Saturday, Nov 22, 2014

The ‘Gandhian’ as a ‘Maoist’: Journalist Prafulla Jha fights back his sedition charges

Written by Ashutosh Bhardwaj | Posted: October 27, 2013 4:51 am

Chhattisgarh called the arrest of Prafulla Jha and seven others its ‘biggest success in cracking the urban Maoist network’. Earlier this year,Jha became the first journalist convicted of sedition in the state. As he fights back,the holes in the police’s story are showing. Ashutosh Bhardwaj reports

For more than five years now,Prafulla Jha has been in Raipur jail. Fifteen months to go for the end of his term,the man whose arrest,along with seven others,had been termed by the Chhattisgarh Police as its “biggest success in cracking the urban network of Maoists”,has challenged his conviction in the high court.

The court didn’t rule him a Maoist,nor did it find that he was a member of any banned outfit. His interrogation report called him “a Gandhian who would never resort to or support violence”. Still,in July 2013,Jha became the first Chhattisgarh journalist to be convicted on charges of sedition and of attempt to wage a war against the nation.

The recent arrest of alleged Maoist couriers Hem Mishra,a student of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University,and Prashant Rahi,an Uttarakhand activist,from Gadchiroli,and the raid on the house of Delhi University professor G N Saibaba in the Capital have brought the urban network of Maoists back in focus. But while the security forces may assert that the instances confirm rebel operations in cities,Jha’s case underlines that the charges rest on little more than presumptions.

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In the Raipur office of Dainik Bhaskar in the mid-1990s,Prafulla Jha,a self-proclaimed “Gandhian journalist”,were sometimes seen translating papers his colleagues thought was ‘Maoist literature’. Among the friends with whom he discussed political economy was a young lawyer,Vijay Reddy alias K R Reddy,later known as Gudsa Usendi or the spokesperson of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of the CPI (Maoist). Belonging to Karimnagar in Andhra Pradesh,Reddy lived with his family in Bhilai,a mofussil town of then undivided Madhya Pradesh.

In December 2007,Reddy disappeared. The arrests happened the following month.

On January 21,2008,according to the police,Jha’s transporter son Prateik and Reddy’s wife Shanti Priya alias Malti dropped seven bags of weapons and Maoist literature,including a short story collection,Premchand ki Sarvshreshtha Kahaniyan (by the legendary Hindi author),on a road in Raipur “for some unknown Maoists”. The next day,Malti and her friend Meena Chaudhary were arrested,and at their instance,Jha was held.

A bag containing weapons and other material was recovered from Jha’s home. Prateik and his friend Siddharth Sharma,both travel agents,were arrested days later on the charge of transporting weapons and other material for Maoists. On the basis of Malti’s account,Bilaspur-based cloth merchants Naresh and Ramesh Khubnani and Raipur-based tailor Dayaram Sahu were also arrested.

Four years later,in April 2012,Malti and Chaudhary were among those whose release was sought by the Maoists for releasing abducted Sukma Collector Alex Paul Menon. 

This July,a Raipur court held all the eight guilty of supporting Maoists,with the local media reporting the case as “hardcore Naxals convicted”. What didn’t get highlighted was that the court did not term any of them a Maoist,even rejecting the prosecution’s contention that they were members of a banned outfit. continued…

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