BJP govt wants to defame intellectuals: Anand Teltumbde

BJP govt wants to defame intellectuals: Anand Teltumbde

Teltumbde was named as one of the accused in the alleged Maoist plot that led to violence on the 200th anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle on Jan 1, 2018 near Pune.

Anand Teltumbde is a leading figure in management and big data analytics who teaches at the Goa Institute of Management. Teltumbde, an ex-MD & CEO of Petronet and Executive Director of BPCL, has penned 26 books as well as numerous articles and columns for various publications.

Teltumbde was named as one of the accused in the alleged Maoist plot that led to violence on the 200th anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle on Jan 1, 2018 near Pune. Following his bail plea rejection in a Sessions Court, the Pune police arrested Anand from Mumbai Airport in the early morning of Feb 2. His arrest received criticism from various quarters. The court of judicial magistrate released him on the same day terming the arrest illegal as he has Supreme Court protection from arrest till Feb 11.

In an interview with Deccan Herald, Teltumbde discusses the episode and his opinions on an apparent government crackdown on human rights defenders.

Tell us about your role in the Bhima Koregaon anniversary and Elgar Parishad event.

I did not have any role in Elgar Parishad. My name figured among the list of some 130 conveners that included all notable progressive people in Maharashtra. As such, I probably was the only person from outside Maharashtra as for the last eight years I have been living outside the state, first at IIT, Kharagpur, and then in Goa. 

READ: Teltumbde won't be arrested till Feb 12: Pune Police


You have reservations about celebrating the battle as a Dalit victory over Peshwas. Why?

When Justice P B Sawant and Justice B G Kolshe Patil, who conceived the idea of the Elgar Parishad, invited me for the planning meeting somewhere in October 2017, I was in full appreciation of the idea, although I excused myself because of my engagement with academic work at the Institute. I did not know thereafter anything about it until some information began floating on WhatsApp.

When I learnt about its projection that the Bhima-Koregaon battle of 1818 was the Dalit victory over the Brahmanic Pehwas, I felt uncomfortable as it was a distortion of history. Such distortion becomes fascists but not its victims. I was happy that all communities represented themselves in the organising committee of the Elgar Parishad but such pride in caste identity of one community could mar the incipient unity of people. It is precisely because of the symbolic coming together of Marathas and Dalits, the two prominent communities in the state, which created a scare in the ruling clique and is behind the entire plot of Bhima Koregaon made into a Maoist conspiracy. 

At the instance of Siddharth Varadarajan (editor, 'The Wire'), I wrote one article on this theme in the wee hours of Dec 31 and mailed it at around 11 a.m. the next day. I was absolutely unaware of what transpired in the Elgar Parishad as we were travelling the entire day by car and even of the attack on the congregation of Dalits the next day. 'The Wire' carried that article on 2nd and naturally, that angered the Dalits all over. They poured their anger over a month. It was a painful experience but I decided to endure it as I found that I committed no wrong. It was a test of a public intellectual in me. Rather, I reiterated my position in my next column in 'Economic and Political Weekly'. It is surprising that the state still persists with their story that I was responsible for inciting Dalits into riots -- both premises being horribly wrong.

Why do you think the police targeted you?

They know it better. They have no evidence whatsoever for their allegations. They keep showing some letters purportedly written by Maoist functionaries but none of them is recovered from me. They are of a nature that they are written by someone to some other, recovered from some third person in which 'Com Anand'/Anand etc. occurs, which is comfortably interpreted by the police with me. 

What the world understood is that I am being criminalised for my dissenting voice. I have been taking cudgel for the people and in that process have been an unsparing critic of government policies over the last three decades. This right-wing government does not want it. From its selection of individuals as accused in this vile plot, it will be crystal clear. 

They have targeted at least five people out of 10 who are functionaries of the democratic rights organisations. From my organisation, The Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, there were three of us -- I as the General Secretary, Prof Shoma Sen, as an Executive member and Arun Fereira as a Member; from Peoples' Union of Democratic Rights, there is Gautam Navlakha, and Sudha Bharadwaj is associated with the PUCL, Chattisgarh. Other five also are engaged with similar activities taking cudgel for the poor and oppressed people in some form or the other. 

Another reason why they chose me might be about my prominence. Still another reason, some people told me, maybe that I am being used as a proxy for my brother-in-law Prakash Ambedkar, who has been vocal about his opposition to the RSS and the BJP.  But all these are speculations. The reason remains that I am one of the symbols of dissent that the government would like to punish. This government wants to defame intellectuals; they are seen as a big threat to their irrational project of de-intellectualisation.

Do you think the government is diverting attention from the real issues by targeting activists, scholars and intellectuals?

That is a byproduct but the main purpose is as given above.  

Can you share your experiences during the police raid and being taken into custody?

My house was raided on August 28 along with other activists all over the country. Fortunately, we were away in Mumbai on that date. In the early morning, three police vans with dozens of police raided the campus and looked for me as though I was a fugitive; opening my house, procuring the duplicate keys by threatening the security; doing the panchanama with the panchas carried from Pune. Fortunately, nothing was recovered or confiscated from my house. My wife, who flew back to Goa by the next available flight, had lodged the complaint with Bicholim Police Station and provided our contact details should the police want to investigate anything. But they have done nothing till this day.

Since I did not find any substance in the charges they levied against me, I went for quashing the FIR because it stayed as a hanging sword on my neck. The Supreme Court, fortunately, gave me four weeks to apply for the pre-arrest bail. This pre-arrest bail application at the Sessions Court subsequently got rejected.

Firstly, the police strategised to consume as much time as possible and dragged the process. I had gone to Kochi to deliver the Achyuth Menon Memorial Lecture at Thrissur on Feb. 1 and I received the message that my bail application was rejected by the Sessions Court at about 6 p.m. As decided, I took a flight to Mumbai and landed at about 1.45 a.m. on Feb. 2. At the airport itself, the police took me to the airport police station and the Pune Police thereafter took me to Pune. No amount of argument that I still had protection from the Supreme Court would work with them. The police rudely dismissed it and told us that we could say it in the court. After reaching Pune, the experience was horrific. They put me in the lockup along with other criminals. Anyway, I would not like to recall that 12-hour experience.

Do you think those at the Centre, Maharashtra and other states are defiant towards the assertions of marginalised communities? Are they trying to suppress any such moves?

Yes, over the last five years, it has been certainly injurious to marginalised communities.

Are the governments using laws like Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and National Security Act (NSA) to silence dissent? 

Certainly. Even before, these draconian laws are used only against the people who opposed the regime. It was grossly used against the workers, farmers, Dalits, Adivasis, etc. Never before, it was nakedly used against the select intellectuals and defenders of democratic rights as this regime has used this time. These draconian laws do not have any business to be on statutes; they are basically against the Constitution. These basically stay on statutes because the rulers want them to chasten peoples' assertions. Actually, in the name of curbing terrorism, the state becomes a terrorist laced with these laws and unleash its terror on well-meaning people as it happened in the current episode.


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What is the status of your bail plea? How are you planning to carry on the litigation?

There are no options. I still have hope in the judiciary and the Constitution of this country. I hope the High Court where my application lies will grant me bail. 

What is your message to the world?

The world knows it but the Indians ought to know that none of them are secure -- it is not me but the manner in which the entire plot is hatched out of nothing. A policeman can destroy their life with this method.