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It Is Sudha Bharadwaj Today, Tomorrow It Could Be You And Me!

To raid activists with ideological differences is worse than an emergency.

Dissent is the safety valve of democracy, said the Supreme Court while staying the transit remand  of the five renowned activists arrested by Pune police. The activists include Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha among others. Well-known intellectual Anand Teltumbde was not arrested, but the police raided his house in Goa. The arrested activists were being taken to Pune, when Romila Thapar, Prabhat Patnaik and others sought an intervention from the Supreme Court.

The judges were rightly harsh on the police and they indirectly admonished the government as well. While ordering the activists to be kept under house arrest, the Supreme Court has also asked the Maharashtra government for a response. In a way, this is the first step in the indictment of the bizarre investigation by Pune police. They have indirectly been told that they cannot jail people by loosely charging them with the draconian UAPA. Several constitutional experts and judges have lambasted the actions of the Pune police, including RM Lodhaand PB Savant.

On June 6, 2018, the Pune police had similarly arrested five other activists and presented them before the court the next day. They were accused of being Maoists involved in the supposed plot to kill PM. On the next three court dates, the plot was not even mentioned and the remand notes have no sign of it either. The recent arrests have transpired in the same context. Interestingly, NDTVreported today that the remand notes for them too do not mention the plot to kill PM. The arguments made by the government prosecutor in the Pune court amusing and disturbing at the time. There is nothing new in them. To be fair, she did bring in Kashmir terrorism.

The problem with entire premise is that these investigations are based on one FIR, which accuses Elgar Parishad of instigating Bhima Koregaon violence. The FIR is filed by a man, who is an admirer of Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote. Rabid Hindutvavadi Milind Ekbote was arrested for Bhima Koregaon violence, and released on bail. Sambhaji Bhide is still roaming free despite grave charges. He has not even been questioned.

The police, or the state, has earlier been accused of playing up the supposed Maoist angle to save rabid Hindutvavadis. But the accusation gains more seriousness now that members of the Sanatan Sansthahave been raided and the police have recovered bombs and detonators from them. Advocate Mihir Desai, in a press conference at Mumbai Press Club, highlighted the fact and accused the police of deflecting attention from it.

I have a sense that the police are working under immense political pressure. Raids in various parts of the country cannot transpire without Modi government’s nod. It makes one wonder if Modi government is trying to fix its critics. Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha have working tirelessly for human rights. Teltumbde used to work with Government’s petroleum company, BPCL. At a press conference, Teltumbde practically listed out the long list of degree she has acquired. He has written 25 books, and has consistently written for EPW. These activists have been in public domain for years, where they have lived by the constitution, and if they are Maoists, so is every sane human being in India.

To have Marxist or Maoist literature in your house cannot be a crime. The police needs to substantiate their claims with solid proof. Varavara Rao has been a well-known poet. Activist Arun Ferrieraspent five years in jail before being acquitted and has written a book detailing his ordeal. There is no evidence to suggest that they are involved in violent activities.

Modi has often been accused of carrying out an undeclared emergency. But to raid activists with ideological differences is worse than an emergency. We need to stand up to it. It is Sudha Bharadwaj today, tomorrow it could you and me.

Nikhil Wagle is a senior journalist.

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