NEW DELHI: “This is state terror let loose. It is complete lawlessness by the ruling party. All because they know that opinion has turned against them in all walks of life, and everyone has started criticising them. This is in the runup to the 2019 general elections, and it will get worse as that is all they care about,” said Justice P.B.Sawant, key organiser of the Elgar Parishad event held on December 31, 2017.

“They have no respect for secularism, democracy or socialism,” Justice Sawant said. “They are adverse to the Preamble of the Constitution of India. This regime is not prepared to abide by the Constitution of India.”

In an interview with The Citizen from Pune, 88 year old Justice Sawant who was also earlier chairman of the Press Council of India in its better days, did not mince words in castigating the BJP government at the centre and in Maharashtra for subverting the law. “It is complete lawlessness, it is state terrorism,” he repeated.

Justice Sawant said that none of the “five or seven” persons arrested yesterday were known to him. And contrary to what the police claim were not involved “as far as I know” with the function that was held on the last day of 2017. Justice Sawant said he had never met any of those the police claim were linked to Elgar Parishad. He said he had only met the lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj when she came to see him a few months after the event, but had not known her before. He said that five persons were arrested earlier as well.

“None of them were part of the organising committee and I have not met them,” he said.

Justice Sawant pointed out that before December 31, another similar event was organised by him and the other organisers on October 25, 2015. It was held at the same venue, and on a similar theme, 'Save the Constitution, Save the Country'. “They were all quiet then, no one said anything,” he added.

But now after the 2017 event, “four months later they came out with a theory and spoke of Naxalite links.” Justice Sawant said that mention was made of the Kabir Kala Manch at the time, which is an organisation working for the rights of Dalits. He said they arrested its members on the basis of the same theory, of Naxalite links, but now “just three weeks ago the Pune police held a press conference saying there was no evidence.” He said two of those arrested were in still in jail.

At the time Justice Sawant had debunked the police's other claim of a conspiracy against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking for “a thorough probe”.

Eight months later the police has raided and arrested activists on similar claims of being Maoists and linked with Elgar Parishad. “This is lawless conduct,” Justice Sawant said, adding that “they are trying to terrorise all activists critical of the government, they are trying to silence everyone, and we can expect more such action as we move closer to the 2019 elections.”

On the violence at Bhima Koregaon Justice Sawant said it was clear that the Dalits had been attacked by members of rightwing Hindu organisations. He said there was sufficient evidence that the instigators and organisers of this violence were Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote, who is executive president of Samasta Hindu Aghadi. He said that one was arrested and released on bail while the other was not even arrested, although both had been accused of the same crime.

Justice Sawant said that all this was meant to divert attention from the involvement of rightwing outfits in the violence. And now “these groups have been found with bombs and ammunition as part of a reported conspiracy to create chaos in Mumbai, and all this is now to divert attention from this” he added. This was similar to the views expressed by Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar and CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat who told The Citizen that the arrests were part of a larger effort to divert attention from the involvement of rightwing groups in violence and terror, and shift the blame to so called Maoists.

Justice Sawant said that this was all anti-Dalit in its tone and tenor, as the government was alleging a conspiracy between Dalit and Maoist groups.