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The Press Conference

Parambir Singh, ADG (Maharastra Police), flanked by his two deputies – Shivaji Bodkhe, JCP, Pune and the investigating officer, Shivaji Pawar, ACP, in a press conference in Mumbai, inaugurated a distinctly new storyline, incorporating and retaining only fragments of the earlier official versions, on the nationwide raids and arrests carried out on August 28.

(Ref.: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=share&v=PCVKfstx2Qc&app=desktop#dialog>, <https://indianexpress.com/article/india/elgaar-parishad-probe-maharashtra-police-cite-letters-to-show-maoist-modi-links-back-activists-arrests-5334647/> and <https://www.news18.com/news/india/arrested-activists-wanted-to-end-modi-raj-sought-money-to-procure-grenade-launchers-police-1863141.html>.

In fact, during the briefings, he himself said as much.

Here’s a useful summarisation of the press conference, echoing the charges made by the Pune Police: <https://mobile.twitter.com/iMac_too/status/1035567590293164032?s=08>.

The New Storyline

The sum and substance of this surprise version is as under:

  1. The CPI (Maoist) is engaged in a conspiracy to overthrow the lawfully established government through unlawful means.

That’s, however, hardly any discovery of America.

The outfit is engaged in armed insurgency against the Indian state, in a bid to overrun it, for years by now. Even since well before the emergence of the current structure back in 2004. It would, eventually, be banned in 2009.

(Ref.: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_Party_of_India_(Maoist)#Legal_status>.)

 

  1. The CPI (Maoist) is of late engaged in trying to expand to urban areas – link up with Dalit and Muslim groups.

While the insurgency, for decades, remains limited to rural patches, or rather remote and fairly inaccessible backwaters of India, the outfits involved, in their various avatars, always had urban pockets of influence – mostly among students and, to a significantly lesser extent, workers.

That’s also rather widely known.

Reports of systematic Maoist attempts to link up with Dalit groups is also hardly anything new.

Here’s just an example:

A 2004 document seized by investigating agencies suggests that garnering support of Dalits formed an integral part of the Maoist agenda before the Khairlanji (in Maharashtra) incident (in 2006, involving a ghastly attack on a six-member Dalit family, rape of the women – two in number, parading them naked and murder of all barring one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khairlanji_massacre>).

The fact that the Naxals reportedly aimed at amalgamating the dalit aspirations and struggle with the revolutionary zeal since the last few years was established after the seizure of literature and documents found in possession of several arrested sympathisers like Anil Mhamane and three others and leaders like Arun Ferreira, Murli, Vishnu, Vkiram and Tusharkant Bhattacharya.

(Ref.: <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/Naxals-eyed-Dalit-support-before-Khairlanji/articleshow/2482155.cms>.)

Similar is the case with Muslims:

The current statement (by CPI-Maoist in 2008) relating to the (extension of) proscription of SIMI could be understood by considering the following. One, it is an attempt to win over the support of the Muslim community and thus broaden their base.

Two, the Maoists are making common cause with SIMI by condemning its proscription as they too are a proscribed organisation in some states; they are also banned by the central government under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

Three, and more importantly, this should be seen in the context of the Maoist tactic of making common cause with any organisation or body that opposes the Indian state either through peaceful means or violently. This is part of the United Front tactics of the Maoists [emphasis added].

(Ref.: <https://www.dnaindia.com/india/comment-maoists-seek-linkages-with-muslim-extremists-1185536>.)

III. The five accused, now under house arrest, are linked to the CPI (Maoist).

But, then:

(M)ere membership of a banned organization cannot incriminate a person unless he is proved to have resorted to acts of violence or incited people to imminent violence, or does an act intended to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to imminent violence.

(Excerpted from: ‘Arup Bhuyan vs. State of Assam; decision dated 3-2-2011 of Supreme Court in Criminal Appeal No.889 of 2007 – held applicable.’ p. 1-2 at <https://www.supremecourtofindia.nic.in/pdf/SupremeCourtReport/2011_v4_pii.pdf>.)

