In a huge relief, the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed that the five human rights activists arrested across the country in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon incident in Maharashtra should be kept under house arrest.
An apex court bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra ordered house arrest on a petition by eminent historian Romila Thapar and four others challenging the Tuesday arrests.
Taking a dim view of the crackdown, Justice DY Chandrachud said, “Dissent is a safety valve of democracy. If it is not allowed, the pressure cooker will burst.” He noted that the arrests had taken place nine months after the violence in Maharashtra.
Talking to reporters later, lawyer Prashant Bhushan said the Supreme Court had issued notices to the central and Maharashtra governments.
Those arrested on Tuesday included Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, Gautam Navlakha in Delhi, Sudha Bharadwaj in Haryana and Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonzalves in Maharashtra. They were to have been taken to Pune but would now be sent home and put under house arrest.
Speaking to TNM, left thinker Varavara Rao’s son-in-law welcomed the verdict and called it a moral victory.
“The Supreme Court has restored our faith in democracy. This definitely is a big victory. We have been saying since yesterday that what they (police) did was illegal, today we were proven right. This victory belongs to everyone who resisted the illegal arrests,” Pavana, Varavara Rao's daughter, told TNM.
"This is a victory of the people. Since many have condemned and outraged over this, I feel that they are the reason for this good decision by the Supreme Court. We welcome the decision of the SC, and would like to thank everyone who was part of the resistance,” Varavara’s elder daughter, Sahaja, said.
The activists were arrested in connection with an alleged letter that mentioned an assassination plot, which was recovered from the residence of one of the activists.
It also referred to the requirement of Rs 8 crore to purchase an M-4 rifle and four lakh rounds to execute the plot. The letter reportedly mentioned Varavara Rao's name as the one who will arrange the funds.
Varavara Rao, who heads “Virasam,” an association of revolutionary writers, had strongly denied the allegations. He had termed it as an attempt by the central government to check the falling popularity graph of Narendra Modi.
The raids on Tuesday were described by the Pune police as a follow-up to a similar action taken on April 17 when the police swooped in 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, 2017.
On January 1, caste riots that erupted in Koregaon-Bhima left one person dead, culminating in a Maharashtra shutdown on January 3 called by the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, headed by Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of BR Ambedkar.
(With IANS inputs)