As many as fourteen MPs on Friday urged Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray to shift Varavara Rao, the 81-year-old Telugu poet accused in the Elgar Parishad case, to a hospital facility until he recovers completely, saying the present level of care provided in the jail is not acceptable.

Rao was admitted to JJ Hospital in Mumbai on May 29. The activist was initially being treated at the medical facility of the Taloja Jail, where he is lodged, but was shifted to hospital after his condition did not improve. However, Rao was discharged after just three days in the hospital.

In a statement, the parliamentarians expressed “grave concern” over the activist’s health amid a massive surge of coronavirus cases in prisons. “It has been reported that four deaths have already occurred in prisons across Maharashtra, all of which were later found to be Covid-19 positive,” they noted.

“It has also come to our notice through the family members of Varavara Rao that the aged poet is vomiting several times daily and is not keeping well,” the statement added. “His family mentioned that Varavara Rao’s voice was extremely feeble when he could speak to them on a call made after a month.”

The statement said Rao’s health deteriorated while he was under observation of the doctors in the Taloja prison. “Varavara Rao’s health reports from JJ hospital indicate an electrolyte disturbance, which could prove detrimental as he is already a cardiac patient,” it said. “He has intestinal ulcers which need urgent investigation (Colonoscopy) as directed by doctors while he was in Pune jails. This procedure has not been conducted after more than 6 months of prescription.”

The MPs also requested the chief minister to provide access to medical treatment for Delhi University professor Gokarakonda Naga Saibaba “whose health condition is also most vulnerable”. The wheelchair-bound academic was arrested in May 2014 after the Gadchiroli police claimed that he had links with Maoists and was “likely to indulge in anti-national activities”. In 2017, he was sentenced to life in prison under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

The signatories included Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MPs Kanimozhi, Thamizhachi Thangapandian and Tiruchi Siva, Congress MPs Komatireddy Venkat Reddy, A Revanth Reddy, and Uttam Kumar Reddy, Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Manoj Jha, Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s KK Ragesh and S Venkatesan, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leaders Thol Thirumavalavan and D Ravikumar, and Communist Party of India’s M Selvaraj and K Subbarayan.

Bhima Koregaon and Elgar Parishad cases

On January 1, 2018, violence erupted between Dalits and Marathas near the village of Bhima Koregaon in Maharashtra’s Pune district, where lakhs of Dalits had converged to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon. Dalit Mahar soldiers fighting for the British Army defeated the Brahmin Peshwa rulers of the Maratha empire in the battle in 1818. This happened a day after an event in Pune called the Elgar Parishad was organised to commemorate the battle. One person died in violence during a bandh called by Dalit outfits on January 2.

The Pune police conducted raids on several activists in April 2018, followed by two rounds of arrests that targeted 10 activists. On June 6, 2018, they arrested Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut from Nagpur, Sudhir Dhawale from Mumbai, and Rona Wilson from Delhi. On August 28, 2018, the police arrested five more activists – Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavara Rao and Gautam Navlakha.

By this time, the accusations against the activists had grown from inciting the violence in Bhima Koregaon to alleged involvement in a nationwide “Maoist” conspiracy to destabilise democracy, overthrow the government by setting up an “anti-fascist front” and plotting to assassinate Narendra Modi. All of the activists were labelled as “urban Naxalites” and accused of being members of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

The two cases were being investigated by the Pune Police, but earlier this year, the Centre transferred the Elgar Parishad inquiry to the National Investigation Agency.

Last month, the special NIA court in Mumbai rejected the interim bail plea of Sudha Bhardwaj. Bharadwaj had sought temporary bail on medical grounds in view of the health crisis following the coronavirus outbreak.