A special National Investigation Agency court in Mumbai on Friday sent 83-year-old Jesuit priest and human rights activist Stan Swamy to judicial custody till October 23, reported PTI. Swamy was taken into custody from the Jesuit-run Bagaicha social centre, where he lives, in Ranchi, on Thursday night in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case.

The court remanded him in judicial custody as the central agency did not ask for it. Swamy, who was questioned twice before by the Pune Police and the NIA, was arrested for his alleged links with banned organisation, Communist Party of India (Maoist), an unidentified official said.

Swamy is the 16th person to be arrested in the case. Several others have been booked under sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

NIA officials told PTI that investigations had established that Swamy was actively involved in activities of the banned organisation. They alleged that he was in touch with “conspirators” Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Hany Babu, and Varavara Rao, among others to facilitate the group’s activities.

The NIA claimed that Swamy had received funds through an associate to help the group’s agenda. The officials said that he was also the convenor of the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee, which they claimed was a frontal organisation for the CPI (Maoist). The agency claimed to have recovered literature, propaganda material linked to the CPI (Maoist) from Swamy.

In a statement released before his arrest, Swamy said he had recently been interrogated by the central agency for 15 hours over a span of five days – July 27 to July 30 and then on August 6. The investigating officials presented several extracts of information allegedly taken from his computer implicating his connection to “Maoist forces”.

A group of 2,000 signatories, including activists and scholars, have appealed to Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren to oppose his arrest. Human rights organisation People’s Union for Civil Liberties also expressed shock over the activist’s arrest, calling for his immediate release.

Earlier in the day, the NIA filed a chargesheet against eight activists for their alleged involvement in inciting violence at Bhima Koregaon in 2018. Swamy, Gautam Navlakha, Anand Teltumbde and Delhi University professor Hany Babu were among those named in the chargesheet.

This was the NIA’s first chargesheet after it took over the investigation in January. The Pune Police had earlier filed two chargesheets in connection with the Elgar Parishad case against the activists.

Others named in the chargesheet are three artistes of Kabir Kala Manch — Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor and his wife Jyoti Jagtap – and Milind Teltumbde, a central committee member of Communist Party of India. Milind Teltumbde, the brother of management professor and intellectual Anand Teltumbde, is underground.

Gorkhe, Gaichor and Jagtap were arrested on September 8, Anand Teltumbde and Navlakha on April 14, and Hany Babu in July. In all, 16 persons – all activists, lawyers and intellectuals – are in prison.

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The case

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.

The first chargesheet was filed by the Pune Police in 2018, which ran to over 5,000 pages.It had named activists Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, all of whom were arrested in June, 2018. The police had claimed that those arrested had “active links” with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), and accused activists of plotting to kill the prime minister.

A supplementary chargesheet was filed later in February 2019, against human rights activists Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) leader Ganapathy. The accused were charged with “waging war against the nation” and spreading the ideology of the CPI (Maoist), besides creating caste conflicts and hatred in the society.

The Centre transferred the case to the NIA in January after the Bharatiya Janata Party government led by Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra was defeated. A coalition government of the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress came to power in the state in November 2019.