FIR No. 0004 of 2018, filed with Vishrambaug police station in Pune after the January 1 Bhima-Koregaon violence, names five people booked for promoting enmity between groups, punishable by up to five years’ jail. it does not name any of the five activists picked up on Tuesday.
Of the original five, only Sudhir Dhawale, a rights activist, is in custody. None of the nine others arrested in the case – including the five held on Tuesday and the four picked up on June 6 – are named in the FIR.
Apart from Dhawale, none of the above was in Bhima-Koregaon when a caste clash killed a man, lawyers and activists say.
“If these activists can be arrested on the basis of this FIR of January 8, so can anybody from anywhere in the country for no rhyme or reason,” said Mihir Desai, a Bombay High Court advocate.
He said that since provocative speeches – the original charge in the FIR – cannot be delivered by people who are not at the spot, charges under the anti-terror law UAPA were added on May 17.
“This was an afterthought to send out a message to those who were fighting for the rights of the marginalised,” Desai said.
Modi Government wants to divert attention
Former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said the grounds for Tuesday’s arrests were still unclear. “Was it the Bhima-Koregaon violence or the threat to Prime Minister Narendra Modi? This ambiguity suggests the government is trying to divert attention from the Sanatan Sanstha,” he said.The Sanstha has been under the scanner in the murders of rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, M.M. Kalburgi and Govind Pansare and journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bangalore between 2013 and 2017.
“In one case arms and explosives are seized (in connection with an alleged plot for terror strikes across Maharashtra by suspected Sanstha activists, busted this month) but no action is taken against the Sanstha. In the other case dissenting voices are huddled into police lockups,” Chavan said.
Targetting the defense lawyer to weaken the case
Of the five arrested on Tuesday, lawyer Arun Ferreira represented some of the people accused in the Bhima-Koregaon violence.
“Now that Arun has been arrested, who will fight their case? This is a conspiracy to divert attention from the actual perpetrators,” said lawyer Susan Abraham, whose husband Vernon Gonzalves is among the five arrested on Tuesday.
“Surendra Gadling (one of the four held on June 6) was contemplating a writ petition against the raids on his residence, conducted without court permission. Now that he has been arrested under the UAPA, he cannot apply for bail.”
Shiv Sena politician Manisha Kayande said the arrests had been made for political gain while the real perpetrators were roaming free.
‘Intellectuals cannot support Maoists’
Maharashtra home minister Deepak Karsekar defended the police action: “Those arrested are repeat offenders. Intellectuals cannot support Maoists.”
Complaint filed by follower of Modi’s ‘Guruji’
The January 8 FIR was registered on a complaint from Pune businessman Tushar Damgude, a follower of Sambhaji Bhide, the founder of Shiv Pratishthan who was once addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as “Guruji”.
Modi’s ‘Guruji’ named in other FIRs
Two other FIRs had been registered in the Bhima-Koregaon case. One was against Bhide and the parivar-linked Milind Ekbote, blamed by the Maharashtra government before the Supreme Court a month after the violence. Ekbote was arrested but got bail.
Another FIR was lodged against Gujarat legislator Jignesh Mevani and former JNU student leader Umar Khaled but they were not arrested.