Mumbai: In the over 10,000-page chargesheet recently filed in the Elgar Parishad case, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has stacked together statements by witnesses who have made claims ranging from arms training undertaken by a few arrested accused in the forests of central India to some trying to “reinvent Dalit militancy” in the country.
The chargesheet – first by the NIA but the third in the case – makes serious claims about the accused persons’ direct links with the banned CPI (Maoist) organisation. Not just the accused, the witnesses have also claimed that several students leaders and academics from Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University were either “Naxal sympathisers” or “urban party members of CPI (Maoist)”.
The Wire has accessed six witness statements from the chargesheet.
One of the witnesses, who had allegedly worked closely with arrested writer Varavara Rao, has claimed that he was approached by Rao to handle the editorial responsibility of a Maoist journal named ‘Awami Jung’ when they had a staff crunch. Awami Jung, popularly known as Jung, is an internal journal of the party, which until 2012 was run by the Maoist party’s central committee leaders. The witness says since he was already “inspired” by Rao’s writings and Viplava Rachayitala Sangham (VIRASAM) or Revolutionary Writers’ Group, which was founded by Rao in the 1970s, he had accepted the work.
During his work with Jung, the witness says he had also participated in organising an event in which several accused persons like Nagpur-based retired professor Shoma Sen, lawyer and prisoners’ rights activist Arun Ferreira, former Delhi University professor S.A.R. Geelani, Delhi university professor and now convicted in a Maoist case G.N. Saibaba and academic and civil rights activist Anand Teltumbde, along with many others, were present. While Sen, Ferreira and Teltumbde have been arrested in connection with the Elgar Parishad case, Geelani passed away in October last year. This meeting was organised by the Revolutionary Democratic Front and after the meeting, the witness says the Andhra Pradesh government had banned the organisation.
According to the witness, in the meeting, Teltumbde had spoken about “reinventing Dalit militancy” as well as “revolutionary resurgence under Maoist leadership” in the country. The statement doesn’t give any context to these claims. Teltumbde’s foreign trips, taken in his role as an academic, have also come under the NIA’s scrutiny with witnesses claiming that “under the pretext of attending and delivering speeches at a conference organised in Peru, the Philippines, Turkey and other countries, he was allegedly involved in collecting Maoist literature and videos from there”.
The witness has claimed that in Gadchiroli district, where the Adivasi community is dependent on forest produce, primarily the selling of tendu leaves, cadres of the CPI (Maoist) group had allegedly indulged in collecting “taxes” from the community members. According to the witness’s claims, Rs 350 was collected from either the community or contractors per 1,000 pouches of tendu leaves. Apparently, Rs 2.5-3 crore were collected each year by the Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh zone of the CPI (Maoist), one witness has allegedly told the NIA. This, another witness has said, was a part of the “jungle tax”, which was fixed at around 7%.
Another witness, who allegedly was a part of the armed movement between 2012 and 2016 and had remained active in Gadchiroli in Maharashtra and Abujmad region in Bastar, has claimed that cultural activists of the Kabir Kala Manch has visited Gadchiroli for over 20 days and had undergone “arms training” during this stay. The witness claims:
“In August or September 2012, Ramesh Gaichor, Sagar Gorkhe, and one more person (name withheld since not an accused in the case) from Pune came to Korchi- Kobramendha forest area, Gadchiroli along with DVC member Arun Bhelke (arrested and presently in Jail) … They used to discuss party work in urban areas with Milind Teltumbde, alias Deepak, secretary of the committee of Maharashtra and DVC member Anil Nagapure, alias Vilas, alias Navjot…”
Milind Teltumbde, who is believed to be a top-rung leader of the banned CPI (Maoist) organisation and has allegedly been involved in several underground movements since 1996, has been named as an “absconding accused” in the chargesheet.
Although Milind had joined the movement in 1996, at least two witnesses have claimed that he was “inspired” by his brother Anand Teltumbde and joined the armed movement. Anand has always led a public life, both as an academic and a civil liberties activist.
One witness has claimed that the session included “weapon training, explosive training and awareness programme on various topics in the jungle for members of CPI (Maoist)”. During this alleged forest visit, the witness claims both Gaichor and Gorkhe along with one woman had undergone training in handling 12 bore rifles, pistols, and identification of ammunition, explosives etc. Physical training was also conducted, the witness alleges. Interestingly, similar claims were made by the Maharashtra state Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) in the 2011 case too where Gaichor and Gorkhe are already accused and were arrested in 2013.
The witness has also alleged that several persons had joined the arms movement under the influence of Surendra Gadling, a senior human rights lawyer and one of the first persons to be arrested in the Elgar Parishad case. The witness further alleges that another accused, prisoners’ rights activist Rona Wilson, had also visited the forest for over 10 days.
There have been multiple claims made since 2018. The investigation that had initially focused on the violence unleashed on Dalits visiting Bhima Koregaon in the outskirts of Pune was soon made into a larger nexus among the “urban Naxals” trying to topple the government. The Pune police, which had in the past investigated the matter until this January when the NIA took over the case, had also claimed that the arrested accused were trying to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This claim, however, was sidelined eventually and the investigating agency has now made claims about the accused persons’ deep “Maoist links”.
Several persons beyond those arrested or probed in the ongoing investigation have been named by the witnesses in the chargesheet. While some of those named are already facing trial in other cases, a few are leading respectable lives and don’t have any pending cases against them. Some of them are reputed human rights lawyers, cultural activists, and scholars.
A witness who claims to have attended meetings organised by a lawyers collective named ‘Indian Association of People’s Lawyers’, has claimed that Wilson and Hany Babu, a Delhi University associate professor who has been arrested in the case, would allegedly “insist on defending political prisoners”. In the redacted statement, the witness claims that a pattern could be seen “where there was always an insistence on providing legal aid to Naxal cases and painting the political prisoners as persecuted by the government”. The two, according to the witness, were also responsible for “inculcating Maoist sympathies in the students in Delhi and more specifically in Dalit and students coming from other oppressed backgrounds”.
It is important to note that both Wilson and Hany belong to oppressed identities. While Wilson’s work has largely focused on prisoners’ rights, Hany has spent a large part of his life working in the anti-caste movement. His academic writings too focused on the lack of representation of Bahujans, especially the OBCs, in the university spaces.
The Wire has held back the names of those who have not been named as suspects in the case but are mentioned in the witness statements.