“Please destroy the letter after you have read it. Be careful that it should not fall in the hands of the enemy.”
If Maharashtra police are to be believed, the recipient of this letter, activist Rona Wilson, spectacularly failed to follow instructions. Instead, he saved it on a device that he kept in his Delhi home, enabling the police to comfortably find it during a raid in June.
The police claim to have recovered several such letters from the computers, pen drives and memory cards of the 10 activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case, one of whom is Wilson, who worked with the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners.
Thirteen such letters have been shared with reporters, even after the Bombay High Court sharply criticised the police for reading out some of them in a press conference since the matter was still sub-judice. The letters have not been submitted to any court.
The letters seem to give away vital information about the operations of the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist). They purport to show that the insurgent group, which has been fighting a guerilla war in the jungles of central and eastern India for several decades, is dependent on activists living in bustling metropolises, in the midst of a dense security system, not only for their funds, but even for wires and nitrate powder to make explosives.
If the letters are to be believed, so confident is the group of evading surveillance that its members identify each other in the letters by their real names and easily recognisable initials, not aliases as the Maoists commonly do.
The letters also reveal the involvement of a wide range of individuals and organisations in what the police claims is an intricate Maoist conspiracy to destabilise India, dislodge the Bharatiya Janata Party government and even assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Many of the entities mentioned in the letters happen to be the BJP’s political opponents and are part of India’s political mainstream, starting with the country’s leading opposition party, the Congress. In 2013, several senior leaders of the Congress were gunned down in an attack by Maoist guerillas in Chhattisgarh. But the letters refer to “Congress friends” and casually mention the mobile number of senior leader and former chief minister Digvijaya Singh.
Independent security experts have cast doubts on the veracity of these letters. “Which fool would disclose sources like that?” said Ajai Sahni, the Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management, which runs a website focusing on terrorism in South Asia.
Vishwa Ranjan, former Director General of Police in Chhattisgarh, had an explanation for this lack of secrecy. “For a long time Maoists believed that emails are tough to intercept,” he said.
Also featuring in the letters are the names of the newly elected independent member of the Gujarat assembly, Jignesh Mevani, and leader of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh and BR Ambedkar’s grandson, Prakash Ambedkar, both of whom have mobilised Dalits against the BJP.
The letters contain references to a range of civil rights organisations working across states, many with Adivasi groups, as well as student organisations from premier educational institutions: Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, and Indian Institute of Technology-Madras.
Even Christian groups in Jharkhand opposed to a recent anti-conversion law introduced by the BJP are shown to be collaborating with the Maoists. In fact, in Jharkhand, the letters ostensibly reveal that Maoists were plotting the abduction of senior BJP leaders, only for the purpose of demanding “that the oppressive laws be done with”.
The Maoist conspiracy stretches far beyond India, if the letters are to be believed. The insurgents are keen to spark an international campaign to draw attention to the oppression of Dalits and religious minorities in India. For this, they are willing to sponsor international conferences and seminars, though the funds earmarked for this purpose in the letters – Rs 10 lakh – are paltry by global standards. Two academics teaching in foreign universities are named, but the universities at which they are stated to be teaching are inaccurate. A philosopher in France, whom members of the Central Committee of the CPI (Maoist) are willing to be interviewed by, is identified as an activist.
The manner in which the police conducted the raids on August 28 has already provoked questions. As reported by Scroll.in, the police took along stock witnesses from Pune, flouting the law that says that the panchanama or memorandums of arrest must be signed by family members or residents of the same locality. Lawyer Susan Abraham who is married to Vernon Gonsalves, one of the activists raided and arrested in the case, alleged that the police brought their own laptops and pen drives to the raids. “They put their pen drive into our laptop,” she said. “All the procedure was done in another room.”
Even though Pune police insists they have not violated the law, lawyers said the use of stock witnesses makes the integrity of the seizures suspect. The Delhi High Court too has questioned the police about this.
Now, the actual contents of the letters the police claim to have recovered are sparking anger. “This business of branding dissenters as Maoists and Naxals and cooking up evidence is reprehensible and I am not using the word lightly, fascist,” said Ruchi Gupta, a member of the All India Congress Committee who oversees the National Students Union of India, one of the student organisations named in the letters.
Scroll.in spoke to several of those named in the letters as well as people with expertise in internal security matters. Here are key excerpts from the letter with their responses.
On the supply of M4s
What the letters say: In a letter dated April 18, 2017, R, whom the police has identified as Rona Wilson, tells Comrade Prakash, which the police claims is a code name for a Maoist leader: “I hope by now you have received details of the meeting and requirement of 8Cr for annual supply of M4’s with 4,00,000 rounds.” In a press conference, the additional director general of Maharashtra police said M4 was a reference to grenades.
