Sudha Bhardwaj and Varavara Rao (right) Image Credit: File photo

Pune: Two Left-wing activists Varavara Rao and Sudha Bhardwaj were arrested today as the Pune police carried out searches at multiple places in various states on the residences of people suspected to have Maoist links, a senior police official said.  

The raids were carried out as part of a probe into the violence at Maharashtra's Koregaon-Bhima village, triggered by an event called 'Elgar Parishad' (conclave) held in Pune on December 31 last year.

The raids were carried out in Mumbai, Pune, Goa, Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Haryana since morning. Scores of supporters of these activists staged noisy protests during the police raids at various locations.

Searches were carried out at the residences of Left wing activist and poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, activists Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, trade union activist Sudha Bhardwaj in Faridabad and Chhattisgarh and civil liberties activist Gautam Navalakha in Delhi, the official said, while refusing to be identified.

Following the searches, Rao and Bhardwaj were arrested, the official added.

Rao's name had figured in a letter which the Pune police had claimed to have seized during searches at the premises of one of the five people arrested in June in connection with the 'Elgar Parishad' event last December to commemorate 200 years of the Koregaon-Bhima battle in 1818.

In June, five people were arrested for having close Maoist links after they allegedly made "provocative" speeches at the event, triggering violence at Koregaon-Bhima village in the district, according to an FIR registered at the Vishrambaug Police Station after the event.

Dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale was arrested from his home in Mumbai, while lawyer Surendra Gadling, activist Mahesh Raut and Shoma Sen were picked up from Nagpur and Rona Wilson was arrested from his flat in Munirka in Delhi in simultaneous raids in June.

"During our investigation in connection with the Elgar Parishad event, some evidences came to light about members of a proscribed organisation, following which the police carried out raids in Chhattisgarh, Mumbai and Hyderabad," the police official said.

The searches Tuesday were conducted at homes of people having Maoist links and those directly or indirectly connected with the five arrested people, the official said.

The police claimed to have recovered "some incriminating documents" during the searches.

"We are also checking the financial transactions of these people, their modes of communication and also trying to gather technical evidence," the police official said.

Police link him with plot to kill PM

A family member has quoted the detectives as saying that Rao was linked with an alleged plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A police team from Pune arrested the revolutionary writer after searching his house for nearly eight hours. He was produced before a court, which directed the police to produce him in a court in Pune by 5 pm on Wednesday.

Earlier, the police conducted simultaneous searches at Rao's house and houses of his two daughters, other relatives and friends including two journalists.

Mild tension prevailed at Rao's house in Gandhinagar as his supporters gathered outside raising slogans against the police. The local police cordoned off the area.

The Maharashtra Police seized some documents from Rao's house, while a laptop, hard disk and other material were seized during searches at his relatives' residences.

Rao's wife Hemalatha told reporters that the police told him that he was being arrested in connection with a case relating to the plot to kill the Prime Minister.

She said about 20 policemen reached the house early in the morning and began the search without any warrant.

"They searched every room and every corner. When he asked them to show the arrest warrant, they said no warrant is required," she said.

According to her, the revolutionary writer told the police that it was a fake case.

In June, the police in Pune had registered a case after a letter mentioning assassination plot was recovered from one of the five persons arrested in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence.

The letter written by a person identified only as 'R' reportedly mentions a plot to kill Modi on the lines of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

It also referred to requirement of Rs 8 crore to purchase a M-4 rifle and four lakh rounds to execute the plot. The letter reportedly mentions Varavara Rao's name as the one who will arrange the funds.

The letter addressed to a Maoist leader Prakash was recovered from rights activist Rona Jacob Wilson, when he was arrested in Delhi.

Varavara Rao, who heads "Veerasam" - 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.

His wife said he was arrested in 20 to 30 cases since 1974 but was not convicted even in one. She said it was the first time that police entered their house and searched every room.

'No Maoist link'

Outgoing joint commissioner of Pune police Ravindra Kadam, on August 2, said no Maoist link had been found in the Bhima Koregaon violence.

He had, however, said an 'anti-fascist front', formed by the Maoists to oppose the policies of the current government, was behind the 'Elgar Parishad' held in Pune a day before the incident that saw protests by Dalit groups.

Kadam, who has been transferred to Nagpur in a recent reshuffle, had told reporters that the police have ample evidence in the form of documents and video footage against the arrested persons.

Earlier, the police had booked the five arrested people under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

They were also booked under IPC sections 153-A (promoting disharmony, enmity between groups), 505 (inciting class, community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community), 117 (abetting commission of offence by the public or by more than ten persons) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy).