“Plot to kill PM” was a deliberate ploy to sensationalise the case: Anand Teltumbde
Teltumbde, accused in the Bhima-Koregaon case under the UAPA, claims that the entire case against him is fabricated. On March 16, the SC gave him three weeks to surrender. In conversation with Asiaville, the noted scholar said that the Bhima-Koregaon arrests are a deliberate attempt to trap noted civil rights activists opposed to the BJP’s ideology.
The Bhima-Koregaon case and “Plot to kill PM” became the favourite catchwords of the TV newsrooms around the latter half of 2018. Civil rights activists were picked up in two rounds – June 2018 and August 2018 – by Pune Police. They were dubbed “urban Naxals”. It was during the first round of arrests in June 2018 that the police claimed to have recovered a letter plotting to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a “Rajiv Gandhi type” attack.
The investigation which had begun to probe the violence of January 1, 2018, in Maharashtra’s Bhima-Koregaon village, was soon being played as the wildest conspiracy of the decade.
On December 31, 2017, the Dalit congregation at Bhima-Koregoan was held by Elgar Parishad. This was a day after caste-based violence engulfed the area and the right fringe groups were accused of perpetrating violence against Dalits. To everyone’s surprise, the Pune Police, during its investigation, ended up pressing stringent sections such as Unlawful Activity Prevention Act (UAPA) against those linked with Elgar Parishad and the known faces of the civil society.
Anand Teltumbde, the acclaimed academician civil rights-activist, found himself in the middle of the Koregaon muddle in August 2018. On the basis of a letter mentioning one “Anand”, Teltumbde, a faculty at Goa Institute of Management, was under the scanner. He was soon charged with the UAPA and named as an accused in the Koregaon case. Nearly two years later, in February 2020, despite getting a four-week protection order from the Supreme Court, the Pune Police arrested him. He was later produced in a Pune court and then released.
When the entire country and world is struggling with the Coronavirus outbreak, the Dalit scholar's date of arrest is nearing. All three courts – district, Bombay High Court, and the apex court have rejected his anticipatory bail petition.
The SC rejected his bail application of March 16 and gave him three weeks to surrender.
In conversation with Asiaville, Teltumbde shares exclusive information about the Koregaon case, how he was being “snooped by the government” and why he thinks that the charges against him are fabricated. Here are the excerpts from the extensive interview:
Amit Bhardwaj: You were charged under different sections including the UAPA for the alleged involvement in the Bhima-Koregaon violence case. First, the district court, then the Bombay High Court, and even the Supreme Court has rejected your anticipatory bail petition. Is it your legal counsel who has failed to convince the courts or do you think that the state has put forward stronger arguments against you?
Anand Teltumbde: This case has a political background and the facts of it are in the public domain; how the entire plot was hatched to save SambhajiBhide, whom Modi called his Guru, and another Hindutva agent Milind Ekbote. Both have actually incited the Hindutva goons to attack the Dalits. The police/case turned this fact on its head and made it look as though the Elgar Parishad, allegedly organized by the Maoists, incited Dalits to create a riot. Justice P B Sawant and Justice Kolshe Patil have been publicly saying that it (Elgar Parishad) was conceived by them. So by this logic even they become Maoists. The plot is used to trap noted select civil rights activists and anti-BJP intellectuals. If not this, we would have been trapped in some other fake case by this regime.
As a matter of fact, there is no case against me. My counsels at every stage were excellent and they competently pleaded in courts. They all rather contended that there was no case. It is not the matter of assessing the evidentiary value of the evidence at the trial stage, there was no evidence at all and hence no case. The case is based on the digital content for which there is no panchanama. It should have been trashed by any court, but unfortunately, the judges failed to understand these matters.
Several anomalies have been identified by independent agencies as the facts of the case began coming out through their own resources and they are by now in the public domain. But despite this, I face this fate.
AB: Former CJI Ranjan Gogoi was nominated to the Rajya Sabha recently. Since then several SC justices have raised concerns about the independence of the judiciary. Do you have similar apprehensions related to the functioning of courts?
AT: As every citizen genuinely concerned with the future of this country ought to be, I too am disturbed by the institutional collapse under the present regime. Whatever semblance of democracy we had was due to this institutional independence, which paradoxically came in legacy of the colonial rule. This has collapsed like pack of cards after 2014. The dwindling of faith of people in Supreme Court which is seen by the people of this country as the ultimate protector of their liberties shall be calamitous.
AB: You were arrested by the Pune Police in February despite the four-week protection from the Supreme Court. What could have triggered this?
AT: How would I know? I do not know how I am implicated in such a crime to be charged under UAPA. No person who is in his senses could by any stretch of imagination link a person of my stature to such activities. I am the first alumnus of the hallowed IIM Ahmedabad, the first Professor of equally reputed IIT, Kharagpur, the first CEO of a holding company to be charged not for any financial embezzlement but such a political crime!
I do know, the Police, IB, etc. were spying on me for many years. During the current case, the Citizen Lab in Canada informed me similarly that a sinister spyware Pegasus was installed on my phone by the government. When you do not do any wrong, you are disturbed by such things but not scared of them. On the contrary, I had false hope that they would come to realise that I am a normal person and would stop their harassment.
The very fact that an ordinary Police Official displayed the temerity to arrest me defying the SC-protection only exposes he must be assured of protection from the highest political office.
