Pulled up by the Supreme Court and drawing sharp criticism for the arrest of five civil rights activists and lawyers earlier this week, the Maharashtra Police Friday released details of letters it claims to have seized from five activists arrested this June in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence in Maharashtra in January.
The letters, police claimed, mention plans to allegedly purchase grenade launchers and ammunition worth Rs 8 crore for the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).
Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Parambir Singh said that the communications, which included “thousands” of letters, were found in hard disks seized from the home of activist Rona Wilson in Delhi. He also claimed that the police required custody of the activists to confront them with the letters.
Singh was addressing a press conference with Shivaji Bodkhe, Joint Commissioner of Police, Pune and the investigating officer, Shivaji Pawar.
In June, Pune police had arrested Sudhir Dhawale from Mumbai, activist Rona Wilson from Delhi and lawyer Surendra Gadling, professor Shoma Sen and Adivasi rights activist Mahesh Raut from Nagpur.
Almost three months later, the Pune police, on August 28, raided the homes of activists and lawyers in several states and arrested five – Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, Sudha Bharadwaj in Faridabad and Gautam Navalakha in Delhi.
The Supreme Court has ordered that the five activists and lawyers arrested Tuesday should be kept under house arrest till September 6 and issued notice to Maharashtra government.
“Rona Wilson wrote to Comrade Prakash of the CPI (Maoist) on April 18, 2017, about procuring M4 grenade launchers and 4 lakh rounds (of ammunition). We have also found a password-protected catalogue of Russian-manufactured grenade launchers on Wilson’s computer. But we do not know whether the Maoists purchased the weapons,” Singh said.
In the letter, according to Singh, Wilson claimed to have been in touch with an arms supplier in Nepal about procuring the weapons, but that only Hyderabad-based poet Varavara Rao was authorised by the party to speak to the supplier.
“It would benefit us to fast-track the process and get the equipment ready on the ground. We are losing dozens of comrades in encounters in different states which are bound to increase over time. Surendra (Gadling) and V. V. (Rao) both feel that there is a pressing need to inflict heavy damage on the enemy forces, something that we have not been able to do since the 2013 Darbha ambush,” Singh said, quoting from one letter.
The letter also allegedly mentioned the need for concrete steps to be taken to “end Modi Raj”. “We are thinking of a Rajiv Gandhi-type of incident,” said Singh further said, reading from the letter.
Advocate Ravindranath Balla, who is representing Rao, called the police’s allegations false and the letters fabricated. “It is a false allegation to vacate the stay imposed on the transit remand. When the seizure itself is illegal, what is the credibility of the evidence? The police can create any letters after taking the hard disks,” he said.
Police also claimed that a letter sent by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) to Rona Wilson on January 2, 2018, a day after the Bhima-Koregaon violence, describes Gujarat MLA Jignesh Mevani and student activist Umar Khalid as “young fighters of our revolution”.
Police alleged that the letter also mentions that with support from Prakash Ambedkar, leader of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, the Maoists will be able to consolidate Dalit struggles across the country within in a few years.
Reached for comment, Ambedkar questioned how the police could label the letter as incriminating evidence. “I have no idea about this letter. This is correspondence between two individuals about overthrowing the government through a democratic process. Every political party not in power speak of this. The letter shows a change of heart on part of the Maoists,” he said.
According to Singh, an examination of computer hard disks seized from homes of the activists arrested in June revealed “thousands of letters”. “The sanctity of evidence has been maintained. The original devices are being examined by the Forensic Science Laboratory which has given us cloned copies. We have cracked the passwords protecting the devices to access the letters,” he said.
The police also claimed that in March this year, the accused were paid Rs 15 lakh in two separate transactions to carry forward the “momentum” gained from the violence in Pune’s Bhima-Koregaon village.
“The accused had been working to build momentum for several months before 31 December 2017 when provocative and hatred-filled speeches were made during the Elgaar Parishad. Their conspiracy was to establish an All-India front against the government, create chaos and law and order problems and overthrow the government. This was to be implemented through the overground cadre,” Singh said.