Contradictions, unverified claims and a U-turn mark the police investigation into the arrests of five individuals, accused of Maoists links, purportedly part of a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The five were arrested by Pune police on June 6 for inciting violence that erupted six months ago in Bhima Koregaon on the outskirts of Pune in Maharashtra. The clashes between Dalit groups and members of the Maratha community during an annual event called the Elgar Parishad, to mark the 200th anniversary of the victory of a Dalit regiment over the Marathas.
The violence killed one and injured three.
The five are Sudhir Dhavale, an activist and a writer, Surendra Gadling, an advocate, Shoma Sen, a professor, Rona Wilson, an activist and Mahesh Raut, a researcher and alumni of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
The main charges against them include inciting violence between communities and the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
But the First Information Reports (FIRs), court filings and other documents linked to the case reviewed by NDTV find multiple loopholes in the police case.
The FIR contends that the accused organised and funded the Elgar Parishad that led to the Bhima Koregaon violence; as proof, it says Rs 80,000 was seized from Rona Wilson’s home.
But two retired judges, Justice BG Kolse-Patil and Justice PB Sawant say they were the main organisers of the Elgar Parishad.
“We didn’t take a rupee from anyone,” Justice Kolse-Patil told NDTV.
The retired judges also said other organisations, including Maharashtra Institute of Technology, contributed to setting up the event.
“The MIT had their function on January 1, so they wanted the ground for decoration. They requested us if they could decorate it, so I said yes. They decorated everything, even the stage so all other things of supplies, even chairs and everything even they asked us,” said Patil.
Two days after the arrest, during the hearing for bail for the accused, public prosecutor Ujjwala Prakash presented two letters to the sessions court in Pune. One of them was a letter written by one ‘R’ to a Comrade Prakash allegedly recovered from Rona Wilson’s laptop. It contained a discussion between the two about a “Rajiv Gandhi style incident” to kill the Prime Minister.
This serious charge, however, has not made it to any of the Pune police’s court filings.
Experts have questioned the credibility of the letter.
“I really do not feel convinced with the letter,” said Swaranjit Sen, former police chief of Andhra Pradesh, who has experience of policing Maoist areas.
Others have questioned the use of first names in the letter that they say was unheard of in correspondence between underground groups.
For instance, the letter contains references to Comrade Ashok, Amit B, Seema and Sudhir.
“Siraj has shown willingness to contribute for the party… Com Kisan and few others senior comrades have proposed concrete steps to end Modi-raj,” the letter cited by the police reads.
Top officials in Pune city refused to comment on the issue, stating that it was a sensitive case.
By the date of the next bail hearing, the police narrative had changed.
This time, the police didn’t focus on the charge that the accused had funded the protest. Instead, the police told the court in an oral submission that they had recovered a pamphlet from one of the accused about a lecture being organised in JNU in memory of naxal leader Naveen Babu, killed in an encounter in 2000.
“I have absolutely no clue about this (the lecture) and this is the first time at the court hearing when I heard it myself. I don’t even see a problem if something like this was being organised. I don’t know where the problem lies,” said Koel Sen, daughter of Shoma Sen.
There is also a glaring contradiction between the findings of the Pune Police and the Pune Rural Police.
According to court documents, Pune Rural Police has held a person called Milind Ekbote, president of the Samastha Hindutva Aghadi, responsible for inciting the Bhima-Koregaon violence.
The charges against Milind Ekbote include rioting, public arson, distributing pamphlets and conspiring in instigating violence.
Milind Ekbote is currently out on bail, despite the gravity of the charges.
“Nothing of this scale (of charges against the 5 accused) has happened against (Milind) Ekbote. Not even the MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act),” said Susan Abraham, counsel for the five accused.
It remains unclear how six months later, the police zeroed in on the five accused, or the Maoist link to the violence.
One clue may lie in a ‘fact-finding report’ backed by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, or RSS, circulated a month before the arrests.
This report blamed Maoists for the Bhima-Koregaon violence, named two of the accused, Sudhir Dhawale and Shoma Sen, and blamed the police for inaction. The report was based on interviews with locals, as well as media reports.
Jibby Mathew, a friend of Mahesh Raut, explains why he thinks he had been implicated.
“So in our line of work normally has a very thin line between the villagers and naxals since there were many overlaps. In work life, you interact with a lot of people who could be non-state actors, there is always a suspicion associated with work and I believe that this is the sort of a case that has happened with Mahesh,” he said.