The widely-condemned searches and arrest of human rights activists and lawyers by the Pune police on Tuesday are not linked to an alleged Maoist plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as some reports had initially suggested. According to police documents, the arrests are based on investigations into the caste violence on January 1 in Maharashtra’s Bhima-Koregaon.
A petition has been filed in the Supreme Court today by historian Romila Thapar and four activists against the arrests by the Maharashtra Police. The petition against the arrest of the activists was mentioned before a five-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra which agreed to give an urgent hearing today itself at 3:45 PM.
In the petition, mentioned by the senior lawyer and Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the historian and other rights activists have sought a release of all activists who have been arrested during raids in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon case. They have also sought an independent probe into the arrests.
In surprise midnight raids, Pune police on Tuesday raided the residences of nine prominent lawyers and activists across five states and arrested five for alleged Maoist links and inciting violence in the Bhima Koregaon case during the bicentennial celebration of a British-era war.
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Lawyer and Chattisgarh tribal activist Sudha Bhardwaj, Maoist ideologue and poet P Varavara Rao, activist Gautam Navlakha, and lawyers Arun Pereira and Vernon Gonsalves were arrested and charged with criminal conspiracy, creating fear and enmity between various groups, and under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Their arrests under UAPA Act has been highly controversial.
The near-simultaneous police raids, led by Pune (urban) police, began on Tuesday morning in Hyderabad, Delhi, Faridabad, Mumbai, Thane and Ranchi and continued till afternoon. Police said the operation was part of a probe into an event called Elgar Parishad in Pune on December 31, 2017, when various activists and Dalit organizations came together.
“We have arrested five persons today for their association with the Maoist movement and support to Elgar Parishad, which triggered violence the next day,” said Pune Joint Commissioner of Police Shivaji Bodkhe.
“Mahatma Gandhi would have been arrested in today’s circumstances,” said commentator and Mahatma Gandhi’s biographer Ramachandra Guha. “There is only place for one NGO in India and it’s called the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). Shut down all other NGOs. Jail all activists and shoot those that complain. Welcome to the new India. #BhimaKoregaon” tweeted Congress chief Rahul Gandhi. In a stinging rebuttal, union home minister for state Kiren Rijiju said: “As PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh had declared that Maoists are the No.1 threat to India’s internal security. Now the Congress president openly supports the front organizations and sympathizers of the Maoists. Keep national security above politics.”
The arrested activists were being brought to Pune on transit remand to be produced in the court on Wednesday said Bodke. Rao was arrested from Hyderabad, Bhardwaj was held in Faridabad. Another team of Pune police arrested Gonsalves in Mumbai and Ferreira from Thane. “We have recovered some documents, laptop, pen drive, hard disk and other material. The scrutiny of the seized items is on,” said a senior official on condition of anonymity.