  1. The five accused are actively engaged, including procurement of arms, mobilisation and disbursal of funds and plot to assassinate the Indian Prime Minister, in the project “overthrow”, by violent and unlawful means.

There’re “thousands of letters” (recovered mostly from Rona Wilson’s hard disk?) to substantiate.

The above allegation, beyond doubt, constitutes a serious offence.

A Sudden Departure

The interesting point is that even two days back, on the preceding 29th, the Maharashtra police didn’t, reportedly, cite the project “overthrow” as a ground for seeking remand of the accused either before the Delhi High Court or the Supreme Court, even though the arguments of the Public Prosecutor, the same day before a Pune court (ref.: <https://scroll.in/article/892464/photo-shows-about-lynchings-seeking-arms-from-nepal-claims-against-activists-arrested-on-tuesday>), seeking remand of three of the accused, broadly, prefigured the case that’d be put across in the press conference two days thereafter.

Maharashtra Police: Its Loss of Face: Nation’s Conscience Stirred

In fact, the remand, in the process, was refused and the state had to cut a very sorry figure and suffered serious loss of face.

(Ref.: <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/navlakha-was-on-verge-of-release-when-sc-ordered-house-arrest/articleshow/65600670.cms> and <http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2018/aug/29/sc-says-dissent-safety-valve-of-democracy-orders-house-arrest-of-accused-activists-1864540.html>.)

At least five leading national dailies followed up with stinging editorials, the next day morning: <https://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/toi-editorials/mccarthy-moment-pune-polices-countrywide-swoop-on-left-wing-activists-rightly-elicits-outrage-and-legal-challenge/>, <https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/the-safety-valve-activists-arrest-bhima-koregaon-dalit-violence-supreme-court-5331689/>, <https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/shock-arrests/article24813620.ece>, <http://www.asianage.com/opinion/edit/290818/arrests-of-activists-totally-unjustified.html> and <https://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/editorial-dna-edit-major-faux-pax-the-pune-police-have-cut-a-sorry-figure-2656610>.

The fact that some of the raided and arrested, this time round, are well-known public figures with pretty impressive track records, conceivably, went a long way to trigger the nationwide outrage.

Five highly eminent persons, none with any known “Maoist” tinge, took the initiative to knock the doors of the Supreme Court to scuttle the much derided move of the Pune police.

(Ref.: <https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/the-five-renowned-strangers-255678#.W4t1byEafKe.facebook>.)

The reports of highhanded and outright brutish conduct of the forces during raids also, apparently, helped stir the conscience of the nation.
Here’s a representative sample:

“They asked me (Varavara Rao’s son-in-law, who heads the Department of Cultural Studies at the English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) in Hyderabad, whose house was also raided), why are there so many books in your house [emphasis added]? Do you read all of them? Why purchase so many books? Why do you read so many books? Why are you reading books on Mao and Marx? Why do you have books published in China? Why do you have songs of Gaddar? Why are there photos of Phule and Ambedkar in your house, but no photos of gods?’’ he said.

One officer, Satyanarayana said, pointed to the books and told him he was “reading too many books” and “spoiling students” [emphasis added].

(Ref.: < https://indianexpress.com/article/india/elgaar-parishad-probe-policemen-referred-to-my-caste-asked-why-no-sindoor-says-arrested-activist-varavara-raos-daughter-5331859/ >.)

The Backdrop

It may be recalled here that the Bhima-Koregaon violence, which was officially alleged to be the ground for raids and arrests on the previous, and first, occasion, on the June 6th last, and also this time (as was being presumed till now), had occurred around the last New Year’s Day (ref.: <https://www.news18.com/news/india/bhima-koregaon-how-and-why-the-january-violence-snowballed-into-arrest-of-rights-activists-1860141.html> and <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/bhima-koregaon-clashes-90-day-extension-granted-for-filing-charge-sheet-against-five-arrested-in-june/article24847421.ece>).

