New Delhi: In third crackdown in less three months, the Pune Police on Tuesday carried out raids in at least six five states as part of a probe into the violence at Maharashtra’s Koregaon-Bhima village and arrested several prominent civil rights activists for their suspected Maoist links.

The police arrested Left-wing activists Varavara Rao, Sudha Bhardwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonzalves in raids in Mumbai, Ranchi, Hyderabad, Faridabad, Delhi and Thane.

The CPI(M) Polit Bureau protested against the raids and arrests of left-wing activists, calling it a “brazen attack on democratic rights and civil liberties”.

It also alleged that the Maharashtra Police and central agencies have been targeting Dalit rights activists and lawyers who have been taking up their cases, following the Bhima-Koregaon violence.

“The polit bureau of CPI(M) strongly protests the raids conducted by police authorities on the homes of various civil rights and human rights activists and Left intellectuals,” a statement said.

Rao, Bhardwaj, Farreira, Gonzalves and Navalakha were arrested under IPC Section 153 (A), which relates to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place or birth, residence, language and committing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.

Some other sections of the IPC were also pressed against those arrested, along with Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for their “alleged naxal activities,” said the police official, without elaborating. The premises of Father Stan Swamy, a tribal leader in Jharkhand, too were searched but he was not detained, the official said.

The police got transit remand till August 30 of activist Gautam Navlakha. However, the Delhi High Court put stay on the transit remand, directing that activist be put under house arrest till the case is heard tomorrow.

Varavara Rao, activist and poet, was arrested for his alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his family said. In June, police in Pune had allegedly recovered a letter mentioning a plan to assassinate Modi from the house of one of the five persons arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence.

On Tuesday morning, the Pune Police carried out searches at the residences of Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, activists Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, trade union activist Sudha Bhardwaj in Faridabad and Chhattisgarh and civil liberties activist Gautam Navalakha in Delhi.

Outrage Over Raids And Arrests

The arrests and raids triggered outrage and condemnation by several lawyers, academics and authors today, some of whom termed the move “absolutely chilling” and others saying it amounted to a “virtual declaration of emergency”.

What is happening is absolutely perilous, said author and Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy after the raids.

“The simultaneous state-wide arrests are a dangerous sign of a government that fears it is losing its mandate and is falling into panic. That lawyers, poets, writers, Dalit rights activists and intellectuals are being arrested on ludicrous charges… While those who make up lynch mobs and threaten and murder people in broad daylight roam free, tells us very clearly where India is headed,” Roy told PTI in a message.

She added that murderers are being honoured and protected and anybody who speaks up for justice or against Hindu majoritarianism is being made into a criminal. “What is happening is absolutely perilous. In the run up to elections, this is an attempted coup against the Indian Constitution and all the freedoms that we cherish,” Roy said.

Voicing their deep anguish at today’s developments, civil rights activists said the scale of raids and subsequent arrests were unprecedented.

“Fascist fangs are now openly bared,” tweeted lawyer Prashant Bhushan.

“It is a clear declaration of emergency. They are going after anyone who has spoken against the government on rights issues. They are against any dissent,” Bhushan said.

Noted historian Ramachandra Guha called the action “absolutely chilling” and demanded the intervention of the Supreme Court to stop this “persecution and harassment” of independent voices.

“Sudha Bharadwaj is as far from violence and illegality as Amit Shah is close to those things,” tweeted Guha.

Rights activist Shabnam Hashmi, too, strongly condemned the raids.

“Strongly condemn raids on human right defenders’ homes since Morning in Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Telangana, Delhi, Goa. Stop harassing HRDs! Condemn Modi’s authoritarian regime,” Hashmi said on Twitter.

JNU student leader Shehla Rashid alleged the raids were an attempt to “instil fear among those are vocal about issues”.

“It is also to manufacture a narrative and a sense of false enemy to misguided people ahead of the 2019 elections I highly condemn these,” she said.

Former JNU leader Umar Khalid said the raids are an attempt to send a message to those who are raising their voices.

“Ahead of 2019 elections, a sense of fictitious enemy is being conjured,” he said.

Second Crackdown in Three Months

Rao’s name had figured in a letter which the Pune police had claimed to have seized during searches at the premises of one of the five people arrested in June in connection with the ‘Elgar Parishad’ event last December to commemorate 200 years of the Koregaon-Bhima battle in 1818.

In June, five people were arrested for having close Maoist links after they allegedly made “provocative” speeches at the event, triggering violence at Koregaon-Bhima village in the district, according to an FIR registered at the Vishrambaug Police Station after the event.

Dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale was arrested from his home in Mumbai, while lawyer Surendra Gadling, activist Mahesh Raut and Shoma Sen were picked up from Nagpur and Rona Wilson was arrested from his flat in Munirka in Delhi in simultaneous raids in June.

“During our investigation in connection with the Elgar Parishad event, some evidences came to light about members of a proscribed organisation, following which the police carried out raids in Chhattisgarh, Mumbai and Hyderabad,” the police official said.

The searches today were conducted at homes of people having Maoist links and those directly or indirectly connected with the five arrested people, the official said.
The police claimed to have recovered “some incriminating documents” during the searches.

“We are also checking the financial transactions of these people, their modes of communication and also trying to gather technical evidence,” the police official said.
Outgoing joint commissioner of Pune police Ravindra Kadam, on August 2, said no Maoist link had been found in the Bhima Koregaon violence.

He had, however, said an ‘anti-fascist front’, formed by the Maoists to oppose the policies of the current government, was behind the ‘Elgar Parishad’ held in Pune a day before the incident that saw protests by Dalit groups.

Kadam, who has been transferred to Nagpur in a recent reshuffle, had told reporters that the police have ample evidence in the form of documents and video footage against the arrested persons.

Earlier, the police had booked the five arrested people under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

They were also booked under IPC sections 153-A (promoting disharmony, enmity between groups), 505 (inciting class, community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community), 117 (abetting commission of offence by the public or by more than ten persons) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy).

(With PTI inputs)