Many activists, civil servants have demanded action against Maharashtra police for launching a “vicious and malafide attack” against the five human rights activists. Calling it as an “undeclared Emergency” these people have condemned the arrest of prominent activists – Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha and Arun Ferreira. The police arrested these activists on a myriad of charges. Reportedly, the searches and detentions were carried out under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and Sections 153A, 505(1)(b), 117, 120(b) and 34 of the Indian Penal Code.
The Logical Indian spoke to some activist, lawyers, political leaders and bureaucrats for their views on the arrest of “Urban Naxals”.
What they had to say
Social activist Medha Patkar lashed out at the government on the arrest of the activists. She says these arrests were made without following the proper law. This was an act to divert the topic of the mayhem that the Sanatan Sanstha (right-wing group) is creating, she said.
She says that the government wants to spread terror among people. “To be honest, this government wants to silence them because they are terrorised with the mass appeal these people have,” Patkar said. Further, she says, some of them (arrested) are writers, some works with slum dwellers, one of them works on the issues of Adivasis, how can these people harm the country in any way.
“This government will suppress anyone who questions them or talk against them and whoever does it, will be termed anti-national. This clearly shows the current government’s fear,” she added.
Young politician and Gujarat MLA- Jignesh Mevani said that there is no evidence for the arrest of the five activists and the letters and so-called evidence are fabricated. “There are no manuscripts; anyone can manufacture a printed paper and say that there is a plot to assassinate PM Modi,” he said further mentioning that even if there was a plot to kill our Prime Minister why would people discuss it on a piece of paper.
Calling it a fake plot, he added “Whenever elections are on the doorstep for PM Modi, there comes an “assassination” plot for him. This happened in Gujarat as well (at the time when Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat). PM Modi just wants some popularity to be generated from the so-called “assassination plot”, which is designed by no one else but himself.”
When asked about why the state is calling these activists “urban Naxals or anti-national” he said, “Nobody is more anti-national than Mr Narendra Modi.”
‘The arrests assault the Constitution of India’
A leader of Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPI(M), and an elected member of Rajya Sabha, Brinda Karat said that the government has assaulted the Constitution of India by depriving people of their right to dissent, on the grounds of charges which are prima facie very weak. About the other activists who were arrested in June, she says it has been three months, and the police have not been able to file a charge sheet, then on what grounds they were arrested.
While talking about the criminal activities of right-wing organisations, she said that where there is prima facie evidence against the Sanathan Santha, no action has been taken against them. “So, this kind of selective targeting is in the DNA of Modi government, because this government cannot tolerate democratic dissent. What the BJP government is doing here is not in the national interest.”
Whereas opposing the UAPA act, she said: “When the UPA government introduced this act under Chidambaram, my party had vehemently opposed some of the provisions saying that these provisions would be misused to control democratic dissent, but after the Bombay attack it was pushed and passed.”
Retired IAS officers raise their voice
Soon after the activist’s arrests, around 68 former IAS retired civil servants, in an open letter, condemned the “unconscionable” arrest of five human rights activists.
Retired IAS officer Amitabha Pande, Former Secretary, Inter-state Council, GoI, is among the group of 60 people who are “resolutely committed to constitutional values and principles”. Condemning the government action, he said, after Mrs Gandhi’s Emergency, this is the most repressive regime that they have seen. “This government is using draconian laws to terrorise the activists and lawyers in a very bizarre way,” he further claimed.
He also says that the police’s first step should be to collect evidence and then arrest people but the government made arrests first and is now fishing for evidence to support their charges. Supporting the “#MetooUrbanNaxal” campaign, he said, “In my library, there are many Marxist books and other “anti-national” texts. Now the government can call me also an Urban Naxals.”
He also says that the law that came in place to curb terrorism is now being used to label activist, lawyers as terrorists.
Calling himself an “Urban Naxals” he says “If the government wants to call us “Urban Naxals”, then I will be proud to call myself one,” he added.
In 2015, Kerala High Court freed Shyam Balakrishnan, who had been picked up in 2014 on suspicion of being a Maoist, saying “being a Maoist is not a crime.” However, the court said that even though the Indian constitution and Maoists go against each other, if it is found that unlawful activities are done by following this then a person can be prosecuted.
Dalit activist, Kancha Ilaiah talking about Dalits being branded as Maoist he said that these are vague allegations. First to say that Maoists attended Bhima Koregaon and then linking them to the violence and PM Modi’s plot is just preposterous.
“In the meeting of Bhima Koregaon, nobody spoke about PM Modi and his assassination and can the plot to kill Modi be discussed in a public meeting?- This is just a way to say that now the Dalits are not against Modi government, but there are Maoist, who want to do that,” he said.
Abhishek Singhvi, a lawyer and politician from Indian National Congress (INC) said “Right now, when the country is reeling under crisis, the government is trying to divert the issues by doing such things. The arrests were totally wrong in nature. He said these activists were arrested in connection to Bhima-Koregaon events, which they did not attend and had nothing to do with.” A senior advocate, he is representing the five eminent persons, Romila Thapar, Devaki Jain, Prabhat Patnaik, Satish Deshpande and Maja Dharuwala who filed the petition.
The Supreme Court ordered the Pune police to place the activists under house arrest till September 6. While the arrested people are being termed as “Urban Naxals” by some, many others have condemned the move and have called it a “virtual declaration of Emergency.” At the time when BJP government is drawing strong condemnation from the opposition, some are raising questions about Congress being hypocrites.