On the following April 17, this year, the first instalment of raids in multiple cities were carried out.

The Pune police have carried out searches at five places at the residences of some prominent activists and a lawyer in connection with their alleged links to the Bhima-Koregaon commemorative program on January 1. The activists include Rona Wilson (Delhi) and lawyer Surendra Gadling (Nagpur). The residences of Sudhir Dhawale and Harshali Potdar, Jyoti Jagtap and Ramesh Gaichore and Dhawala Dengle are being searched in Pune.

A senior police official said, “An offence had been registered at Pune against Kabir Kalamanch in connection with alleged provocative speeches during Elgar Parishad at Pune on January 1. The program had been organized on the occasion of Bhima-Koregaon commemoration. We already had some evidence of Maoist links to the events connected Bhima-Koregaon. The searches on Tuesday are to check for further evidence in the matter.”

(Ref.: <https://indianexpress.com/article/india/bhima-koregaon-commemoration-event-pune-police-searches-activists-for-alleged-links-5140569/>.)

This was followed up with arrests of five on the June 6 following, after an interval of over a month and a half, from Delhi, Mumbai and Nagpur.

This was claimed to be based on the forensic analysis of the materials seized during the raids on April 17.

Police sources said that following the forensic analysis of electronic and other evidence obtained during the search operations [on April 17], four teams of Pune city police were dispatched to Mumbai, Delhi and Nagpur on Tuesday (June 5). Police teams started arresting the suspects in the early hours of Wednesday.

(Ref.: <https://indianexpress.com/article/india/koregaon-bhima-violence-case-pune-police-arrest-top-urban-maoist-operatives-from-delhi-mumbai-nagpur-5206033/>.)

The ground, as indicated by the police was:

“We have been able to establish the money trail between these Naxal sympathizers and Naxals ahead of the Elgar Parishad in Pune on 31 December 2017. Offences were registered against some of these activists, including Dhawale, in January for the violence in Bhima-Koregaon on 1 January [emphasis added] that we believe was triggered by their inflammatory speeches at the Elgar Parishad. We have accumulated more evidence in the last few months and have a stronger case now,” the official said.

(Ref.: <https://www.livemint.com/Politics/fUBcFuoIaTsgAjj4qBJtwN/Bhima-Koregaon-violence-Pune-police-arrests-5-Dalit-activis.html>.)

It’s worth noting that:

A special court on Sunday granted the Pune police a 90-day extension for filing charge sheet against the five activists arrested on June 6 for their alleged links with the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist) and the Bhima-Koregaon clashes of January 1.

(Ref.: <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/bhima-koregaon-clashes-90-day-extension-granted-for-filing-charge-sheet-against-five-arrested-in-june/article24847421.ece>.)

Also noteworthy:

On the prosecution’s claim about purported funds being supplied to the accused to aggravate the clashes, he (defence counsel Advocate Rohan Nahar) said: “We have nothing to confirm or deny the allegations as we are not furnished with any report of the police’s investigations or their findings. We will come to know of the specific allegations only once the charge sheet is filed.”

(Ref.: <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/bhima-koregaon-clashes-90-day-extension-granted-for-filing-charge-sheet-against-five-arrested-in-june/article24847421.ece>.)

So, after more than four and a half months since seizure of the incriminating materials and almost three months after the first wave of raids and arrests, based on the forensic analysis of the materials seized during the raids on April 17, while carrying out the second instalment of raids and arrests, the Pune police is unable to file a charge sheet against those arrested earlier within the stipulated (first) deadline of 90 days of arrests.

