Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren on Friday attacked the Centre over the arrest of Jesuit priest and human rights activist Stan Swamy, asking why was it insistent on crushing every voice of dissent. The National Investigstion Agency on Thursday night took Swamy into custody from the Jesuit-run Bagaicha social centre, where he lives, in Ranchi, in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case.

“What message does the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre want to give by arresting 83-year-old Stan Swamy who voiced the concerns of the poor, the deprived, the Adivasis?” the chief minister asked in a tweet. “Why this stubborn insistence on crushing every voice of dissent?”

In a statement released on Thursday, Swamy said he had recently been interrogated by the NIA 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”.

The activist added that the thrust of the NIA investigation had nothing to do with the Bhima Koregaon case, in which he has been booked as a “suspected-accused”. His Ranchi home has been raided twice – once on August 28, 2018, and June 12, 2019, in that connection. “But it had everything to do to somehow establish (i) that I am personally linked to extremist leftist forces, (ii) that through me Bagaicha is also relating to some Maoists,” Swamy said. “I denied both these allegations in [the] strongest terms.”

On Friday, an NIA court sent Swamy to judicial custody till October 23 as the central agency did not ask for it. 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 have claimed that investigations had established that Swamy was actively involved in the activities of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), a 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.

The NIA has also 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. 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.

Soren’s statement came after a group of 2,000 signatories, including activists and scholars, appealed to the chief minister to oppose Swamy’s arrest. Human rights organisation People’s Union for Civil Liberties also expressed shock over the activist’s arrest, calling for his immediate release.

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 BJP 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.