The National Investigation Agency has submitted before a special court in Mumbai 17 draft charges against the 15 accused in the Bhima Koregaon case, PTI reported on Monday. The charges do not mention any plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi – a major accusation against those jailed in the case.
The charges, however, include “waging a war” against the country and a conspiracy to arrange weapons “to attempt or cause death of public functionary”.
Sixteen human rights lawyers, professors, poets and tribal rights activists had been arrested for allegedly plotting caste violence in a village near Pune in 2018.
Tribal rights activist Stan Swamy, one of the accused in the case, died in custody in July this year after being repeatedly denied bail despite his frail health. Varavara Rao, an 81-year-old Telugu poet, was granted bail on medical grounds for six months in February. Fourteen others remain jailed in Maharashtra, charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
The NIA’s case against the accused is based on letters that claim to provide evidence of a conspiracy to “overthrow the lawfully established Indian government using weapons procured from Russia and China”.
However, in February this year, a United States-based digital forensics firm found that at least 10 incriminating letters were planted on the laptop of activist Rona Wilson, who is one of the accused in the case. In July, it emerged that evidence was also planted on the computer belonging to Surendra Gadling, another detainee in the case.
The continued imprisonment of activists and academicians in the case based on alleged flimsy evidence has triggered outrage in India. Several of those in custody have chronic health problems and after Swamy’s death, there have been renewed demands for their release.
In its draft charges also, the National Investigation Agency alleged that the main purpose of the accused was to set up a “janta sarkar [people’s government] through revolution and armed struggle to seize power from the state”, according to the PTI. A copy of the draft charges was made available to the news agency on Monday.
The investigation agency also claimed that the accused were part of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). The NIA accused them of playing provocative songs and handing out Maoist literature during the Elgar Parishad event in Pune, according to PTI.
The event was held “to exploit the communal sentiment of Dalit and other classes across the state [Maharashtra] and provoked them in the name of caste in order to create violence, instability and chaos” in Pune and other parts of the state, the NIA alleged.
The National Investigation Agency also alleged that the accused recruited university students for “commission of terrorist activity”, The Indian Express reported.