Mumbai: The National Investigation Agency (NIA), investigating the Elgar Parishad case, has issued summons to Prem Kumar Vijayan, who teaches English at Hindu College, Delhi University. Vijayan has been summoned to the agency’s Delhi office on August 14.
Vijayan told The Wire that an officer came to his Delhi residence around 5:30 pm on August 13 and handed him the summons. “I have been asked to visit the Delhi office of the NIA today (August 14) at 10 am,” he confirmed.
Another faculty member, Rakesh Ranjan, has also been summoned to the NIA office on Friday. Ranjan is an alumnus of the Sri Ram College of Commerce. Soon after the summons, several DU students and faculty members began an online campaign condemning the NIA.
Several academics, lawyers and activists have been questioned in the case, and the agency has arrested 12 people in all. The latest arrest was of Delhi University associate professor Hany Babu, who, after a week-long interrogation, was arrested on July 28.
This is the first time Vijayan has been summoned in connection with the Elgar Parishad case. Though he has no direct connection to the case, on October 26 last year, Vijayan had received an email from an unverified source. Later, in a detailed joint investigation conducted by Amnesty International’s digital team based in Berlin and The Citizen Lab, a research organisation which works out of the University of Toronto, it was found that the email was a part of a larger surveillance conspiracy “specially crafted to bait journalists or activists”.
Vijayan, along with other lawyers, activists and a journalist – all either defending those arrested in the Elgar Parishad case or reporting about it—had received a tailor-made malware between January and October 2019. Details of this spyware campaign were first revealed by The Wire in December 2019.
If Vijayan is not connected with Elgar Parishad case in any way, why is he being summoned? The only plausible answer would be that like Babu, Vijayan too had actively participated in campaigns demanding the release of his former colleague G.N. Saibaba, who is presently serving a life sentence in Nagpur central prison. Saibaba, who is 90% physically handicapped, has been accused of having Maoist links and has suffered prolonged incarceration.
Like Babu, Vijayan too has authored several articles on Indian state, caste, education, dissent and Hindu nationalism. He has also written for The Wire in the past. He has authored at least two critical pieces on Saibaba’s case – one in 2013 titled “Guilty by Association!” and another one early this month titled “Crushed by the State”.
The suspicious email
The subject line of the email sent to Vijayan in October last year read: “Summons Notice for Rioting Case Cr. 24/ 2018”. The email had contained an attachment and the sender had signed off as a special public prosecutor of the Jagdalpur sessions court in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region.
Vijayan, who had never been to Chhattisgarh in his life, was baffled on seeing this email. In retrospect, Vijayan says a link between the email and this summons can’t be ruled out.
“Between January and October 2019, the HRDs (human rights defenders) were targeted with emails containing malicious links. If these links were clicked, a form of commercially-manufactured Windows spyware would have been deployed, compromising the target’s Windows computers, in order to monitor their actions and communications. This is a violation of their rights to freedom of expression and privacy,” the Citizen Lab-Amnesty International report had noted.
In December last year, The Wire had interviewed Vijayan regarding the email. Describing it then, he said, “I was baffled when I saw that email. I immediately replied to that email and asked if the sender had indeed sent this email to me. Within an hour, I received another email confirming that the email was indeed meant for me and that the case proceedings would proceed in the Jagdalpur court as mentioned in the indictment notice attached with the email.”
Convinced that the email was indeed authentic, Vijayan said he opened the link attached on both his computer and his mobile phone but the folder did not lead him to anything specific. “I wrote back saying I am unable to open the file completely. The .exe file sent to me was an archive file with one PDF file attached. It had one unsigned warrant with no letterhead and several other files attached did not open.”
He had grown suspicious since the sender’s email id was not an official one and hence, he also promptly had inquired about the authenticity of the sender. “I have no reason so far to believe the authenticity of these emails. Who exactly are you? What are you trying to achieve with these messages?” Vijayan had asked in his email response. In response, the sender said: “As a public servant I am not obliged to respond to such demands. Please desist from issuing further threats.” Vijayan had told The Wire that by then, he was certain that this was not an authentic email and it carried a mala fide intention.
According to Amnesty Tech’s preliminary investigations, the emails were sent out from a “seemingly regular person[‘s account]”. “It has a subject line that is designed to be relevant to the recipient and the content of the email is designed to resemble a file-sharing device, such as Google Drive or Dropbox,” the alert issued by Amnesty Tech stated.
Elgar Parishad case
The first round of arrests in the Elgar Parishad case had begun in June 2018. In November that year, the Pune police filed its first chargesheet in the case, which ran over 5,000 pages. The police had claimed that those arrested had “active links” with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and had helped organise the ‘Elgar Parishad’ of December 31, 2017, under the banner of the ‘Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerana Abhiyan’ in Pune.
The police’s case is that this cultural gathering in Pune’s Shaniwarwada area, known to be a predominantly Brahmin hub, had incited Dalit youth across Maharashtra against the Bharatiya Janata Party and ‘Brahmin-oriented Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’, leading to violent retaliation across the state. The speeches given at the Elgar Parishad were allegedly inflammatory, and carried the intention of “harming the democratic fabric of the country”.
A supplementary chargesheet was filed later in February 2019 and the state police had claimed that fugitive Maoist leader Ganapathy as the mastermind behind the Elgar Parishad.
While the initial investigation was handled by the Pune police, as soon as the BJP government fell, the Ministry of Home Affairs suddenly transferred the case to the NIA in January.