The (lack of) case against Anand Teltumbde

The primary evidence of the Pune police is a clutch of letters, but it’s subject to too many flaws.

WrittenBy:Prateek Goyal
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Nine activists and lawyers have been arrested till date by the Pune police in the Koregaon-Bhima case. They’ve been termed “Maoists” by the police on the basis of some letters produced by the police—the credibility of which are questionable.

The latest arrest has been of academician and writer Anand Teltumbde—who was later released when his arrest was termed “illegal” by the sessions court. Teltumbde’s hearing in the high court is on February 11, and the Pune police has told the court he will not be arrested until February 12.

Teltumbde’s arrest was also based on letters which mention   Teltumbde’s first name or initials. Apart from the letters—which have been questioned since the arrest of five other activists and lawyers in June 2018—there has been no substantial evidence produced by the police in court.

Various letters have been produced by the Pune police in court, which have since been accessed by the media. These letters were written by “Comrade Prakash, SG, R, Comrade M, Comrade Surendra” and others. These letters also mention the nine who have been arrested—Mahesh Raut, Surendra Gadling, Rona Wilson, Sudhir Dhawale, Shoma Sen, Sudha Bhardwaj, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves and Varavara Rao. Activist Gautam Vavlakha was also arrested by the Pune police, was later freed by a Delhi High Court order. The letters mention other activists, lawyers and student leaders. One letter also mentions a plot to kill Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It’s important to note that all these arrests were made on the basis of an FIR made filed on January 8, 2018, by Tushar Damgade in Vishrambag Police Station, Pune, in connection with Elgar Parishad and the Koregaon-Bhima violence. Yet the names of nine people arrested in June and August last year don’t even figure in the FIR.

The letters mentioned by the police in the Koregaon-Bhima case is considered their primary evidence. But it’s subject to many flaws, including unusual Maoist protocols, jumbled dates, and incorrect language. For instance, the police produced one letter written in articulate Hindi which they said was written by activist Varavara Rao. But Rao can barely speak Hindi—he communicates in Telugu and English.

Anand Teltumbde seems to be the Pune police’s latest target. His arrest was declared illegal by the Pune court when he was arrested even after obtaining protection from arrest from the Supreme Court. His bail application was rejected by the session court in Pune on February 1. On February 2, he was arrested by the sleuths of the Pune police from Mumbai airport (Teltumbde came to Mumbai from Kerala) despite having the protection of the Supreme Court. Later, the same session court declared his arrest as illegal.

In the session court, according to court documents, the prosecution argued that Teltumbde’s name wasn’t mentioned in Damgude’s FIR as his name came up for the first time when an investigating officer, on August 22, 2018, seized material during police raids at the homes of the accused. During the hearing of  Teltumbde’s bail application, the prosecution said: “One of the letters seized by [the] investigating officer during the investigation was allegedly sent by Comrade Prakash to Anand in which there is a reference to Anand’s visit to Paris for the Women’s Rights Convention held on April 9 and 10, 2018. In the said communication, there was a mention to keep the fire ablaze.”

The prosecution said there was some more correspondence seized by the investigating officer which referenced Anand Teltumbde as “Anand”, “Comrade Anand” and “Anand T”—which the police considered substantial evidence to book Teltumbde. None of the letters refer to him by his full name. The prosecution also produced a sealed envelope which they said has “investigating papers” for the court’s perusal.

One letter in question is written by “Prakash” to “Comrade Anand”, which says the “CC leadership is pleased with the progress you have made on the Dalit campaign”. The letter continues: “We have also sent funds for your upcoming (April 9- 10) Human Rights Convention at Paris … Please coordinate with our friends in America and France. Com. Anupama Rao and Com. Shailaja Paik have agreed to invite you for guest lectures and seminars at least twice a year at their respective universities in Paris and Cincinnati.” Note that the event is referred to as “Women’s Rights Convention” and “Human Rights Convention” in separate correspondences.

Anupama Rao is an associate professor of history at Barnard College and the associate director at the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University. Shailaja Paik is an assistant professor of South Asia history at the University of Cincinnati. Both are widely acclaimed for their written work on caste, gender and Dalit studies.

The letter also mentions Professor Etienne Balibar, saying “CC leaders will consider interview requests of foreign activists such as Prof Etienne Balibar”. Balibar is a French Marxist philosopher with international acclaim for his work on the philosophy of Marx. Last month, Teltumbde wrote an open letter where he said he sent the letter produced by the police to Balibar. In response, Balibar wrote a letter of protest and wrote to the French Embassy.

Another letter mentions the name “Anand”. It’s written by “R” to “Comrade Prakash” and is dated December 23, 2017. The letter talks about disturbing reports of “the fake encounter in Gadchiroli”. However, the police encounter in question took place in Gadchiroli on April 22, 2018. Forty people were killed in this encounter, including 21 innocent villagers. How credible can this letter be, when it references something months before the actual incident?

Newslaundry spoke to Shivaji Pawar, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Swargate, Pune, who is the investigating officer of the Koregaon-Bhima case. Pawar said: “I just want to say that we have the evidence and we cannot tell you more than that.”

