The ‘Urban Maoists’ raided, who they are, and what connects them all

A massive crackdown has been underway on supposed Naxal sympathizers in connection with the violence at Bhima Koregaon last year and an assassination plot to murder Prime Minister Modi. The residences of prominent ‘Civil Rights Activists’ have been raided and they have either been detained or arrested. Here, we look at the backgrounds of these activists.

Gautam Navlakha

Navlakha is supposedly a civil liberties, democratic and human rights activist and a journalist. He has worked as the consultant editor for Economic and Political Weekly and has been associated with People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) for a long time as an activist.

It is quite evident from his writing that he quite the Naxal sympathizer. In 2011, he was refused entry at the Srinagar airport as the then government of Jammu & Kashmir believed that his presence could disturb peace in the valley. PUDR, the organization Navlakha has been associated with, also condemned the ban on PFI in Jharkhand despite numerous members of PFI being involved in violent activities and allegations that the organization is brainwashing Hindu women and felicitating their conversion.

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PUDR also insinuated that the massive operations against Maoists in Gadrichholi last year, which is touted to be the most successful anti-Maoist operations in recent years, was in fact organized state-sponsored slaughter.

Varavara Rao

Rao is a communist, activist, poet, journalist, literary critic, public speaker and a Maoist ideologue who has been arrested several times in the past. He was jailed in 1980 for two years for waging a war and conspiring against the state. Varavara Rao shouted “long live revolution” as he was detained. He was later acquitted.

As per an interview with Countercurrents.org, he visited Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai in 2014 for a talk titled “Raging war against India: Deconstructing the notion of India”. In the interview, he talks freely about Maoism and what he envisions the future to be for Maoism.

Sudha Bharadwaj

Sudha Bharadwaj is an Indian trade Unionist, civil rights activist against land acquisition who has been living in Chhattisgarh for a long while. She is also the General Secretary of the Chhattisgarh unit of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), a fraternal organization of PUDR which has been mentioned earlier.

On its website, PUCL states that it condemns the hanging of terrorist Afzal Guru but the link appears to be broken. Republic TV had reported that they had managed to access a letter from Sudha Bharadwaj to one Comrade Prakash which allegedly showed a link between ‘Urban Naxals’ and Kashmiri separatists. Republic TV’s report was condemned by various ’eminent citizens’ including Prashant Bhushan.

Vernon Gonzalves

Vernon is a member of Communist Party of India (Maoist) and was convicted in 2007 by a Nagpur sessions court under the Arms Act, Explosives Act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Gonsalves was arrested with Sridhar Srinivasan in Mumbai by the Anti-Terrorism Squad. As per the prosecution in the case, nine detonators, 20 gelatin sticks, a walkie-talkie set, a computer, Naxal literature were seized from the duo in a raid in a chawl in Govandi, Mumbai.

As per security agencies, he is a former central-committee member and former secretary of Maharashtra State Rajya Committee of the Naxalites and he was charged in 20 cases. He was acquitted in 17 of them due to lack of evidence.

Arun Ferreira

Arun Ferreira is no stranger to prison as well. He had spent 4 and a half years in Nagpur prison before being granted bail by the District and Sessions court of Gadchiroli in Maharashtra and was eventually acquitted of all charges in 2014.

He was arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) on charges of sedition. He became a poster boy for the media which portrayed him as a victim of the villainous state.

Father Stan Swamy

Stan Swamy is the founder member of Vistapan Virodhi Janvikash Andolan (VVJA). He is a Jesuit priest who has been facing some trouble with the law for a while. Earlier this year, an FIR was filed against him for allegedly inciting tension over the Pathalgadi movement.

A senior policeman from Pune is reported to have said Swamy was “suspected to have links with Elgar Parishad that is leading the violent Dalit movement in Maharashtra”. Stan Swamy is also associated with the PUCL.

Anand Teltumbde

Teltumbde is a management professional, writer, civil rights activist, and political analyst. He is a regular contributor to various media outlets. He also teaches management at the Goa Institute of Management. Teltumbde has denied all the allegations labelled against him. “None of the people arrested last time and today had the remotest connection with Bhima-Koregaon. As for me, I had publicly written critically about observing the Bhima-Koregaon anniversary, incurring the wrath of Dalits,” Teltumbde told Mint.