The Storyline Challenged

It’s yet another matter that those who were arrested now, and also some others, have just pooh-poohed these “letters” (ref.: <http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/2/14834/Letter-Fabricated-to-Criminalise-Me-And-Others>, <http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/2/14844/I-Am-At-My-Wits-End-Wiith-These-Lies>, <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/police-evidence-fabricated-say-families-of-arrested-activists/articleshow/65636986.cms> and <https://indianexpress.com/article/india/elgaar-parishad-bhima-koregaon-pm-modi-assassination-maoists-lawyers-question-evidentiary-value-activists-used-dark-net-to-send-emails-say-cops-5336601/> and also: <http://www.caravanmagazine.in/governance/government-policy/interview-adivasi-rights-activist-stan-swamy-bhima-koregaon-crackdown>).

Questionable Legality of the Press Conference

It’s also pertinent to note that whether the subject press conference has breached the bounds of legality is an issue of controversy.

(Ref.: <https://mobile.twitter.com/pbhushan1/status/1035529666772099073?s=08> and <https://scroll.in/article/882273/activists-arrest-by-leaking-modi-assassination-plot-letters-pune-police-went-against-the-law>.)

It, in fact, appears that the press conference has very much violated the instructions laid down in the Para 2. VI & X of the ‘Advisory on Media Policy of Police’ issued by the GoI on April 1st, 2010 (ref.: <https://mha.gov.in/sites/default/files/SC-ST-AdvisoryMedia-010610_2.pdf>).

Even more relevant:

The Bombay High Court (on Sept. 3) has pulled up Maharashtra Police for holding a press conference, elaborating on the evidence it claims to have, against activists arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case. While hearing a petition, the court said how can the police hold a press conference when the case is subjudice.

“How can the police do this? The matter is subjudice. The Supreme Court is seized of the matter. In such cases, revealing information pertaining to the case is wrong,” said Justice Bhatkar.

(Ref.: <https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/on-activists-arrests-bombay-high-court-questions-press-conference-by-maharashtra-police-when-case-is-1910371?amp=1&akamai-rum=off>.)

Why Press Conference?

Be that as it may, one just can’t help wonder why the Maharashtra police opted not to ambush its opponents with a sudden disclosure as regards the “thousands of letters” at the next hearing of the case in the Supreme Court on the coming 6th!

That too going beyond the bounds of permissible conduct.

That’s rather remarkable.

The press conference was, plausibly, (i) a defensive response deeply rattled by the nationwide outrage, as also encapsulated in the five editorials by leading newspapers, cited above, and the harsh reaction of the Supreme Court, (ii) the urge to influence and pressurise the Supreme Court ahead of the 6th September hearing and, finally, (iii) as brought out by a tweet summarising the briefings, cited above, to shape public opinion in its favour, by stirring up paranoia and all that.

Implications of the Storyline

As we did see above, out of the four essential points, listed above, made during the press briefings, there is nothing earth-shaking as regards the first three.

The points one and two are just old points, presented as something new.

The presentation of attempted link-up with Dalits and Muslims, as something new, understandably, apart from trying to sensationalise and stir up anti-Dalit and anti-Muslim sentiments, suggests that the police want also to open a window to launch attacks on the Dalit activists, in view of rising belligerence against the incumbent regime, and also Muslims to quell future protests against mob lynching by Gau Rakshaks, using the alleged link-up with Maoists as a useful peg.

The third point, that the accused are linked to the CPI (Maoist) is by itself not an incriminating one, as has been brought out above.

The fourth one, the charge of active involvement in the project “overthrow” including a plot to assassinate the incumbent Prime Minister, by way of mobilising of forces, collection and disbursal of funds and procurement of lethal and sophisticated weapons rests solely on the “thousands of letters”, three (?) of which had already been leaked to the friendly media outlets – at least two as early as in early June, but none produced in the court so far.

And, this is a charge distinctly different from one anchored in Bhima-Koregaon violence, which had (officially) been the case till now.

It’s also not clear, at least as yet, what the new FIR looks like.

Credibility of the “Letters”

The accused have, based on the contents shared publicly, have trashed these as just “concocted”.