AB: Also, your name was added to this high-profile case much later. What has been the police's argument? Rather, under which grounds did they press charges against you?
AT: That is true that my name was added later and in the revised FIR I stand to be the last accused. The police argument is based on the letters that they recovered (during the investigation). It mentions one “Anand”, and they are sure it is only me.
In fact, when my name was taken in the press conference of 31 August 2018 wherein one police official read out a letter as evidence against me, I took it as a joke. I took it as criminal defamation and wanted to sue this police officer and in fact applied to the government for permission on 5 September 2018. The government has kept silent on it. I had submitted every documentary proof to refute police allegations which rather would prove the police's criminality in fabricating the fake letter. All the five letters supposedly involving ‘Anand’ who police are confident that it is only me - “Dr Anand Teltumbde”, were similarly refutable and hence we went for quashing the case.
But right from Sessions Court to Supreme Court, the Police went on producing ‘sealed envelopes’ and on that basis, my quashing-petition was rejected.
The SC, however, gave me four weeks of protection from arrest to seek a pre-arrest bail. Hence the entire round of courts started again.
As soon as the Pune court rejected my pre-arrest application, the Pune Police nabbed me at Mumbai Airport at 2 am. When I was produced before the Pune court, the latter declared it illegal and rather called it “contempt of the Supreme Court”.
The temerity of the Pune Police to take such a step cannot happen without political support from the highest level. My pre-arrest bail applications were similarly rejected on the basis of the ‘sealed envelopes’, finally on 16 March.
As regards the so-called letters, on which the case is based, they have been trashed as fake by experts like AjaiSahni, executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management, which deals with the studies of such organisations. Even (SC) Justice DY Chandrachud cast doubts in his dissenting judgment on these letters and had recommended SIT investigation.
AB: You were added as an accused in the ElgaarParishad-Bhima-Koregaon case by the Pune police when the BJP was in power in the state. The connection of the accused persons in the case was always being linked to the "plot to kill the PM" investigation. What was your reaction when the BJP was ousted from power and a non-BJP government, that is, Shiv Sena-Congress and NCP alliance came to power?
AT: I think the “plot to kill Modi” was deliberate inclusion in the script. It has been the proven formula in Gujarat used for garnering sympathy for Narendra Modi and justifying police excesses. It can effectively mislead the courts too. I was aghast at all these preposterous fabrications. I am more aghast at the developments thereafter that such nonsensical things last in our courts and an individual like me with an impeccable record of service to this country could be defamed, humiliated, and incarcerated.
AB: You are accusing the BJP of “fabricating” charges against you. But who in the BJP could be the brain behind these “fabrications”, if at all?
AT: It’s not one individual, rather the entire BJP – RSS gang who have fabricated charges against me.
AB: Were you hoping that the Uddhav Thackeray government would go soft on the Bhima-Koregaon accused persons as NCP chief SharadPawar wields huge control on the MahaVikasAghadi alliance?
AT: I definitely hoped that the non-BJP government would take a step in exposing the truth and giving relief to the people who are in jail for nearly two years. When Shri SharadPawar publicly came out, the hope was strengthened. But now I feel, a matured politician of his stature could have done it differently if he really wanted to take the side of the truth. His public statement only ended up helping the central government, which in any case was behind this plot, handing over the case to NIA. Thereafter, I have not heard anything being said or done by his government.
AB: Was the Centre's decision to hand over the Bhima-Koregaon case to the National Investigation Agency a major blow to you and other accused in the case?
AT: I do not think so. I always believed it was being done with the Centre’s support. With BJP not in the saddle in the state, they have directly taken control of it. I just hope that whatever investigation agency, it should carry out investigation impartially and bring out the truth in the case. I strongly want the truth of this case to come out in the open for people to realise how the protectors of law indulge in unlawful activities.
AB: Prime Minister Narendra Modi coined the term “Urban Naxal”. Since then there are claims that a section of the intelligentsia is working to further the Naxal ideology in the urban landscape. Do you agree with such claims especially considering past convictions such as Professor Saibaba?
AT: It is unfortunate that Narendra Modi reinforced such nonsensical terms originated in the RSS Labs. As for me, my friends told me that one Ramesh Patange of RSS had written an article in Panchjanya -- identified me along with Arundhati Roy and Gail Omvedt as fake Ambedkarites. Some (Vivek) Agnihotri, I am told, wrote a book on Urban Naxal. Modi as the Prime Minister, although he was a pracharak of the RSS, should not take such a partisan line and spread canard. Unfortunately, he has been doing much more of it. The experts may know it better, but I guess Naxal like organizations cannot have a truck with people like us. This term is mischievously conceived to target anyone who the government thinks is a detractor. The manner in which they have concocted the charges against me can be easily done to anyone, however highly placed he or she may be.
AB: Despite being a high profile case and a section of the media linking it to "plot to kill", the Bhima-Koregaon case has not made much development? According to you, what could have delayed the filing of the charge sheet in the case?
AT: Their sole intention is to incarcerate people for as long as possible. That has been their modus operandi. If you take stock of the Naxal accused cases in the past, on an average people were kept in jail for 4-6 years before they were acquitted or granted bail. It takes a toll on the significant life of a person so accused. The process itself is worse than punishment!