202nd Bhima Koregaon Battle Anniversary: Activists arrested in Elgar Parishad case await trial
Shortly after the Bhima Koregaon clashes on New Year’s Day in 2018, the Pune (urban) police opened a separate investigation into an event held in the city a day before, called the Elgar Parishad that was attended by left-wing leaders, students and artists.
The investigation in the case has outlined an alleged relation between a number of arrested activists and lawyers, and the Communist Party of India (Maoist) which is banned under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in 2009. The police say the arrested members plotted the violence in Bhima Koregaon and were planning the transport of weapons and the assassination of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The police have accused 19 people in the case, including nine arrested activists, five alleged underground members of CPI(M), four residents of Pune and a resident of Mumbai.
The nine activists arrested include Sudhir Dhawale, 49, a freelance journalist; Rona Wilson, 47, an educator; Surendra Gadling, 50, a lawyer; Shoma Sen, 59, a professor at Nagpur university; Mahesh Raut, 30, an academic; Arun Ferriera, 45, a lawyer; Sudha Bhardwaj, 57, a lawyer; Vernon Gonsalves, 61, an activist; P Varavara Rao, 78, a poet. Their arrest last year sparked a wave of criticism.
The five people from Pune include Harshali Potdar, a member of the cultural group Kabir Kala Manch; Sagar Gorkhe, a resident of Wakad; Ramesh Gaichor and Jyotti Gaichor, both residents of Yerawada, Deepak alias Pratap Dengale, a resident of Pimple Gurav, according to the police.
The case will be heard next on January 1, 2020.
The charges include a plot to kill Modi, possession and transport of weapons like Chinese QLZ 87 Automatic Grenade Launcher, M-4 with 4,00,000 rounds, providing information about regions with thin presence of security forces to the underground members of CPI(M) and bringing about attacks, raising funds for CPI(M), enabling the Kabir Kala Manch to organise the Elgar Parishad, among others.
The police have invoked various sections of the Unlawful Activity Prevention Act, along with Section 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race etc), 505(1)(B) (intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public), 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy), 121 (waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the government of India), 121-A (conspiracy to commit offences punishable by section 121), 124-A (sedition) and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.
IPS officer Ravindra Kadam, who was the then joint commissioner of Pune police when the case was registered, said, “Elgar Parishad was organised by people who were known Maoist-sympathisers. Made us suspect that they must have Maoist-links. They had previous arrests and cases against them. Once we started investigating, we found significant leads and the entire case came about.”
Kadam was later transferred as Special Inspector General, Nagpur range and is now the joint commissioner of police, Nagpur.
Meanwhile, the advocate representing Vara Vara Rao questioned the case made out against his client by the prosecution.
“Two years later they do not have any idea what the charges are. VV Rao who’s devices the police could not access has also been charged. With all those forensic evidence and higher authorities at play, they do not have a case,” said advocate Rohan Nahar, one of the defence lawyers in the case.