A day after its high-profile arrests, the Pune police Wednesday told a city court that activists Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves were “active members” of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoists) and part of a conspiracy to set up an “Anti Fascist Front” to “overthrow” the democratic government of the country.
The police did not say anything about their role in organising the December 31 Elgaar Parishad, a “cultural” event in Pune, that is supposed to have contributed to the violence witnessed in areas in and around the city on the 200th anniversary of Battle of Koregaon the next day. Instead, it claimed that these activists were at the “top” of a “pyramid” which gave orders to lower functionaries. The police claimed that the Elgaar Parishad (a conclave) was part of a larger conspiracy to overthrow the elected government.
The Pune city court called the three arrested people and informed them about the Supreme Court order directing them to be put them under house arrest. The city court did not pass any order of its own.
“It is like a pyramid, where main people at the top give orders to those below them… As per their orders, the Elgaar Parishad was organised in Pune. Its objective was to spread rebellion thoughts of banned CPI-Maoists to overthrow the democratic government of India,” government prosecutor Ujjwala Pawar told the city court.
Incidentally, armed overthrow of the elected government in Delhi has been the stated, and well-publicised, objective of the CPI (Maoists) for decades.
Tuesday’s arrests of five activists — Gautam Navlakha from Delhi and Sudha Bhardwaj from Faridabad were also arrested but could not be brought to Pune following court orders which put them in house arrest — were based on an FIR that had complained that the speeches made at the Elgaar Parishad had spread “communal disharmony” and incited violence on January 1.
Justifying the arrests, Pawar told the court that Rao, Ferreira and Gonsalves, along with other accused people, had allegedly “worked on a conspiracy” hatched during the “Eastern Regional Bureau meeting” of the CPI(Maoist) to form an “All India United Front”. Pawar claimed that the “Anti Fascist Front” was this resultant outfit.
She claimed that it was under the aegis of this “Anti Fascist Front” that the Elgaar Parishad was organised in Pune, through the participation of Kabir Kala Manch, an ostensibly cultural group, under the banner of “Bhima Koregaon Shauryadin Prerna Abhiyaan”.
She did not say when the said ERB meeting was held or the specific roles that the arrested people had played in forming the “Anti Fascist Front”.
Defence lawyers said the accusations made by Pune police were “laughable”.
“The allegation is that that these people supported an anti-fascist thought. Our question is what exactly is wrong in that? Is expressing dissent an act against the country? These allegations are laughable,” Rahul Deshmukh, lawyer for Vernon Gonsalves, said.
Rohan Nahar, lawyer for Varavara Rao, said the prosecution had “absolutely failed to connect the dots”. “The application of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act is baseless in this case,” he said.
But Pawar alleged that through Elgaar Parishad, there was a “systematic” plan to “spread Maoist thoughts and instigate violence”, in which, “everyone (including the five arrested in a similar operation in June) has played their role.”
Pawar read out parts of a purported letter, dated January 2, 2018 (a day after January 1 Koregaon Bhima violence), allegedly recovered from digital material seized from suspect Rona Wilson who was among the five arrested by the Pune city police in a similar multi-city raids on June 6. Those five have been in jail for the last three months. They are currently lodged in Yerwada central prison in Pune in magisterial custody.
The purported letter, signed by one ‘Com M’ and addressed to Rona, said: “Overall agenda that was set out in the last ERB meeting seems to be largely followed on the ground, campaigns in support of the marginalised people are now visible in some states but there is still lot of ground to cover. Com. Manglu, Com. Deepu have been coordinating the Koregaon program since last two months with Com. Sudhir, they have been able to gather support from large section of Dalits across the state…Last year in July and August the higher committee has provided two rounds of funds to Com. Sudhir for the task…The Bhima Koregaon agitation has been very effective… the unfortunate death of a youth must be exploited to prepare future agitations and propaganda material”.
The lawyer claimed that the letter showed how Maoists wanted to “intensify the situation after the riots”. Incidentally, the one person who had died in the violence in Bhima Koregaon, Ajay Phatangade, was a Maratha.
Pawar also read out from some other “communications” allegedly seized from Wilson and his colleagues and claimed that Ferreira, Gonsalves and Rao, alias ‘VV’, were active members of the banned CPI-Maoists.
On the basis of these “communications,” Pawar alleged that Rao was involved in the purchase of weapons from Nepal with the help of Manipur-based contacts for the banned outfit, and that Ferreira and Gonsalves were involved in “motivating” youths from Pune, Mumbai, Aurangabad and the Konkan belt, and noted colleges like Tata Institute of Social Sciences, to join banned outfits.
The lawyer once again read out the letter, allegedly recovered from Rona Wilson, in which there is a reference to a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a “Rajiv Gandhi type incident”. This letter was read to the court even when Wilson and his colleagues were produced before a judge a day after their arrest in June.
Arun Ferreira himself argued against his custodial remand. Saying that the letters quoted by the prosecution were seized in the past and the alleged authors of those letters are already in custody, he said that his custody was not required.
ENS adds from New Delhi: In its report to the Home Ministry, the Pune police has said that it was the UPA Government which, in 2012, had identified 128 organisations with links to the banned CPI (Maoist) and those arrested yesterday belonged to some of them.
These links were being investigated, the police said.
Senior Home Ministry officials said that these groups were located in as many as 20 states and were under the scanner. Some cities where these organisations are active include Nagpur, Pune, Mumbai, Ranchi, Hyderabad, Surat, Delhi, Gurgaon and Ghaziabad, officials said.
A senior government official said that supporters of CPI(Maoist) in urban areas are a key source for leadership, resources and logistics.
Said former advisor to the Home Ministry K Vijay Kumar: “In urban hideouts, they do not have to conduct any open operations and they act as safe havens for the leadership. Urban and semi-urban centres are important for their supplies including that of equipment, ammunition and other needs.”