What security experts say: Ajai Sahni said it was “impossible” that operational requirements would be mentioned so openly. “There are code words which keep changing from time to time and region to region: book/umbrella for guns, magazine/copies/buttons for ammunition, raincoats for explosives,” he said. Vishwa Ranjan, former Director-General of Police in Chhattisgarh, however, claimed the use of terms like M4 was not uncommon in Maoist communication with overground cadres.
On sourcing explosives and equipment
What the letters says: “I am sending a catalogue of the available equipment,” R writes in a letter dated December 26, 2017, also addressed to Comrade Prakash. If the letter is to be believed, Rona Wilson who lived in Delhi not only compiled equipment catalogues, but was also in touch an arms supplier “through designated contact from Nepal”. However, for “comrades from Manipur”, the letters states “only VV has the authority to communicate with them”. VV, the police claimed at a press conference, is a reference to Varavara Rao, the revolutionary poet from Hyderabad who was arrested on August 28.
Another letter suggests that to launch attacks in their strongholds in southern Chhattisgarh, underground Maoist commanders needed the assistance of Surendra Gadling, the lawyer who lived in Nagpur and was arrested on June 6. In a letter dated September 25, 2017, Comrade Prakash writes to Comrade Surendra: “Firstly, we are awaiting input from you and our local activists to gauge the strength of enemy forces/ROP [road opening parties] around Kandulnar/ Basaguda [places in southern Chhattisgarh] before we launch further attacks. If possible try to arrange logistics (wires, nails, nitrate powder) you may get some help from mining contractors in Bijapur.”
What security experts say: Ajai Sahni mocked the possibility of Maoist leaders conferring with anyone on operational details. “Established overground workers or sympathisers would rarely be jeopardised by direct involvement in operational matters, nor would such individuals be directing operations and conspiracies,” he said.
What the activists’ lawyers say: Arrested in June, Wilson and Gadling are currently in Pune jail. Gadling’s lawyer, Susan Abraham said: “Surendra Gadling is a professional lawyer. What was in his computer was his trial proceedings and material. He was handling hundreds of cases, not waiting for letters from comrades.”
On the Congress party
What the letters say: A letter dated September 25, 2017, written by Comrade Prakash to Comrade Surendra (a possible reference to Surendra Gadling) talks about the need to “intensify nationwide protests using students [since] state forces will be soft against students which will gradually put the state at a disadvantage while acting against us”. In this context, the letters states: “Congress leaders are very much willing to assist in this process and have also agreed fund further agitations whenever such opportunities arrive. In this regard you can contact our friend at [redacted Congress leader Digvijaya Singh’s mobile number].”
Another letter dated January 2, 2018, written by Comrade M to Comrade Rona Wilson talks about mobilising Dalits. “Senior comrades from the CPI(Maoist) urban leadership have had prior talks with our friends in Congress who suggested to continue the Dalit mobilisation more aggressively, whatever legal and financial aid is required they are ready to provide through the intermediary (Jignesh).”
It adds: “Congress friends have assured assistance for release of senior political prisoners including Com Kobad and Com Sai (possible references to Kobad Gandhi and GN Saibaba).”
What the security experts say: “Which fool would disclose sources like that?” said Ajai Sahni. “Such information is usually coded and broken into pieces, never done through the same letter. For instance, if one letter would have information about a source, another would have his contact details in code.”
What Congress leaders say: Digvijaya Singh was not available for comment.
On Mevani and Khalid
What the letters say: The letter dated January 2, 2018, which talks about mobilising Dalits, calls Jignesh Mevani and Umar Khalid “young fighters of our revolution”.
What the people named say: Mevani was not available for comment. Khalid said: “I question the veracity of the letters – one reason is that the letters were produced before the media and not the court. They were supposedly recovered in a raid at Rona Wilson’s house in April. He was arrested in June. The media later claimed they contained the plot to assassinate the prime minister. If they had such a confidential, serious plot, you left him free for the next one-and-a-half months?”
On Prakash Ambedkar
What the letters say: The letter which refers to Mevani and Khalid also goes on to say: “With strong support from Com. Prakash Ambedkar we can foresee the outcome of their efforts in consolidating many dalit struggles across the country within few years.” Praising the Bhima Koregaon agitation as “very effective”, it says “the unfortunate death of a youth must be exploited to prepare future agitations and propaganda material.” The youth who died in the caste violence in Bhima Koregaon belonged to the Maratha community, and not Dalit, as this reference suggests. The letter also says pressure by Dalit organisations “will undoubtedly help to take down the Modi juggernaut in 2019”.
