The five ‘urban Maoist activists’ arrested in a coordinated action by the Pune Police on Tuesday in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence on January 1 this year were directed to be kept under house arrest till the next hearing on September 6 by the Supreme Court hearing a petition challenging the arrests. The activists were picked up by the Maharashtra Police from different places in the country. The five are: Varavara Rao, lawyer Sudha Bhardwaj, Arun Fereira, Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves. The five are accused of organising Elgaar Prishad in Pune earlier this year which had led to violence and death of two persons.
The Pune event was to mark the 200th year of the Battle of Koregaon in which the Dalits fighting with the British had scored over the Peshwas. The potentially divisive nature of the event was not hidden from anyone. The police had earlier arrested a few more activists for routing funds from the Maoist groups for organising the Elgaar Parishad event. Significantly, among the accusations is the one relating to a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Modi in a ‘Rajiv Gandhi-like manner’. These charges are subject to substantiation in the courts of law. Notably, those arrested on Tuesday have been in jail earlier as well. Ferreira was arrested in 2007 and has since been in and out of jail for orchestrating propaganda for the banned CPI (Maoist).
Gonsalves, arrested from Mumbai, too was jailed in 2007 for his activism on behalf of the banned Maoist group. He was accused of planning terror attacks and infiltrating workers’ unions to source activists for the banned group. In 2014, he was convicted under the Arms Act and the Explosives Act. Navlakha is associated with the People’s Union of Democratic Rights and has often written in academic journals supporting the Maoists and the Naxals. He, too, came under the police scanner during the UPA regime. Rao is a revolutionary poet and civil rights activist and Maoist sympathiser who organised peace talks between various insurgent groups. His hand was suspected in instigating an armed uprising in Andhra Pradesh a few years ago. Allegedly, he was linked to a plot to eliminate Prime Minister Modi, a charge he denies vehemently. It is this cast of characters besides some more like-minded activists which has again come under the radar of the police. The significant thing is that all of them were arrested under the UPA government and at least one of them was duly convicted and prescribed three years of rigorous punishment. Therefore, it does seem rather hypocritical for the Congress Party and its president Rahul Gandhi to criticise the Government and suggest that it was spreading fear in the country. The boot was always on the other foot as far as the country knows since the spree of arrests had begun under the Congress raj.
People who have equated the arrests to the onset of Emergency have no clue what they are talking about. Several Naxal sympathisers were eliminated in jail years ago when the Congress was in power and, remember, Khobad Ghandy, was arrested by the Maharashtra Police almost a decade ago. In short, do not try and give political colour to the police action against activists and supporters of the violent underground outfits. In separate courts, the police defended the arrests, insisting that there was evidence that they were involved in unlawful activities and for providing logistics support to the banned groups. The apex court, while commending the right to dissent as essential to the survival of democracy, did not comment on the validity or otherwise of the arrests. None of the petitions was filed by the arrested or their relatives but by a few leftist activists. And the usual suspects on the left who defend every anti-establishment cause from Kashmir to Naxalism waxed eloquent on behalf of the arrested. Ironically, former Bihar chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav seemed to echo Rahul Gandhi, condemning the arrests and accusing the Modi Government of imposing an undeclared emergency. The arrested are on the fringes of the Indian polity and their struggle is to make Maoism mainstream. That will be dangerous for the survival of our democracy, howsoever flawed it may be.