Mumbai: The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Friday filed a charge-sheet against eight people, including activists Gautam Navlakha and 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy, for their alleged involvement in inciting a mob to violence in Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1, 2018, officials said.
Swamy, who said he has never been to Bhima Koregaon, was arrested from his home in Ranchi on Thursday evening and brought to Mumbai, where he was produced before a court on Friday and remanded to judicial custody till October 23.
He is possibly the oldest person to be charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), officials said.
Barring one person – Milind Teltumde who is absconding – all other named in the charge-sheet for allegedly conspiring against the government are in judicial custody. NIA spokesperson and Deputy Inspector General of Police in the agency, Sonia Narang, said the charge-sheet was submitted before a designated court in Mumbai.
Besides Navlakha and Swamy, the others named in the charge-sheet are Delhi University associate professor Hany Babu, Goa Institute of Management professor Anand Teltumbde, and Jyoti Jagtap, Sagar Gorkhe and Ramesh Gaichor, activists of the Bhima Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyaan group.
They were arrested during the course of the investigation into the violence on January 1, 2018, in which one person was killed and several injured after clashes at the 200th anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Koregaon near Pune.
Navlakha and Teltumbde had surrendered before the NIA in April this year.
The NIA charge-sheet against the eight does not mention human rights activist Sudha Bharadwaj, who has been in jail since 2018. She was arrested by Pune Police in the case along with Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira in August 2018.
Swamy's lawyer Sharif Shaikh said his client was produced physically before the court. “The NIA did not seek his custody. He is aged. We will peruse the papers and file for a bail,” he said.
The cleric is the sixteenth person to be arrested in the case, in which people have been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the anti-terror law UAPA.
NIA officials said investigations established he was actively involved in the activities of the CPI (Maoist).
The NIA also alleged that he was in contact with “conspirators”, including – Sudhir Dhawale, Rona Wilson, Surendra Gadling, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Hany Babu, Shoma Sen, Mahesh Raut, Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde – to further the group's activities.
The agency alleged that Swamy had also received funds through an associate for furthering the agenda. Besides, he is convenor of the Persecuted Prisoners Solidarity Committee (PPSC), a frontal organisation of the CPI(Maoist), the officials claimed.
They said literature, propaganda material of the CPI(Maoist) and documents related to communications for furthering the group's programmes were seized from his possession.
Ahead of his arrest in the evening, Swamy posted a video on Thursday morning saying the NIA had been interrogating him and had questioned him for 15 hours during a span of five days.
“Now they want me to go to Mumbai, which I have said that I won't go,” he said, citing the pandemic.
The video, posted on YouTube, was recorded two days before his arrest.
“I have never been to Bhima Koregaon for which I am being made an accused,” he said. He added that he had asked for questioning through video conference and hoped that better “human sense” would prevail.
"...what is happening to me is not something unique happening to me alone, it is a broader process taking place all over the country. We all are aware how prominent intellectuals, lawyers, writers, poets, activists, student leaders are all put in jail because they have expressed their dissent or raised questions about the ruling powers of India," Swamy said in the video.
He said he is part of “the process” and in a way happy to be so because he is not a silent spectator and is part of the game.
“I am ready to pay the price whatever be it,” Swamy said.
Close to 2,000 activists, journalists, former bureaucrats and members of civil society have condemned the arrest of 84-year-old Father Stan Swamy.
“We firmly believe that the Bhima-Koregaon case, being driven by the Modi government, is a baseless fabrication. The central government, in the guise of the Bhima Koregaon case, is trying to build a false narrative of a national Maoist conspiracy against the state that involves these activists. The main objective of the case is to target and harass activists who work for the rights of Adivasis, Dalits and the marginalised and raise questions against the anti-people policies of the government. The Bhima-Koregaon conspiracy case exposes the extent to which the central government is willing to undermine constitutional values and suppress dissent. The arrest of Stan Swamy is also an attack on all those working for human and constitutional rights in Jharkhand,” the group’s statement said.
The Bhima Koregaon case was taken over by the NIA on January 24 this year. Pune Police has alleged that the violence was caused following speeches given by members of the group Elgar Parishad on December 31, 2017. Violence broke out the next day.