Updated: December 10, 2021 7:57:29 am
Lawyer and activist Sudha Bharadwaj walked out of the Byculla women’s jail in Mumbai on Thursday after securing default bail last week. She spent three years in prison for her alleged links to the banned CPI-Maoist. She was arrested on August 28, 2018, along with four others in the Elgaar Parishad case.
Police had charged her with recruiting for the CPI-Maoist, mobilising funds for the outfit and meeting “undercover” operatives. Allegations are mainly based on documents purportedly retrieved from electronic devices seized in the case.
Elgaar Parishad FIR
Elgaar Parishad was a conclave held at the Shaniwar Wada in Pune on December 31, 2017, ahead of the 200th commemoration of the battle of Koregaon Bhima. Next day, widespread violence was reported in the Koregaon Bhima area in Pune. One person died and several others were left injured in the violence.
On January 8, Pune-based Tushar Damgude lodged an FIR at Vishrambag police station against six activists including Elgaar Parishad organsiers Harshali Potdar, Sudhir Dhawale of Republican Panthers (RP) and four activists of Pune-based cultural group Kabir Kala Manch (KKM). All six were booked under the Indian Penal Code sections 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) and IPC sections 505 (Statements conducing to public mischief) and 117 (Abetting commission of offence by the public).
Bharadwaj’s arrest ‘part of bigger probe’
On April 17, 2018, Pune city police conducted searches at the residence of the six suspects named in the FIR and also at the residence of Delhi-based researcher Rona Wilson and lawyer Surendra Gadling in Nagpur. According to police, they seized several electronic devices in these searches and recovered a significant amount of data from them.
Based on “evidence” obtained from the devices, Pune city police then arrested Wilson, Dhawale and Gadling, along with Nagpur university professor Shoma Sen and former Prime Minister Rural Development (PMRD) fellow Mahesh Raut on June 6, 2018. In addition to IPC sections, police invoked the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) against the five accused, alleging them to be active members of the banned CPI-Maoist. Police further claimed that the probe into the Elgar Parishad expanded beyond the conclave and revealed information about a wide range of activities of CPI-Maoist.
Then, on August 28, 2018, police arrested five more people including Sudha Bharadwaj from Faridabad, P Varavara Rao from Telangana, lawyer Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves from Mumbai in connection with the case. Pune Police has booked a total of 23 people in the case including top fugitive Maoist leader Mupalla Lakshmana Rao alias Ganapathy, Milind Teltumbde (who died recently in an encounter with Maharashtra police in Gadchiroli), Prakash alias Ritupam Goswami, Manglu, Deepu, senior Maoist leader Kishan alias Prashanti Bose (recently arrested by Jharkhand police).
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over the probe into this case in February 2020 and arrested seven more activists including Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde of Goa and Stan Swamy of Jharkhand. Swamy died due to illness in custody on July 5.
‘Digital trail’ that led to charges
Although Bharadwaj was not present at the Elgar Parishad event, police claimed she and other accused were allegedly a part of “larger plan” of banned CPI-Maoist to form a front called ‘Anti Fascist Front’ to overthrow the government. Police also alleged that she was involved in recruiting for CPI-Maoist, encouraging recruits to go underground “in struggle areas”, mobilising and distributing funds for the banned group and providing strategic inputs.
Police further said Bharadwaj was an office bearer of the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), which is a “frontal organisation of the banned CPI-Maoist”. According to police, Bharadwaj met underground CPI-Maoist workers through this organisation.
Police have cited data seized from electronic devices as the basis of these allegations.
They have submitted before different courts a letter allegedly written by Bharadwaj to one “comrade Prakash”, which they claim to have recovered from an electronic device seized from Gadling. On the basis of the content in this letter, police alleged Bharadwaj’s role in sending students from reputed institutions into interior parts of the country in line with CPI-Maoist directions and seeking funds for party work.
Police also alleged that a letter recovered from Rona Wilson regarding minutes of “special women meeting held on January 2, 2018”, makes mention of Bharadwaj as one of those present for the meeting. Police say the document starts with the line ‘For PMs and SC only’ and stipulate that ‘PMs’ means ‘Party Members’ and ‘SC’ means ‘State Committee Members’. There is also a line in the document – “Intensify tactical training for women PLGA members including booby traps/directional mines.”
Police claim PLGA stands for ‘People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army’ of CPI-Maoist.
Police also cite a letter written by “Comrade Prakash to Comrade Rona” and alleged that a senior Party leader had sent instructions through Bharadwaj and Gadling to different members of IAPL across several states. The letter allegedly mentions that Rs 5 Lakh were given to “Comrade Sudhir and Comrade Surendra” and they were told that since Bhima-Koregaon agitation was losing its fire, the other members active in different states should intensify the agitation. The letter also allegedly mentions that “two members of TISS Institute had safely reached Guerrilla Hills”. So police alleged Bharadwaj’s involvement in recruitment for CPI Maoist.
Police also claimed to have got evidence against Sudha from another letter written by “Comrade Prakash” to “Comrade Surendra”, a letter from one “S/S” to “Comrade R”, a separate letter written by Prakash. Police cited various meetings and activities mentioned in these documents and alleged Bharadwaj’s active role in it.
Bharadwaj’s lawyer had however called these documents as unreliable pieces of evidence as none of them are hand written and none bear the signature of Bharadwaj or any other persons.
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