What Prakash Ambedkar says: When sections of the letter that mention him were read out to him, Ambedkar said: “Democracy means pulling down governments… Any democratic person should ask what is objectionable in this letter. If I were a Chief Minister or Prime Minister, I would welcome this openly, that whoever is in the armed struggle is speaking up and giving up arms for a ballot.”
On Christian missionaries in Jharkhand
What the letters says: A letter dated October 5, 2017, addressed to “Vijayan Dada” and written by SS (a possible reference to Stan Swamy, a priest and activist who was raided on August 28), praises the efforts of Christian missions like the Ranchi Jesuit Society and names Peter Martin, Antony Puthumattahil, Xavier Soreng and Maria Louis. It then talks about the anti-conversion law introduced by the BJP. “We can foresee the terrible implications that it is going to have on our missionaries. It is a matter of grave concern. On the ground level there must be some action from your side to capture senior leaders of ruling BJP in the state and demand that the oppressive laws be done with.”
What security experts say: While Maoists are known to use terms like marginalised sections, oppressed classes, they are not known to use the term “our missionaries”, said Ajai Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management. “It seems like a very stupid attempt by someone to give this whole thing an anti-Hindu colour.”
On the abduction plot suggested by the letter, Vishwa Ranjan, the former DGP of Chhattisgarh, said: “Why not? If they [Maoists] could attack top Congress leaders, then why not BJP leaders be targeted for abduction for any reason.”
But Sahni noted that “crucial operational plans such as an ambush will never be discussed in such plain words”.
What Christian leaders say: Ajay Soreng, secretary to the Provincial of the Ranchi Jesuit Society, said the letter was a fabrication. “If the police gets a letter like this, they should deal with this legally,” he said. “Why leak it to the media? This is a conspiracy. The language, approach and signature is not correct.” Alleging this was an attempt to target the church, he added: “Peter Martin, Xavier Soreng are both Jesuit fathers. All of them are social workers, being enveloped by this. There may be a wider move to get them into one net.” In an earlier statement, Stan Swamy said the attempt to link him with the Maoists was aimed at discrediting him “and others who have been raising our voices for the rights of poorest of poor people.”
On student activists
What the letters say: The same letter that mentions Digvijaya Singh’s mobile number, and is addressed by Comrade Prakash to Comrade Surendra, also states: “Parts of the funds (2 Lakh) provided to you at the 9th AGM lecture must be spent for organising protests and programmes led by our student activists against discriminatory state policies and high handedness of the ruling dispensation. DUSU, JNUSU, APSC, AISF, NSUI (Delhi University Students’ Union, Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union, Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, All India Students Federation, National Students’ Union of India) and others must be encouraged to actively participate in protests to highlight issues such as the recent BHU (Banaras Hindu University) incident.”
An undated letter, again addressed to Comrade Surendra, states: “Sometime in May-June we are expecting 2-3 PR’s from TISS (Tata Institute of Social Sciences) and other institutions where students are inclined to follow the path of revolutionary politics and Bolshevism.”
Another letter discloses the names and numbers of four students activists of USDF or United Students’ Democratic Front, saying they can be roped in to “organise protests across other BJP-ruled states”.
What the student organisations say:
Rocky Tuseed, president, Delhi University Students’ Union (2017-’18): We have protested against government policies, we have protested against the Higher Education Commission of India Bill, but that was in collaboration with the teachers’ and non-teaching staff unions, not the Maoists.
Geeta Kumar, president, Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union (2017-’18): The idea that the Maoists gave us Rs 2 lakhs to conduct protests is hilarious. We do not even have money to go to Jantar Mantar in autorickshaws. Even the ABVP (Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the BJP’s student wing) has never accused the JNUSU of receiving funds from elsewhere because the JNUSU has never had any funds.
A member of the Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle, Indian Institute of Technology Madras: In the eyes of the police, except for the BJP and the ABVP, all students’ organisations, all human rights activists and organisations, every one who is not supporting the government or questioning its policies are Maoists. Forget about the Left groups, the letter implies even Congress’ student union is getting money from Maoists. The government and its supporters do not have the capacity to counter other arguments with their own – they need the police to do it.
Syed Waliullah Qadri, President, All India Students’ Federation: The police are trying to frame and entrap us so that no one opposes the current government before the 2019 elections. We have ideological differences with the Maoists and would not work with them.
