PUNE, Maharashtra — Six months after the Pune police dramatically flashed five hand-written letters, of doubtful provenance, in a press conference to claim Anand Teltumbde, one of the most important writers and intellectuals of his generation, was a member of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), the police has found no evidence against him as yet.
Meanwhile, the Pune police has sought to delay his anticipatory bail hearings at a Pune special court right up to February 14, when Teltumbde’s interim protection against arrest, granted by the Supreme Court, runs out.
There is no evidence to link Teltumbde, who is Dalit, to the Elgar Parishad, a Dalit platform that the police claims is a Maoist front, and a trip to Paris — which the police claims was taken at the behest of the CPI(Maoist) — was organised and paid for by an established university, which supported Teltumbde’s travel to France.
“They are killing one day at a time. It is quite idiotic what the police are doing,” said Rohan Nahar, Teltumbde’s lawyer, describing the prosecution’s strategy of delaying his trial to upto the Feb 14 deadline. “Sadly we do not have a very strong judiciary who can take the bull by the horns. Look at the things my client has done. He has written 26 books and been invited world over for lectures.”
The letters produced by the police contain a vague allusion to a widely discredited, and scarcely believable, plot to supposedly assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In the past, supposed plots to kill Modi have been used to justify the worst excesses of the Indian state, including the the extra-judicial execution of four people, including a 19 year-old girl called Ishrant Jehan, by the Gujarat police in 2004. Current BJP President, and Modi’s right-hand man Amit Shah was jailed for a few months in relation to the illegal killings before he was let off.
Of the five letters, one is addressed to “Comrade A”. The Pune police say this refers to Teltumbde, but have provided no evidence to support their belief.
HuffPost India reviewed all five letters, the police affidavit against Teltumbde in the Bombay High Court, and spoke to policemen working on the case, to find the police had nothing to support their contention that Teltumbde was — in fact — the “Comrade A” or “Anand”, mentioned in the letters.
The Pune police first produced the letters, and raised the spectre of an assassination plot, in June 2018, when they arrested five noted civil liberties activists including noted lawyer Surendra Gadling. At the time, the authenticity of the letters was contested by several noted activists.
“There is a clear pattern here that stretches all the way back to the encounter killing of Ishrat Jehan,” Teltumbde had told HuffPost India in an interview at the time. “This drama has been enacted before.”
Over a long career spanning an early career in the corporate sector, activism, public lectures, hundreds of articles and scores of books, Teltumbde has emerged as one of the most influential voices on the nature of caste in India.
He has an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, and is currently teaching at the Goa Institute of of Management. He is married to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s grand-daughter, Rama Ambedkar, an association that could have played a role in his arrest.
“I am a part of Ambedkar family. They (police) have got nothing against me. They recovered nothing from my house. I have never been questioned, interrogated or phoned by the police despite voluntarily giving them our numbers,” Teltumbde told HuffPost India in an interview. “Some people say I am being targeted as a proxy for Prakash Ambedkar.”
Prakash Ambedkar heads the BHARIP Bahujan Mahasangh, a political front for marginalised voices, and has emerged as the face of Dalit politics in Maharashtra, at a time when a united Dalit constituency has emerged as a major challenge to the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party.
One connection that could work against Teltumbde is his brother Milind, who is a central committee member of the CPI(Maoist). Yet, Teltumbe has long distanced himself from Milind.
“I have not seen him or heard from him in the last 38 years,” Teltumbde said of Milind. “He did not even come for the funeral of my father and younger brother.”
Even the Pune police admit that this does not count as evidence.
“There are many persons whose relatives are Maoists. You can’t implicate them for that,” ACP Shivaji Pawar, the investigating officer of the case against Teltumbde and other activist told HuffPost India. “We have not even mentioned that (connection with Milind) anywhere in the charge sheet.”
So what is the basis of the investigation against Teltumbde?
In January 2018, dominant caste Hindus attacked Dalits gathered in Bhima-Koregaon after at the behest of Sambhaji Bhide, a right-wing Hindu activist with close ties to the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party, and Milind Ekbote, a BJP municipal corporator.
Both sides filed FIRs against each other, yet Bide was never arrested or even questioned by the police. Ekbote was briefly arrested before being granted bail. Meanwhile, many Dalits say, the police used the moment to crack down on the state’s Dalit community by acting on a sole complaint filed by one Tushar Damgude, a known supporter of Bhide.
Damgude’s complaint has also formed the basis of the arrest of civil society activists across the country.
“There were 22 FIRs filed in this case, but the police selected only one FIR filed by Damgude to act on. It was clear that they wanted to save Bhide,” said Anjana Gaikwad, one of the victims of violence in Bhima Koregoan last year and a complainant against Bhide.
Teltumbde did not participate in the organization of Elgar Parishad neither was he present when the alleged inflammatory speeches were made.
“The state has admitted that he was not present at Elgar Parishad, neither did he give any speech there,” Teltumbde’s lawyer, Nahar said in court on Wednesday. “Apart from the opinion of the investigating officer, there is no other proof to claim that comrade A or Comrade Anand mentioned in those letters is my client. The investigating officer has not cited a single reason for his custody.”
Pawar, the investigating officer, appeared unmoved by Nahar’s assertion that the evidence against Teltumbde was a figment of Pawar’s imagination.
“Let them say what they want,” Pawar said.
The bail hearings continue as Teltumbde continues to fight for his continued freedom.