Since arresting Varavara Rao and four other human rights activists on August 28, the Pune police have accused the Telugu poet of plotting to assassinate Narendra Modi, helping Maoists buy arms from suppliers in Nepal and Manipur, and funding “Urban Naxal” activities.
Strikingly, these allegations, largely culled from letters written by other people, mirror the charges the state has repeatedly brought against him for the last 45 years – and failed to prove in a court of law every single time. Varavara Rao, 78, has faced as many as 25 cases so far but has been acquitted in all.
In 2005, for example, Varavara Rao was implicated in four cases. He was charged with abetting criminal activity through his writings and speeches as usual, but also, unlike earlier, with participating in or directing attacks on police and killing some people. The cases were filed after Maoists attacked police stations in Chilakaluripet and Achampet, a senior official’s convoy in Ongole, and a policeman in Balanagar – all in undivided Andhra Pradesh – early that year.
In court, the police claimed that the Chilakaluripet attack, which left five policemen and three civilians dead, was a result of “provocation and direction being constantly provided” to Maoists by Varavara Rao and other leaders of the Revolutionary Writers Association. A memo submitted in the court by Chilakaluripet’s Sub Divisional Police Officer even accused Varavara Rao and four fellow accused of “continuously emboldening” the rebels through cell phone calls to blast the police station.
In Achampet, where two constables were shot dead, the police alleged the “offence was committed by Maoists only after taking directions from their think tank”, referring to the Revolutionary Writers Association, which is “instigating violent actions against police”.
Varavara Rao was also accused, along with the writer Kalyan Rao, of providing the instigation for the April 2005 attack on the convoy of a superintendent of police in Ongole that led to the death of three civilians. The police even paraded two “surrendered Naxalites” at a press conference who claimed to have attended the meeting at Varavara Rao’s home where the attack was supposedly planned.
A month before, the police had blamed the killing of a constable “on instigation and conspiracy of Maoist representatives”, including Varavara Rao.
The police duly listed these accusations in first information reports and chargesheets but also, as they are doing now, fed the more spicy details to the press. Yet, because they were plainly without merit, three of the cases were withdrawn before the trail even started. In the Ongole attack case, the trial went on for several years before Varavara Rao was found “not guilty”.
Previously, four other cases against Varavara Rao had fallen flat because the police could not prove the charges of “provocation to murder” and “attempt to murder”.
It is nearly the same charges related to murder that he is facing now, except the Pune police have also added to the list, after feeding it to the press, the allegation of a plot to kill the prime minister.
Same old story
As for Varavara Rao’s alleged dealings with arms suppliers, he has faced at least nine cases under the Arms Act of 1959 and the Explosive Substances Act, 1908 over the last four decades. In perhaps the most ludicrous of them, the poet was arrested and charged with distributing bombs to ensure the success of a strike against the custodial death of a Radical Students Union activist in 1985. In response, Varavara Rao wrote a memorable poem, titled Reflection.
I did not supply the explosives
Nor ideas for that matter
It was you who trod with iron heels
Upon the anthill
And from the trampled earth
Sprouted the ideas of vengeance
It was you who struck the beehive
With your lathi
The sound of the scattering bees
Exploded in your shaken facade
Blotched red with fear
When the victory drum started beating
In the heart of the masses
You mistook it for a person and trained your guns
Revolution echoed from all horizons.
Varavara Rao was eventually acquitted in all nine cases. Two of these related to the Secunderabad Conspiracy Case, 1974 and the Ramnagar Conspiracy Case, 1986, in which he was additionally held for criminal conspiracy, dacoity, attempt to murder, murder, collecting arms, spreading disaffection, and sedition.
The charge of funding activities to promote Maoist ideology is relatively new for Varavara Rao. Though the Andhra Pradesh police, responding to a notice from the State Human Rights Commission against Varavara Rao’s arrest in the 2005 cases, mentioned the poet’s alleged funding of such activists, they did not book him for it.
Varavara Rao retired as a college teacher in 1998 and has been living on his pension ever since. It is, thus, difficult to imagine that he would have enough money to fund such a vast array of activities the police claim he does.
N Venugopal is a Telugu poet, literary critic, translator and journalist. He currently edits Veekshanam, a monthly Telugu journal of political economy and society, and is the author of Understanding Maoists: Notes of a Participant Observer from Andhra Pradesh.