Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut on Sunday blamed the Narendra Modi-led central government for the death of tribal rights activist Stan Swamy.

“A government which is afraid of a crippled and weak 84-year-old person, is surely dictatorial by attitude and weak at heart, similar to that of [Adolf] Hitler and [Benito] Mussolini,” Raut wrote in his weekly column in the party’s mouthpiece Saamana.

Swamy, an 84-year-old Jesuit priest, died in custody on July 5. The activist was undergoing treatment at the Holy Family Hospital in Mumbai after his health condition deteriorated in May. Swamy had been in jail for nine months in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was put on ventilator support the day before he died.

In his article, Raut compared the charges against Swamy and other jailed activists to those levelled by the Indira Gandhi government against former trade union leader George Fernandes in the 1970s.

“Indira Gandhi was afraid of George Fernandes,” Raut wrote. “But he was a young leader at the time and not an elderly man like Swamy. The Modi government is scared of octogenarians like Swamy and [poet and co-accused in the case] Varavara Rao. Swamy was killed in jail”

Commenting on the Elgaar Parishad event in 2017, on which the Bhima Koregaon case is based, Raut said that while the “inflammatory speeches and slogans” made their could not be supported, the crackdown on activists should be dubbed as a conspiracy to curb freedom of expression.

“What does it mean to wage war against the state?” Raut questioned. “What constitutes treason and anti-national activities? Does making tribal people in forests aware of their rights and freedom mean overthrowing the democratically elected government of a country?”

Bhima Koregaon case

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

A supplementary chargesheet was filed later in February 2019, against lawyer-activist Sudha Bharadwaj, poet Varavara Rao, activists Arun Ferreira and 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 National Investigation Agency in January 2020 after the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Maharashtra, led by Devendra Fadnavis, was defeated.