with imprisonment) of the Indian Penal Code.

‘Attack on democratic rights’

“This is a brazen attack on democratic rights. We are demanding that all the cases against these people be withdrawn and they be released forthwith,” said CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat on raids and arrests.

Joining him in condemning the arrests, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said, “Ever since the Bhima Koregoan violence against Dalits, the Maharashtra Police along with central agencies have been targeting dalit rights activists and lawyers who have been taking up their cases. This is a brazen attack on democratic rights & civil liberties.”

Congress president Rahul Gandhi attacked the RSS over the development.

“There is only place for one NGO in India and it’s called the RSS. Shut down all other NGOs. Jail all activists and shoot those that complain. Welcome to the new India. #BhimaKoregaon,” he wrote on Twitter.

 

(With inputs from agencies.)