Newslaundry got in touch with Rohan Nahar, the defence lawyer representing Teltumbde. Nahar said: “As of now, whatever evidences they have presented in the court to which we have access is nothing substantial at all. The entire story of the prosecution revolves around letters, and there is no substantial proof. There is no proof to even show that the letters are genuine. There is no proof to show that Comrade YYX referenced in the letters is actually such a person or not. There is no connectivity and no corroboration.These so-called evidences produced are not going to stand and have no value in the eyes of the law.”

Nahar added: “Whenever this goes to trial, they are going to fail, but we only need to wait and see how long a person’s liberty can be curbed, a person who is going to be acquitted at a later stage.”

Ajay Sahni, Executive Director, Institute of Conflict Management, and an expert on counter-terrorism and conflict issues told Newslaundry that it’s clear none of the evidence produced is credible. “None of the letters that are being produced in this case are consistent with the pattern and type of the letters that are being recovered from the Maoists in the past. In no such letters do we ever find that names, missions, assassination targets, details of weapons acquisition have been named, discussed and described openly in this fashion. Moreover, the so-called conspiracies involving over ground workers are inconsistent with the broader strategies and tactics adopted by the Maoists. They very clearly maintain a distinction between overground and united front workers, active cadres or underground cadres.”

Sahni added: “They may communicate with them but not like this and they don’t have an overlap between operational and overground cadre. Varavara Rao has been known to be an overground worker or sympathiser or whatever you call him for more than 50 years and suddenly, at this age, they are going to ask him to acquire ammunition weapons from Nepal. Just look at the absurdity of this allegation.”

Sahni says the purpose of this case is not to secure a conviction, but “punishment by trial”. “The trial process itself is going to be so protracted that it will take more than five or six years. In this long period, they will subject these individuals to complete and continuous harassment even though they are not able to hold them.”

How Teltumbde created ‘communal harmony’

On February 1, Teltumbde’s bail plea was rejected by Justice KD Vadane of the Pune sessions court. One of the offices Teltumbde stands accused of is creating “communal harmony”.

The court order says: “As per the prosecution case, name of the present applicant/accused [Teltumbde] is disclosed in the alleged commission of offence, and in the investigation, it is disclosed that the present applicant/accused along with other accused and absconding accused hatched conspiracy to create communal harmony to strike terror in the people with the intent to threaten or like to threaten the unity, integrity, security, sovereignty of India by using explosive substances (sic).”

The bail rejection order accuses Teltumbde of creating “communal harmony” twice. Point No 4 of the order says: “She [special public prosecutor Ujjawala Pawar] further submitted that from the material collected by the investigating officer, it is crystal clear that present applicant/accused [Teltumbde] is also involved in hatching conspiracy to create communal harmony and intended to threaten to unity, integrity, security and sovereignty of India.”

We’re guessing this is a typo but given the dubious plots put forth by Pune Police in this case, one can never tell.

‘They have made up a story’

Anand Teltumbde says the entire case is fabricated.

Speaking to Newslaundry, Teltumbde said, “Everyone knows that the people who have been arrested in the Koregaon-Bhima case were working for the democratic rights of people. It seems the state doesn’t want anyone to work for the people which is why they want to instil fear in the minds of people by making such arrests. This whole plot is running with the permission of the government and police. They have been given a free hand to deal with this matter straight away, from the top.”

About the letters produced by the police as evidence, Teltumbde said: “They have not recovered anything from my house. They have produced some letters in which there is a mention of my name (first name and initials). Even if you take those letters on face value, even then you will not find anything substantial in them. There is a mention of many other names in the letter. This whole plot is very weird. They have made up a story. It is a fabricated case.”

Teltumbde told Newslaundry: “I myself have written an article on Koregaon-Bhima which had a consistent tone. I have been against identity reinforcement and I mentioned in the article that an obsessive distortion of history is not good for the future of Dalits. We have to bridge the gaps between the people. But now I myself have been booked by the police in this case. Despite repeating my views on it, there is no mention of it in the court’s judgement and nobody talks about it.”

Teltumbde added: “I deliberately didn’t want to attend Elgar Parishad. If I would have been involved in that, I would have attended. We went to meet our relatives for 5-10 minutes at Shaniwarwada and then drove away as I needed to fix the tyres of my car. I was here to attend the marriage of my closest friend’s son. My friend lives in Switzerland. Fortunately, I have the records of all things—check-out time, petrol bills etc.”

Teltumbde’s open letter mentions that his wife wanted to see her nephew Sujat Ambedkar and sister-in-law Anjali Ambedkar in Shaniwarwada. That’s why the visit took place.

Newslaundry asked Teltumbe about his brother Milind Teltumbde, a central committee member of the CPI (Maoist). He replied, “I am the eldest brother and Milind was the seventh of my parent’s eight children. Because of the age difference, the communication [between him and Milind] was not much. Since 1982 I have not spoken to him. It was a  painful experience for our family but we have reconciled with it.”

Teltumbde approached the Bombay High court on Tuesday with a plea seeking anticipatory bail. The court adjourned his bail hearing to February 11. During the hearing on Tuesday, the Pune police told the court that they will not arrest Teltumbde till February 12.


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