Nine human and civil rights activists were searched and five of them arrested over allegations of Maoist links after sweeping multi-city raids that have been described by many as "absolutely chilling" and a "virtual declaration of emergency". The raids and arrests were by the Pune police, in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence in January, in which Dalit activists had clashed with upper-caste Marathas. Those arrested include Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao, lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, and activists Arun Fereira, Gautam Navlakha and Venon Gonsalves. The raids were carried out in Delhi, Faridabad, Goa, Mumbai, Ranchi and Hyderabad.
For a second time in five months, the Pune Police on Tuesday raided alleged Maoist sympathizers across the country and arrested five top activists, some of whom are also human rights advocates.
The raids took place at 10 places in Mumbai, Pune, Goa, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Haryana.
“We have arrested Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Pereira, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha, Joint Police Commissioner of Pune Shivajirao Bodkhe said.
Besides, other activists across the country including Kranti, Stan Swami and Anand Teltumbde were raided in the major operation that is part of the ongoing probe into the involvement of Maoist supporters into the Koregaon-Bhima riots of January 1 this year.
Scores of supporters of these activists staged noisy protests during the police raids at various locations, including in Mumbai and Thane.
Among the angles being probed after Tuesday’s crackdown are the modus operandi of the activists, their sources of finance and modes of funding of their activities, their suspected connections with like-minded groups and related issues, officials indicated.
Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) President Prakash Ambedkar flayed the action as “the government’s attempts to silence the masses” in the wake of the recent crackdown on the Hindu rightwing group Sanatan Sanstha.
“But now NGOs which are non-political will become more active and aggressive than they were earlier in opposing this (BJP) government in order to safeguard democracy and human rights,” warned Ambedkar, the grandson of B.R. Ambedkar.
Officials described Tuesday’s operations as a ‘follow-up’ to similar action taken on April 17 when 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 December 31.
The next day, on January 1, caste riots erupted in Koregaon-Bhima which left one person dead, culminating in a Maharashtra shutdown on January 3 called by the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh of Prakash Ambedkar.
After nearly five months, Pune Police teams fanned out in around half a dozen states and raided the homes and offices of several persons who are suspected to be linked with the Elgar Conference or are alleged Maoist supporters.
The police have seized items like computers, laptops, CDs, pen-drives, ‘incriminating documents’ and books from them and contended that they functioned like an ‘urban think tank’ for Maoists. Some of them are also Dalit and human rights activists.
Previously, during the April action, the Pune police had targetted prominent rights activists like Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson and Sudhir Dhawale (all arrested) besides raiding Harshali Potdar, Jyoti Jagtap, Ramesh Gaychor and Sagar Gorke.
The arrested persons were charged under various provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Indian Penal Code.
Tuesday’s operations have been condemned by civil society groups, social and Dalit leaders, academics, rights activists and intellectuals who termed the arrests a conspiracy to divert attention from the activities of the Hindu rightwing.
Calling the arrests “politically motivated and unjustified”, they demanded the immediate release of all the arrested individuals.
After nearly five months, Pune Police teams fanned out in around half a dozen states and raided the homes and offices of several persons who may be linked with the Elgar Conference and suspected to be Maoist supporters.
The Maharashtra Police arrested Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao for his alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his family members said.
A police team from Pune arrested the revolutionary writer after searching his house and the houses of his family members and friends including a journalist.
Varavara Rao was shifted to the government-run Gandhi Hospital for a medical check-up. He is likely to be produced before a court here before shifting him to Pune.
In June, police in Pune had allegedly recovered a letter mentioning a plan to assassinate 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 a requirement of Rs 8 crore to purchase an M-4 rifle and four lakh rounds to execute the plot. The letter reportedly mentions Varavara Rao’s name.
Varavara Rao, who heads ‘Veerasam’, an association of revolutionary writers, had strongly denied the allegations. He had said that all five arrested in the case were working for the betterment of the downtrodden.
The Delhi High Court directed the Maharashtra Police not to take human rights activist Gautam Navlakha – arrested on terror charges – out of Delhi till Wednesday and to keep him under house arrest till further orders.
Journalist Navlakha was arrested from his residence in south Delhi’s Nehru Enclave by a police team from Pune and presented before a magistrate which allowed the police to present him before a court in Pune.
However, Navlakha’s counsel filed a habeas corpus seeking his whereabouts in the High Court in the afternoon. The bench sought a response from Delhi Police.
The police told the court that they had already got transit remand of the accused.
A bench headed by Justice S. Muralidhar, however, directed the police not to take Navlakha out of Delhi and keep him under arrest here till its further orders and listed the matter for further hearing on Wednesday.
The court order came after the Pune Police failed to tell the specific allegation levelled against him.
The court, however, directed Navlakha not to misuse his liberty and said he can only meet his lawyers while under house arrest.
“This is clearly an assault on liberals and a motivated act. There is no ground for detention or restriction of movement,” activist’s counsel Nitya Ramakrishnan and advocate Warisha Farasat said.
The counsel said Navlakha had extended all possible co-operation to the searching officers even in these circumstances. (IANS)