In the wake of the recent raids and arrests of 5 prominent rights activists, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bhardwaj and Arun Ferreira, on UAPA charges for their alleged involvement in the Bhima Koregaon case, PUDR is releasing its report, The Missing Terror Plot: Bhima Koregaon and the Politics of UAPA
Responding to the charges made by the Maharashtra police, of having unearthed “thousands of letters” and of having a fool-proof case against these activists and the 5 who were arrested in June 2018—Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut and Rona Wilson—on charges of inciting the Bhima Koregaon violence and for conspiring with the underground Maoists to hatch a plot similar to the “Rajiv Gandhi style assassination attempt”, the present report, The Missing Terror Plot, demonstrates just that: the absence of a terror plot linking these activists with either the violence committed at Bhima Koregaon on 1 January 2018 or with any conspiracy aimed at destabilizing the nation. Based on evidence provided by the police and after a study of documents and news reports on Bhima Koregaon and its aftermath, especially the invoking of UAPA charges on a motivated FIR of 8 January 2018, The Missing Terror Plot draws attention to the following issues:
The police’s decision to prosecute these individuals for Bhima Koregaon flies in the face of some obvious facts: that the first two FIRs lodged soon after the clashes were against Milind Ekbote and SambhajiBhide; that the report submitted by the Coordination Committee in January 2018 clearly indicted them; that the Maharashtra Government has instituted a judicial commission to probe the Bhima Koregaon violence. Given these, the decision of the Maharashtra police to upstage the workings of a judicial commission and sidestep the investigation being done by the Pune Rural police and prosecute the ten activists under UAPA on charges of terror,is evidence of a growing political desperation of the present dispensation.
- The first chapter, “Politics of Suppression” delineates the political process by which the Maharashtra Government has attempted to discredit Dalit political assertion, deflect attention from the growing evidence against Ekbote and Bhide, and create an alternate discourse of ‘sporadic’ yet intended violence incited by participants of Elgar Parishad as mentioned in the motivated FIR.
- The Maharashtra Chief Minister’s timing, of giving a clean chit to Bhide in end March, conveniently coincided with the clamor against the so-called Maoist connection with the Elgar Parishad and this coincidence was cemented through subsequent repeated demands for action against Maoists. The second chapter, “The Politics of Omission” examines this political process and demonstrates how a similar process is at work under UAPA as far as Hindu terror suspects are concerned. Unlike the experiences of members of banned organizations who are rearrested after release, denied bail and medical aid and incarcerated in andacells, the Hindu terror organizations are never proscribed and stigmatized.
- The third chapter, “Politics of Proscription” places the present case against the ten activists within this political understanding derived from the previous two chapters. It contextualizes how, by invoking UAPA in an FIR which was originally about communal disharmony, the police hopes to create a sensational discovery of terror plot where none existed. Building on the clean chit offered to Bhide and the orchestrated campaign created by Bhide’s followers, the police raided the houses of activists in April, arrested 5 of them in June and followed it up with a targeted attack through selective media channels. The recent flurry of correspondence presented in press conferences after the August arrests betray the anxiety behind the missing terror plot. Since the Centre’s own information suggests that Maoist violence has dipped sharply, the question to be asked is: who is the state hunting?
- The final chapter, “UAPA in Action” relies wholly on government data, the NCRB, from 2014 to 2016, to show some staggering statistics related to the failure of UAPA. In spite of an average of over 930 cases registered each year, the pendency rate remained astonishingly high, over 90%. The data has other shocking revelation: that only 42% of the cases resulted in charge sheets, and in 58% of the cases the police closed the cases. Worse, the average rate of conviction stands at 2.36 % and the remaining 97.64% cases either end in acquittal or remain un-investigated. Given the enhanced powers that UAPA gives to the police over the accused, the setting up of special courts for speedy trials, the data shows the possibility of lowered threshold of investigation and increased detention periods of suspect on flimsy charges. UAPA’s labyrinth of justice erected on the myth of national security is not only false, but a farce.
- UAPA is an extraordinary yet permanent law. This contradiction, of borrowing the worst features of previous anti-terror temporary laws in a permanent manner offers the bleakest chances of hope and justice. The present case against the 10 activists is a case in point: the backdoor entry of UAPA in the FIR via concoction of an absent terror plot,allowing for a full-frontal attack through its proscriptive powerscoupled with enhanced police powers, makechances of justiceslim. All in the name of the nation!
- The unconditional repeal of UAPA
- Immediate release of all political prisoners held under it and other associated laws.
Shahana Bhattacharya and Sharmila Purkayastha
5th September 2018