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Activists' arrest in "Mussolini’s footsteps", in reaction to Dalit groups publicly declaring BJP govt New Peshwai

Mussolini with Hitler
By Battini Rao*
Pune police under the BJP government in Maharashtra arrested five well-known left leaning intellectuals and activists under UAPA on 28thAugust. Eighty years old Varvara Rao is a famous Telegu poet. Sudha Bhardwaj is general secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties, and a leader of Chhatisgarh Mukti Morcha. Gautam Navlakha is a journalist and has been associated with the “Economic and Political Weekly” and People’s Union for Democratic Rights. Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves are lawyers.
They were arrested by Maharashtra police years ago for being associates of banned CPI (Maoist), but were acquitted by courts of all charges as there was no evidence against them. Ferreira has been an active campaigner for the rights of people detained under black laws like Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002 (POTA) and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
Police also raided house of Prof Satyanarana, the son in law of Varvara Rao in Hyderabad, and of Dalit scholar Prof Anand Teltumbde in Goa, and eighty year old Father Stan Swamy in Jharkhand. Police claims these arrests to be a follow up of the arrests of Prof Rona Wilson, Dalit activist Sudhir Dhawale, civil rights activists Shoma Sen and Mahesh Raut, and lawyer Surendra Gadling, on June 6.
For the time being the Supreme Court has stayed the police custody of the accused, and ordered their house arrests till September 6.
All of the people arrested have been active in public life for many decades. Their ideas, political ideology, and activities have been in public domain all these years. Pune police has accused them of being urban contacts of the CPI (Maoist), of being part of a conspiracy to spread caste violence at Bheema Koregaon gathering of Dalits in January, and of the plot to kill ‘high political functionaries’ in the style of ‘Rajiv Gandhi assassination’. These charges would be laughable, but for the sinister intent of the BJP government.
Ever since Mussolini’s March on Rome in 1922, rightwing authoritarian parties have used spectacular show of strength to attack and terrorise their political and ideological opponents, and shore up popularity. Simultaneous arrests of these well known critics of the Modi government in different cities of the country are designed to produce similar public impact. As if on cue, the jingoistic media has latched onto the news and ‘Urban Naxals’ is the new label with which opponents of the regime are getting targeted.
Arrested activists
There are other reasons too why these people are under attack. The Elgar Parishad meeting organized by a number of Dalit groups on the eve of Bheema Koregaon gathering had publicly declared BJP government as the ‘New Peshwai’ for its anti-Dalit politics. This represented a new phase of anti-Caste politics, which can disturb the caste calculations behind the social engineering of RSS. In response the Modi regime has gone all out against politically active Dalits.
Cases have been filed against Gujarat Dalit rights leader Jignesh Mevani for speaking at the Elgar meeting. In Western UP Chandrasekhar has been in jail for close to two years. And, thousands of cases have been filed for protests against Supreme Court judgement diluting the law against atrocities on Dalits. Current arrests area part of the long-term strategy to prevent any association between left groups and anti-Caste Dalit politics.
It is well known that all of these five people have written, protested and fought legal cases against state violence on the most marginalized adivasis of Central India. Democracy is not only a collection of institutional practices, but is animated by a set of core ideas and values. Protection of the most vulnerable from injustice and oppression is one of these ideas. 
It is also ingrained in the Constitution via special provisions for oppressed castes and adivasis. While these people have tried to keep this essential idea of democracy alive in popular consciousness through their writings and activities, Modi regime wants to criminalise this idea and banish from public domain people who espouse it. Only then can it fully succeed in its majoritarian agenda.
Prof Satyanarayna and K Pavana, daughter of Varavara Rao, have detailed in public what they went through when police raided their house in Hyderabad. Years of scholarly work stored in laptops and hard drives were summarily confiscated. They were told why they have pictures Phule and Ambedkar but not of gods and goddesses.
Pavana was told, “Your husband is a Dalit… but you are a Brahmin, so why are you not wearing any sindoor... (and) …dressed like a traditional wife?” Clearly, police acted as casteist thugs and agent of Brahmanical Hindutva, rather than officers of a democratic state.
Many Indians have already raised their voice against the brazen misuse of state power by the Modi regime and condemned these arrests. Most of the opposition parties too have come out against this action. People of India need to be vigilant against BJP’s machinations. The very possibility of democracy in the country is at stake.
All those who were arrested on June 6 and August 28 should be immediately released, and stringent action should be taken against police officials who framed trumped up charges against the accused, and violated the right to dignity and privacy of Prof Satyanaryana and K Pavana.
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*Convenor, People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism (PADS), Contact: battini.rao@gmail.com

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