Here’s an earlier audit of the two “letters” leaked then and the related circumstances, underlining the implausibilities, by this observer: ‘The “Letter” that Discloses a Plot to Assassinate: Disturbing Implications’ at <https://sabrangindia.in/article/%E2%80%9Cletter%E2%80%9D-discloses-plot-assassinate-disturbing-implications>.

One of the points raised there (point: VI.), in a way, has now been echoed and quite sharply put across by a senior Congress politician:

After disclosing that he is defending some of the arrested activists in court, senior Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, “Do you think it’s an illusion of grandeur that the Pune police is in-charge of investigation and the NIA and CBI are nowhere to be seen? The biggest investigating agencies of our country are not to be seen in a case of an assassination attempt against the PM. The Pune police is in-charge? I find it absurd. [Emphasis added.] I am gravely concerned about the security of the Prime Minister if you are leaving a matter like this to the Pune police.”

(Ref.: <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/why-are-cbi-nia-not-involved-if-its-bid-to-assassinate-pm-asks-congress/article24835369.ece>.)

In fact, a plain reading of these leaked “letters” would reveal how implausible they look like. (Ref. points VI to VII of the ‘audit’ referred to above.)

 

In this context, one should very well remember how the Prime Minister himself, during the closing phase of the campaign for the last Gujarat assembly poll, had hurled a charge of treason, nothing less (!) at his immediate predecessor and the previous Vice President of India, only to be meekly withdrawn later, the poll having been over and results declared, on the floor of the parliament: <https://twitter.com/officeofrg/status/946038581306441728?lang=en>.

Also, not to forget that he has a long track record of being faced with (politically convenient) assassination threats. (Ref.: <http://www.caravanmagazine.in/politics/many-plots-to-assassinate-narendra-modi> and <https://www.khaleejtimes.com/editorials-columns/how-assassination-plot-saved-gujarat-s-modi-his-job>.)

“Thousands of Letters”: Likely Use/Impact

In any case, the claim of “thousands of letters”, whether contents fully disclosed or not would be used to pressurise the Supreme Court.

The fact that the draconian UAPA has been applied which mandates establishment of prima facie innocence by the accused makes the things even trickier, regardless of the fact that various procedural and other lapses have already been pointed out (ref.: <https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blink/know/urban-naxals-is-a-term-to-demonise-dissent/article24828924.ece>, https://scroll.in/article/893039/flouting-the-law-maharashtra-police-took-witnesses-from-pune-while-raiding-and-arresting-activists and <https://indianexpress.com/article/india/elgaar-parishad-bhima-koregaon-pm-modi-assassination-maoists-lawyers-question-evidentiary-value-activists-used-dark-net-to-send-emails-say-cops-5336601/>).

Not difficult to imagine that the arguments made by the government advocate before the Court, citing selected portions of the alleged “letters”, would also be used to launch a vicious and vigorous campaign against those raising their voices against stifling of dissenting voices within the country and stir up a mood of paranoia.

In case of grant of remand of the accused to the Pune police by the Supreme Court, which cannot just be ruled out, under the weight of “thousands of letters”, this campaign would get even more vicious and shriller by tom-tomming it as its conclusive vindication.

It’s precisely, in this context, the following thoughtful observation becomes particularly pertinent:

Obviously, not a single charge will actually stick, but that is clearly not the intention. The case will drag on in what I have described as a process of “punishment by trial”. The judicial system is slow, and is willing to pretend that it does not notice the utter silliness of the prosecution’s submissions. The accused will either continue to languish in jail or, even if enlarged on bail, will be harassed for years by the judicial process.

(Ref.: <https://scroll.in/article/892553/if-the-accused-have-set-up-an-anti-fascist-front-theyre-in-fact-acting-in-defence-of-democracy>.)

 

Bogey of “Urban Naxals”

It’d be pertinent to note here that the DGP, during his briefings, repeatedly pointed out that anybody daring to take on the police version and challenge its validity is an overground Maoist, trying to discredit the police.

