For the second time in five months, Pune Police on Tuesday raided alleged Maoist sympathizers across the country and arrested five top activists, some of whom are also human rights advocates.
The raids took place at 10 places in Mumbai, Pune, Goa, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Haryana.
"We have arrested Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Pereira, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha," Joint Police Commissioner of Pune Shivajirao Bodkhe told IANS.
Besides, other activists across the country including Kranti, Stan Swami and Anand Teltumbde were raided in the major operation that is part of the ongoing probe into the involvement of Maoist supporters into the Koregaon-Bhima riots of January 1 this year.
Scores of supporters of these activists staged noisy protests during the police raids at various locations, including in Mumbai and Thane.
Among the angles being probed after Tuesday's crackdown are the modus operandi of the activists, their sources of finance and modes of funding of their activities, their suspected connections with like-minded groups and related issues, officials indicated.
Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) President Prakash Ambedkar flayed the action as "the government's attempts to silence the masses" in the wake of the recent crackdown on the Hindu rightwing group Sanatan Sanstha.
"But now NGOs which are non-political will become more active and aggressive than they were earlier in opposing this (BJP) government in order to safeguard democracy and human rights," warned Ambedkar, the grandson of B.R. Ambedkar.
Officials described Tuesday's operations as a 'follow-up' to similar action taken on April 17 when the Pune Police swooped on over half a dozen Dalit activists and those involved with the Kabir Kala Manch, which organised an Elgar Conference in Pune on December 31.
The next day, on January 1, caste riots erupted in Koregaon-Bhima which left one person dead, culminating in a Maharashtra shutdown on January 3 called by the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh of Prakash Ambedkar.
After nearly five months, Pune Police teams fanned out in around half a dozen states and raided the homes and offices of several persons who are suspected to be linked with the Elgar Conference or are alleged Maoist supporters.
The police have seized items like computers, laptops, CDs, pen-drives, 'incriminating documents' and books from them and contended that they functioned like an 'urban think tank' for Maoists. Some of them are also Dalit and human rights activists.
Previously, during the April action, the Pune police had targetted prominent rights activists like Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson and Sudhir Dhawale (all arrested) besides raiding Harshali Potdar, Jyoti Jagtap, Ramesh Gaychor and Sagar Gorke.
The arrested persons were charged under various provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Indian Penal Code.
Tuesday's operations have been condemned by civil society groups, social and Dalit leaders, academics, rights activists and intellectuals who termed the arrests a conspiracy to divert attention from the activities of the Hindu rightwing.
Calling the arrests "politically motivated and unjustified", they demanded the immediate release of all the arrested individuals.
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