Author and historian Ramachandra Guha today lashed out at the government over the countrywide raids and arrest of activists, calling it a “brutal, authoritarian, oppressive, arbitrary. illegal act” by the Maharashtra police. Speaking to NDTV after the arrest of five well-known activists and intellectuals, Mr Guha blamed it on the “corporate cronies of the ruling government,” who, he said, were bent on grabbing tribal land, forest and mineral resources. The arrest of the activists was meant to take away the only representation the tribals have, he said.
Through the day, the Pune police had conducted raids on the homes of nine activists across five cities, which ended with the arrest of five – Varavara Rao, lawyer Sudha Bhardwaj, and activists Arun Fereira, Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves. The police said the arrests were linked to last year’s Bhima Koregaon violence, in which Dalit activists had clashed with upper-caste Marathas.
In June, five people — Sudhir Dhawale, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Rona Wilson and Shoma Sen — were arrested for allegedly making “provocative” speeches at an event in at Bhima Koregaon village in January, which, the police said, triggered violence. Today’s raids were carried out on basis of what they said during interrogation, the police said.
Mr Guha told NDTV that he knew some of those arrested and while he did not always agreed with them, he knew that they “never themselves preached or practiced violence”.
“But these are people who represent the country’s disenfranchised and the dispossessed,” he said. “What is happening in the adivasi heartland of india… it is murder, rape, physical, natural, social… and these were the lawyers representing the tribals… and their arrest leaves those dispossessed unrepresented in court,” he added.
A later tweet from him read:
As a biographer of Gandhi, I have no doubt that if the Mahatma was alive today, he would don his lawyer’s robes and defend Sudha Bharadwaj in court; that is assuming the Modi Sarkar hadn’t yet detained and arrested him too
– Ramachandra Guha (@Ram_Guha) August 28, 2018
Intellectuals and professionals including author Arundhati Roy and Indira Jaising have criticized the arrests in harsh terms. Earlier today, Indira Jaising tweeted: “One day there will be no one left to defend the rule of law,one day there will be no rule of law left to defend.”
Ms Roy, in a statement, compared the arrests to the 1975 Emergency. “It is as close to a declaration of an Emergency as we will ever get,” read a statement from the Booker-prize winning author.
Mr Guha, however said, he needed to make his stand clear. “The witch hunt against activists was was started by Congress, this government taking it further,” the historian had added.