One only wonders whether he’d place the Supreme Court and High Courts, apart from the editorial boards of the five leading national newspapers, cited above, in the same very slot.

Obviously, the purpose is to throttle voices of opposition by dangling the threat of implicating as “Maoists”. (Also ref.: <https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blink/know/urban-naxals-is-a-term-to-demonise-dissent/article24828924.ece>.)

Not that it’s not already being done.

Interestingly, here’s a strong refutation of the police version of the Bhima-Koregaon violence, as manifested in terms of their actual actions on the ground, by an officially appointed panel to probe into it led by the Pune Dy. Mayor:

The ‘secret’ report also revealed that villagers were aware about the clash conspiracy a night before it took place but were forced to stay quiet.
Water tractors full of kerosene were also prepared a night before the violence, while lathis and swords were stacked up at a tea stall in the village, the report stated.
The eight-page report, submitted on January 20, claimed that Hindutva activists Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote allegedly roped in Hindutva ultras to create unrest. The document further stated that Milind and Ekbote’s men also announced the conspiracy on social media and were aware about the clashes since 16 December 2017.

(Ref.: <https://www.timesnownews.com/india/article/exclusive-bhima-koregaon-violence-secret-documents-pune-police-maharashtra-government-sambhaji-bhide-milind-ekbote-clashes-hindu-activists-ultra-dalit/278496 >.)

This, however, is a dangerous game threatening to subvert the very purported purpose as has been quite aesthetically brought out here:

The projection about Urban Naxals may help the government gain immediate political support, but it could help the guerrillas in two ways. First, it perpetuates a myth about their spread and might. An underground insurgent needs a mythical aura. An insurgency is as much a reality as it is the product of myths that society weaves around the insurgent.

(Ref.: <https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/inventing-urban-naxal-crpf-brodsky-naxal-left-activists-express-columns-5333345/>.)

The Main Danger

Coming to the essential purpose of the latest wave of onslaughts, backed up with sustained media campaigns, the observation by an eminent, and no radical by any whatever stretch, analyst deserves careful attention:

The most alarming aspect of the current situation is that these specific arrests and raids are a pretext for something even more sinister: The creation of permanent internal war. This is an excuse to say that the nation is always under peril — first from anti-nationals, then the urban Naxals, and maybe next will be Homo sapiens. The idea of a nation under constant peril is the pretext for legitimising excessive state power, it is the pretext for targeting your opponents as traitors, and it is the pretext for creating the conditions where the necessity of a “strong” leader who can confront the peril becomes an inevitability. [Emphasis added.]

This may not be a declared Emergency. And, statistically, the crackdown might pale in relation to the Emergency. But the Emergency was merely about power. What we are seeing is something more insidious: The production of a psychological complex where everyone is a traitor. It is time for the courts and civil society to push back against a power that seeks to not just imprison our bodies, but stultify our souls. [Emphasis added.]

(Ref.: <https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/sinister-homo-sapiens-elgaar-sudha-bharadwaj-indian-express-columns-5333338/>.)

Broadly similar sentiments have been expressed by an octogenarian academic-activist of some eminence, whose house was raided this time:

The mahaul [current environment] in … the country is that if you raise questions and find facts, you are anti-development. If you are anti-development, you are anti-government. If you are anti-government, you are anti-national. That is the logic being followed here.

(Ref.: <http://www.caravanmagazine.in/governance/government-policy/interview-adivasi-rights-activist-stan-swamy-bhima-koregaon-crackdown>.)

That, of course, doesn’t rule out the room for other subsidiary objectives.

 

Conclusion

In any case, the essential, and inescapable, point that emerges is:

It is time for the courts and civil society to push back against a power that seeks to not just imprison our bodies, but stultify our souls.

The cost of failure is going to be too high.

Sukla Sen is a social activist