The raids by the Pune Police today on the civil rights ‘activists’ reveal a lot about the ‘civil society’ that the intellectual elite keeps harping on about. Some of these have been hailed as anti-establishment heroes following their acquittal or their release from prison after serving out their sentence upon conviction. Ferreira, especially, became some sort of an icon following his acquittal and he has been much eulogized in the mainstream media.

In 2014, Ferreira was at the Press Club with Varavara Roy for the release of his book, “Colours of the Cage: A Prison Memoir”. And in an inexplicable case of irony, Ferreira and Gonsalves who had written an article for DailyO titled ‘Why the letter about a Rajiv Gandhi type assassination is fake’ were themselves arrested yesterday in connection with the case by the Police.

There appears to be something terribly amiss with the academia and our universities. As has been mentioned before, TISS was the site for a talk titled “Raging war against India: Deconstructing the notion of India” and Varavara Rao, an unabashed Maoist, was there at the University for the event.

It is also surprising that Binayak Sen, a man convicted for sedition and helping Naxalites, was invited at TISS to deliver a keynote address at an event. A former student of TISS admitted on condition of anonymity that events such as these were par for the course for the institute.

Ferreira, too, was all set to deliver a talk at TISS as well but the authorities cancelled the event at the last moment stating that the venue had not been booked by the student organization beforehand. He held that intelligence agencies were responsible for his event being cancelled while the Director of TISS asserted that he was not “amenable to reason”.

Vernon Gonsalves, who has been convicted previously, was at JNU too speaking on how to confront fascism. And everyone raided today, with the exception of Varavara Rao, has contributed to Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) at some point or the other or contribute regularly. The EPW is a journal with a leftist disposition published by the Sameeksha Trust that has alleged historian Romila Thapar as a member of its Board of Trustees. Controversial editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta was the editor of EPW before he resigned from the post in 2017.

Speaking of academia, everyone is, of course, aware of the noxious propaganda that goes on at JNU in the name of education and freedom of expression. Yet, in the Swarajya report, ‘The Secret History of JNU’, people will discover information they were hitherto unaware of.

It is quite obvious that the intellectual elite which is so enamoured by the ideas of Marx will act as a Trade Union itself. They believe that should they organize themselves under one banner, then they will be able to bend the government to their will. Like true members of a Trade Union, members of the intellectual elite jumped into action as soon as the Police raids began.

Quick to criticize the government was Ramchandra Guha, a contributor to the EPW himself like so many of those who were raided today. EPW also has the honour of receiving contributions from DU Professor Nandini Sundar, wife of The Wire Editor S Varadarajan, who was booked in the murder case of a tribal man along with Maoists. PUCL said in a statement, “Such systematic and pre-meditated crackdown on human rights activists is unprecedented and unheard of in a democracy.” The statement by PUCL is not surprising considering its member Sudha Bharadwaj suffered the crack of the whip in the raids. PUCL can also boast of having Binayak Sen as one of its former Vice-Presidents. Prashant Bhushan who has branded the raids fascist has been associated with the PUCL in the past as well.

Teesta Setalvad also has spoken out condemning the raids which is not surprising at all considering her history of legal trouble. Amnesty International and Oxfam India issued a joint statement on the matter as well and deemed the raids disturbing. Some might inform Oxfam that its cover-up of sexual misconduct by its senior aid workers in Haiti was disturbing and others would inform Amnesty that the anti-Brahmin rants by an activist associated with it is disturbing and that the raids are merely a part of an ongoing investigation. However, their opinions wouldn’t count as they are individual voices only while they are certified Trade Unions of Civil Society.

An attempt is being made to build a narrative that the raids on the activists for their alleged link to Maoists are an ‘undeclared emergency’. It is precisely how trade unions work. They threaten that if their demands are not met, then no work shall be done. Intellectuals cannot make such threats, therefore, they use their power to shape narratives to bend the government to their will.


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