NEW DELHI: Dalit Maharashtra leader Prakash Ambedkar is clear, that the raids on the houses of intellectuals in Maharashtra, but also in Goa, Delhi, Hyderabad has all to do with the Sanatan Sanstha and the currrent investigation going on into the killings of rationalists and journalist Gauri Lankesh by the Karnataka government. Varavara Rao, activist and poet, was arrested in Hyderabad for his alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Mr Rao's name had cropped up in a letter seized by the police during searches on others arrested after the Elgar Parishad event last December 31 to commemorate 200 years of the Koregaon Bhima battle in 1818.

“The Karnataka government has been exerting pressure for some time now on the Maharahstra government to take action on the basis of the evidence they have collected on the Sanstha and its activities in the course of the investigation. They found that the Sanstha was preparing bombs for use in several places in Mumbai itself, of which many were Hindu- and not minority-occupied areas. For the Fadnavis government to admit this would be tantamount to declaring the Sanstha an anti-Hindu party, which the BJP is clearly not willing to do. So they rounded up all the ultra-Left intellectuals to divert attention from the Sanstha, and to support their own conspiracy theory that there is a threat to the country from extreme Left intellectuals who they claim have been supporting violence,” Ambedkar told The Citizen.

CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat seconded this, maintaining that the effort was to cover up the activities of rightwing Hindutva outfits, in this case the Sanstha. He said that normally, given the kind of disclosures coming from the investigation by Karnataka into the murders, the government would have to move to ban the Sanatan Sanstha. “There are provisions in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to ban such organisations, but they are using the same Act now to target intellectuals, insisting they have links with the Maoists and raiding and arresting them,” Karat told The Citizen. He said a major protest was being planned against this in Delhi for Thursday.

Secondly, Ambedkar and Karat both said, the attack on the intellectuals with police being sent to their homes across several cities, was to further isolate and attack the Dalits.

Ambedkar rubbished the state government's claim that all those arrested were members of the Elgar Parishad, which organised the Bhima Koregaon rally, saying, “That was a one day affair and it was over.” The arrests now, coming eight months after the rally, were in his view intended to further divide society. And to insist that Maoists and their 'sympathisers' were behind the violence at the rally, not the rightwing organisations which he said had instigated that violence.

Ambedkar was one of the organisers of a huge protest in Mumbai after Bhima Koregaon, to demand the arrest of Shiv Prathishthan Hindustan chief Sambhaji Bhide for allegedly instigating violence against Dalits in Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1.

The Maharashtra government, faced with Dalit alienation and a strong Maratha stir in the state before elections, is using these arrests in an attempt to regain Maratha support, according to these leaders.

Karat agreed that the government's intention was to protect those who instigated the violence and target those who organised the rally. And to project the lie that the terror and violence was coming from the Maoists and their sympathisers, namely the intellectuals arrested. He said this in itself "stems from a deeply anti-Dalit position that has led to a crackdown which is directed against the community and its concerns and interests."

The Pune police carried out raids on the residences of nine activists across five cities through the day. Five were arrested although in at least two cases – Gautam Navlakha and Sudha Bharadwaj – the courts have ordered a temporary stay until a hearing tomorrow. The raids sent shock waves across the country, with many comparing it to the Emergency. Those arrested include Maoist ideologue Varavara Rao, human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, and activists Arun Fereira, Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves. The raids were carried out in Delhi, Faridabad, Goa, Mumbai, Ranchi and Hyderabad.

Activists Arun Fereira and Vernon Gonsalves were arrested from Thane and Mumbai. Sudha Bharadwaj was picked up from her home in Faridabad. Gautam Navlakha's transit remand to Pune has been placed on hold by the Delhi High Court till August 30. He will stay at home under police guard and can only meet his lawyers. Father Stan Swamy in Ranchi and Kranti from Telangana were also raided. Anand Teltumbde's house in Goa also featured on the list, but the activist wasn't at home. Laptops, pen drives and documents were seized by the police for analysis with several individuals and organisations coming out in strong condemnation of the crackdown.

(Cover Photograph: Varavara Rao arrested in Hyderabad)