On August 31, the Maharashtra Police released details of letters it claimed 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).
In June, Pune police 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, on August 28, the Pune Police 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 Navlakha in Delhi.
A day later, while seeking custody of the suspects, the police told a city court through district government pleader Ujjwala Pawar that they were “active members” of the CPI-Maoists and part of a conspiracy to set up an “Anti Fascist Front”, whose objective was to “overthrow the democratic government of India”.
While many wonder what is objectionable about a front whose aim is to fight fascism, police say their objection is to more than just the name. They allege that the CPI-Maoists, through its mediators, funded the Elgaar Parishad of December 31, 2017, which is alleged to have contributed to the violence in areas around the city on the 200th commemoration of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon.
Ravindra Kadam, former joint comissioner of Pune City Police (now transferred to Nagpur) who initiated action in the Elgaar Parishad case, says, “For achieving their targets, Maoists work with three magic weapons: the party, the People’s Liberation Army (their armed group) and the United Front. The concept of urban Maoism is part of the United Front. It is their broad strategy to penetrate groups with discontent and motivate them to use revolutionary ways. In the Elgaar Parishad, they strategically gave a narrative to the 1818 war of Bhima Koregaon and…, united about 250 groups and successfully mobilised several persons….”
Police claimed in court that they had evidence that Maoist operatives allegedly routed funds to Mahesh Raut, former Prime Minister Rural Development (PMRD) fellow, who forwarded the money to Nagpur-based lawyer Surendra Gadling, who further gave it to Sudhir Dhawale, one of the key organisers of Elgaar Parishad.
Advocate Rahul Deshmukh, Vernon Gonsalves’s lawyer, said, “The allegations are that these people supported anti-fascist thought. Our question is what is wrong in that?… These allegations are laughable.”
The FIR in the Elgaar Parishad case, lodged by Pune-based Tushar Damgude, initially named Harshali Potdar, Sudhir Dhawale of the Republican Panthers, Mumbai and Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor, Jyoti Jagtap and Deepak Dhengle of the Pune-based cultural organisation Kabir Kala Manch.
In his FIR, Damgude alleged that the suspects had tried to “mislead Dalits and spread the thoughts of violence in their minds”.
After police made their first round of arrests in June, they claimed to have recovered 25,000 GB electronic data, literature and others items from the suspects. The stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act was invoked against the suspects.
Based on the evidence seized from the five suspects, police named four Maoist operatives, including Milind Teltumbde, Prakash alias Ritupam Goswami, Manglu and Deepu, as acccused in this case.
Later, based on a letter allegedly recovered from Rona, police added the name of an “underground” Maoist operative Comrade Kishan alias Prashanti Bose as accused number 15 in this case.