After mentioning plot to assassinate PM Narendra Modi, they submitted on Thursday that a lecture at JNU was being organised in memory of alleged Naxalite who died in encounter

Almost a week after submitting in court that a plan on the lines of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination was being hatched, the Pune cops have now come up with a different stand while demanding custody of the arrested accused involved in Elgaar Parishad funding. The cops have claimed that the accused were planning a lecture at JNU in memory of alleged Naxalite Yalavarthi Naveen Babu, who died in an encounter in April 2000. The court has now remanded four of the total five accused in police custody till June 21.

The Pune police had arrested five people for allegedly funding the Elgaar Parishad in a bid to recruit more people for Naxal activities. They had further alleged that the accused were urban Naxals. The arrests come five months after right-wing activist and construction professional Tushar Damgude filed a complaint against organisers of the Elgaar Parishad for inciting violence in Koregaon Bhima on January 1.

On April 17, the cops conducted raids on some of these members. A month and a half later, they arrested Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut and Surendra Gadling. Cops had claimed that all the five are members of the banned communist party of India (Maoist) and booked them under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). When they were produced in court on June 7, cops had submitted a letter which stated that a plan for assassination was being hatched for which a weapon was being bought. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis later stated that it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was to be assassinated as part of this conspiracy. But during the hearing on Thursday, while the cops claimed that an anti-national activity was being planned, they failed to mention anything about the assassination conspiracy. Claiming that they have recovered new data, they also submitted four letters in the court, two of which they claimed were new. They also said that they have obtained 25 TB data from electronic gadgets that were taken in custody during the raids.

They, however, came up with a new theory which established a connection of the accused with Naxalites. While stating that they had obtained Rs 80,000 from the possession of Wilson, they also claimed that there was a plan to organise a lecture at JNU.

Speaking in the court, advocate Ujjwala Pawar, public prosecutor, said, “It is established that they were trying to establish this plan with the help of CPI (Maoist). They were also part of anti-national activities for which funds were provided. Also there are more accused along with the arrested ones. So we demand that the court remands them in 14 days’ of police custody.”

After his arrest, Gadling took severely ill and was sent to judicial custody earlier this week. Meanwhile, lawyers of the accused said that their health issues were being ignored by the cops, and demanded that they be remanded to magisterial custody. Highlighting loopholes in the remand of the cops, Susan Abraham, Sen’s lawyer, said, “Last time, they came up with a Modi assassinations plan. This time, they have a JNU theory. But they are not submitting a single proof. What exactly is going on?”

Lawyers also questioned submission of new facts from the same raid. Advocate Toushif Shaikh, Raut’s lawyer, said, “Cops conducted a raid on April 17 and obtained all the data from the same day. But they are coming up with new facts from the raids during every new hearing. We have demanded that they submit a list of what all they have procured during a single hearing in court.”

(L-R) Arrested accused Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut are now remanded in police custody till June 21

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They have been arrested to muzzle the voice of reason’

Family members of Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut — arrested as alleged urban Maoists — speak up

As the five accused and arrested from various parts of the country for their alleged Maoist links in connection with the Elgaar Parishad, which was held in the city on December 31, 2017, were produced in court on Thursday, family members of two huddled into a corner, speculating about the proceedings inside the court.

A week after the arrests, in which time multiple narratives and allegations have been hurled against those arrested, these family members — Koel Sen, Shoma Sen’s daughter, and Sneha and Monali Raut, Mahesh Raut’s sisters — are steadfast in their belief that they have been framed only so that they could back out from the protests and movements they were a part of.

Monali expressed her concern about her brother’s health, alleging that the cops were not giving him his medicines. Mahesh has been suffering from ulcers in the stomach, has had a liver problem for a while, and has been advised ayurvedic medication. Speaking about the arrests, Monali said, “Mahesh didn’t know any of the accused. He had only heard of Surendra Gadling, because he is from Nagpur.” She emphasised on her brother’s concern for the underprivileged, as he was born in a middle-class family himself. As the family’s financial condition was not very strong, he was advised to take a D Ed course, following which he joined a Kendriya Vidyalaya in Goa as a teacher. However, he wasn’t happy with his career choice. Hence, after consulting with his family members he started preparing for an MBA entrance exam. He eventually joined the Tata Institute of Social Sciences for a master’s course.

“Just as he was on the verge of completing his MA, he was offered a job in Delhi. He earned well but could not overcome the gnawing emptiness within, which stemmed from the realisation that he wasn’t doing anything for society at large,” said Monali. Soon after, following another round of talks with his family members, he quit his job and moved back to Gadchiroli to begin social work. According to his sister, he made the people aware of forest, mining and land-related laws. “While he wasn’t earning anything, it was because of him that the people became aware of vital issues and started voicing their demands. He applied for the Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellowship (PMRDF) during this time and got selected. This gave a boost to his work and he could focus on these issues officially. But when the government changed, he decided to quit and start working independently again,” she said.

Interestingly, Mahesh Raut and Harshali Potdar (a Mumbai-based activist), whose house was raided by cops on April 17 in connection to the Elgaar Parishad, were also taken into custody in 2013 when Mahesh was a PMDRF fellow. When quizzed about this, Monali said, “Harshali was his junior and she was visiting Gadchiroli for an awareness drive on mining. We should take into account that it was due to a letter from the then minister Jairam Ramesh that they decided to let him go. If he was involved in anything illegal would a minister have supported him? In fact, Mahesh always maintained that in the Naxal-police conflict in the zone, it is the innocent who suffered. We feel that they have framed him in this case because they want to go ahead with the mining projects,” she said, calling attention to the fact that the chief minister recently spoke about these projects during his foreign tour. “If Mahesh is arrested, the voice against the projects will automatically be quietened and the question of protests wouldn’t arise.”

Koel Sen, an independent filmmaker, did not have a very different opinion either. “Last time the cops came up with allegations of assassinations, while now there was no mention of it. How can this be the case?” she quizzed. “It is the first time that this has happened. My mother has no history of being quizzed by the police or getting arrested. She is a human rights and Dalit activist.”

Koel further claimed that her mother had not heard of many people who have been arrested. “My mother is doing her research on Dalit issues. She has been critical of a lot of things, including certain areas of the Maoist movement. She didn’t know any of them except for Sudhir Dhawale, a well-known Dalit activist. I hadn’t heard of Rona Wilson or Mahesh Raut, from my mother, despite the cops claiming that Wilson had written to my mother with reference to these arrests. In fact, I wondered who Wilson was when I heard about the arrests. She had spoken about Kobad Ghandy earlier because they were friends from college, back in1970. After that, all of them moved in different directions,” said Koel.

Underscoring a conspiracy, she said that these arrests were just an attempt to shut the voices of liberal thinking people like her parents who think that Dalits must have a voice. “It’s very simple — the political atmosphere in the country is such that no one is ready to tolerate people from the so-called lower communities speaking up; and when they do, they must be brought down,” concluded Koel.

Koel Sen (L), daughter of the accused Shoma Sen (top), said her mother doesn’t even know the other nabbed persons; Mahesh Raut’s (above) sister Monali Raut said he has been framed to ensure various mining projects are not opposed