Oppn leaders, intellectuals slam arrest of activists

Dog squad enters Gate no. 4 of Pune Session's Court, in Pune on Wednesday, Aug 29, 2018. Three of the five Left-wing activists, who were arrested yesterday by Maharashtra Police in connection with its ongoing probe into suspected Maoist links to an event

The arrest of prominent Left-wing activists was condemned by several opposition leaders and people from different walks of life today, with some of them terming it as a "manifestation of autocracy".

The Maharashtra Police on Tuesday raided the homes of prominent Left-wing activists in several states and arrested at least five of them as part of a probe into the violence between Dalits and upper caste Peshwas at Koregaon-Bhima village near Pune after an event called Elgar Parishad, or conclave, on December 31 last year.

Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, in a tweet, said he has no sympathy whatsoever for Maoism, but freedom of thought, belief and expression were fundamental rights in any democracy.

"To arrest activists who have neither committed nor facilitated violence is to betray our democracy. This is not the India that Gandhiji fought to free," he said.

Former finance minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said he condemns the arrests of human rights activists, a lawyer and a poet.

"I will strongly disagree with those who hold extreme left or extreme right views, but I will defend his right to hold that view. That is the essence of freedom," he said.

"Anyone holding extreme views is punishable only if he indulges in violence or incites violence or aids and abets violence in support of his ideology," he added.

Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav also strongly condemned the arrests.

"Anyone who defends human rights raises concerns about atrocities against poor and condemn authoritarian regime is arrested in RSS's New India. Remember, Fascism will not last any longer," he said in a tweet.

Dalit leader and Independent MLA from Gujarat Jignesh Mevani slammed the arrests and said that the move was "nothing less than emergency".

"Had Gandhi, Dr B.R. Ambedkar and Sadar Patel been with us today, they would have surely appeared as lawyers for all these human rights activists who are arrested by Pune police dubbing them as Maoists. This is nothing less than an emergency, indeed," he tweeted.

Near-simultaneous searches were carried out at the residences of prominent Telugu poet Varavara Rao in Hyderabad, activists Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Ferreira in Mumbai, trade union activist Sudha Bhardwaj in Faridabad, and civil liberties activist Gautam Navalakha in New Delhi.

Subsequently, Rao, Bhardwaj, Ferreira, Gonzalves and Navalakha were arrested under IPC Section 153 (A), which relates to promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language and committing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony, said the official.

Congress' communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala hit out at the government over the arrests, saying, "'I am the State' is the loud cry that has been heard by the activists who were swooped, raided and arrested."

"Cracking down on NGO's by the 'State' due to ideological differences is the manifestation of Autocracy! Deeply disturbing for Democracy. Reprehensible & Deplorable!" he said.

Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi termed the arrests as "systematic harassment" of civil rights activists.

Aam Aadmi Party leader Raghav Chadha, in a tweet, said, "They are silencing & persecuting all opposition before 2019. First, they came for AAP and we were silent, they came for dissenting intellectuals we were silent, now they've come for social activists and lawyers, how long can we remain silent, who is next?"

Actress and activist Swara Bhaskar condemned the arrests and raids, saying Indian jails were "only for writers, human rights activists and academics... And doctors who saved the lives of children."

Leftist economist Prabhat Patnaik said the incident was a "sign of nervousness" of the government as it was losing the support of farmers, workers and among people at large.

People's Union for Civil Liberties, a human rights body, said they were "nothing but a targeted crackdown and attack by the police and state on civil liberties and democratic rights activists across the country". 

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Oppn leaders, intellectuals slam arrest of activists

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