The National Investigation Agency on Monday arrested activists Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor in connection with the ongoing Elgar Parishad investigation, The Indian Express reported. With this, the total number of persons arrested in cases – all academics, activists and lawyers – has gone up to 14.
In July, the central agency had arrested Delhi University Professor Hany Babu. The agency had also summoned several others, including Gorkhe and Gaichor, for questioning at that time.
Gorkhe and Gaichor were active members of the ‘Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyaan’, the body that had organised the Elgaar Parishad event on December 31, 2017. The conclave was held at Shaniwar Wada, Pune, ahead of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon.
In a video recorded before their arrest, the activists had alleged that the NIA was forcing them to give statements to implicate those arrested in the case. They alleged that during interrogation, they were threatened with arrest if they did not agree to be witnesses.
“We were called for questioning 1.5 months ago, we were interrogated for 2 days, we cooperated, gave them statements, we were released,” Gaichor said. “After 1.5 months, they called us again with some urgency, and from 11 am to 5.30 pm they sat with us, told us that you have links with Naxalwadi party, you have met them, you have been to Gadchiroli – if you admit these things, we will release you, if not we will arrest you.”
Both of them refused to submit to these conditions. “We clearly told them that what we know as true about Elgar Parishad, we gave you last time, we have nothing more to give you,” Gaichor added. “We aren’t progenies of Vinayak Damodar Savarkar but are children of BR Ambedkar. If you ask us to give false statements against people who have surrendered, we refuse. Today they have called us to Pune, where there are chances that they will arrest us.”
Gaichor and Gorkhe added that this is an intentional tactic of the NIA to prove that the Elgar Parishad event was a Maoist event. “They are forcing us to confess to things we have never been involved in and would late use it against everyone arrested in the case and declare the entire Elgar Parishad event as a Maoist event,” they said in the video.
Both of them were among the 23 persons booked in the Elgaar Parishad case by the Pune City Police under the anti-terrorism law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. They are facing charges of participating in a Maoist conspiracy to overthrow the government and assassinate the prime minister. The NIA took over the investigation in the case earlier this year.
On Monday, the National Investigations Agency issued summons to academics and a journalist from Hyderabad and Kolkata for questioning in connection with the investigation. Among those summoned were Dalit scholar and activist Satyanarayana, journalist KV Kurmanath and Partho Sarothi Ray, associate professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Kolkata.
Apart from Babu, Gaichor and Gorkhe, activists Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha have been arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case. Except Teltumbde and Navlakha, the others were arrested by Pune Police in June and August 2018 in connection with the violence.
Several rights organisations have criticised the government’s actions in the Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon investigations as stifling dissent and called it an attempt to criminalise and silence intellectuals in India.
Violence broke out between Dalits and Marathas in the village of Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1, 2018. This came a day after an event in Pune called the Elgar Parishad was organised to commemorate the Battle of Bhima Koregaon in 1818 in which the Dalit Mahar soldiers fighting for the British Army defeated the Brahmin Peshwa rulers of the Maratha empire. One person died in violence during a bandh called by Dalit outfits on January 2.