Fahad Ahmad, former general secretary (2017-’18), TISS-Students’ Union: TISS students do protest but within the Constitutional framework. We raise questions before the government but we do not believe in violence. There is no link with Maoists at all. And protesting does not make us Bolshevik. Gandhi protested all the time – was he Bolshevik?
Sushil Mandi, United Students’ Democratic Front: “We have been active participants in multiple student movements with our names and numbers on scores of pamphlets, posters and even FB posts. We are simply being targeted. Also think of it, if it was a genuine letter would any Maoist leader had disclosed contact details of their potential sources just like that?”
What the letters say: A letter dated July 30, 2017, written by Sudarshan to Comrade Gautam ji (a possible reference to activist Gautam Navlakha who was arrested on June 28) talks about the value of conducting fact-finding surveys in Chhattisgarh. “FF surveys led by comrade Nandini have greatly helped tame the hard-core criminal of Bastar SRP Kalluri,” states the letter, in an apparent reference to Nandini Sundar, Professor of Sociology in Delhi University who has filed several petitions in Supreme Court challenging alleged human rights violations by Chhattisgarh police.
An undated letter addressed to Comrade Anand (a possible reference to Ambedkarite scholar and management professor Anand Teltumbde, whose home in Goa was raided on August 28) talks about the need to organise international seminars to draw attention to the oppression faced by Dalits and religious minorities in India. “Com. Anupama Rao and Com. Shailaja Paik have agreed to invite you for guest lectures and seminars at least twice a year, at their respective Universities in Paris and Cincinnati. Both are very much interested in studying Politics of Caste violence, and discrimination of minorities in modern India. Some of the CC leaders will also consider interview requests of foreign activists such as Prof. Etinenne Balibar.”
What the academics say: “We are already in court, that’s why they keep trying to defame us,” Sundar said. She did not want to comment further.
Rao, Paik and Balibar have not responded to Scroll.in’s emails. This story will be updated when they do.
On civil rights organisations
What the letters say: The same letter addressed to Comrade Gautam ji states: “The CC is well aware of the ground realities and difficulties faced by our comrades and party activists from CLC, PUDR, CDRO (Civil Liberties Committee, People’s Union for Democratic Rights, Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations) and other civil rights organisations while they are on FF [fact finding] missions in Bastar.”
What the organisations say:
V Raghunath, Civil Liberties Committee: “The letter is a fake document because the suggestion that we are linked to or funded by Maoists is absolutely false. But that this has appeared is neither new, nor surprising. We have been branded as Naxalites by previous governments also. We absolutely condemn this foisting of false cases upon intellectuals and activists to suppress their democratic voices.”
Shahana Bhattacharya and Sharmila Purkayastha, secretaries of People’s Union for Democratic Rights: “Attempts to associate human rights organisations with the politics of the victims of human rights abuse has happened in the past. PUDR and PUCL brought out a report on the killings of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984. Its members received threats from the Congress Party, then in power, and a smear campaign was launched to associate PUDR with khalistani organisations and politics… Such smear campaigns, apart from threatening human rights activists, also amounts to abettment to violence against human rights functionaries.”
Ashish Gupta, coordinator, Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations: “There is nothing secretive about our missions. We went to Gadchiroli last May, there were 35-40 members in our team and we met the police and the local administration as well. Often, before we arrive, local papers even carry items saying a fact-finding team is coming. What Maoist would announce their arrival like that? And the visits are paid for by us – each member pays for his visit. We have had no link with any Maoist organisation.”
What the letters say: There are several references to the lawyers working with the Indian People’s Lawyers Association. An undated letter shown to be written by Sudha Bharadwaj talks about a meeting held on March 19, 2017, for which IAPL members gathered in Nagpur. The letter states: “Our trustworthy colleagues from IAPL Maharashtra, Comrade Viplav, Com Parag Uike, Com Nihal Singh Rathod, Com Subhash Nitanware, Monica Sakhrani, are working actively through Com Surendra. They are willing to take responsibility and risks to work for the organisation. When other comrades appear in courts for the hearings, they will act effectively as couriers.”
What the lawyers say: Sudha Bharadwaj said this letter was “totally concocted”. The other lawyers agreed. Nihal Singh Rathod, who heads the Human Rights Law Network in Nagpur, said no such meeting was held that day. “There was supposed to be a meeting, but it got cancelled. Because of Holi, I was at my native place, so were others.” He also decried the police’s attempts to tarnish the reputation of IAPL. “The Chairperson of IAPL is Retired Justice Hosbet Suresh. Are you saying Hosbet Suresh is a Maoist?”
For background on the case, read our special report published last week:From Pune to Paris: How a police investigation turned a Dalit meeting into a Maoist plot