Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Wednesday asked Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case accused Vernon Gonsalves to explain why he kept "objectionable material", such as a copy of War and Peace and some other CDs, at his home.
A single-judge bench of Justice Sarang Kotwal, hearing the bail plea of Gonsalves and others, said that "such books" and CDs prima facie indicated they contained some material against the state. The novel became a point of contention during the day's hearing after the Pune Police, probing the case, claimed that the book was part of the "highly incriminating evidence" it had seized from Gonsalves' house in Mumbai during raids conducted a year ago.
News agency PTI had earlier reported that the judge’s comments referred to Leo Tolstoy’s classic 1869 novel about Russia during the Napoleonic wars. But the Bombay High Court was informed on Thursday that the book seized from Gonsalves’ house was not Tolstoy’s War and Peace but Biswajit Roy’s War and Peace in Junglemahal: People State and Maoists.
In Wednesday’s hearing, the Pune Police also read out the titles of several other books and CDs allegedly recovered from Gonsalves' house -- these include CDs titled 'Rajya Daman Virodhi' released by Kabir Kala Manch, 'Marxist Archives', and 'Jai Bhima Comrade'; and books 'War and Peace', 'Understanding Maoists', and 'RCP Review', and copies of a circular issued by the National Study Circle.
"The title of the CD 'Rajya Daman Virodhi' itself suggests it has something against the state while 'War and Peace' is about a war in another country. Why did you (Gonsalves) keep objectionable material such as books like 'War and Peace', books and CDs at home? You will have to explain this to the court," said Justice Kotwal.
Gonsalves was arrested by the Pune Police under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act after raids at the residences and offices of several activists in connection with the Elgar Parishad case. The police had claimed provocative speeches made at the Parishad on December 31, 2017, were responsible for the caste violence around Bhima-Koregaon village in Pune district the next day during an event to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon. One person was killed and several others were injured in the violence.
The police are investigation alleged Naxal links in organising the Parishad, which was held at the historic Shaniwarwada in Pune. Others arrested in the case include activists and academics Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, and Gautam Navlakha.
The prosecution had informed the court that nothing was found from the electronic evidence recovered from Gonsalves, but added that the books and CDs were incriminating.
Advocate Mihir Desai representing Gonsalves, while continuing the arguments on his bail application, said there was no direct evidence to implicate him in the violence. “The state has made it clear that it had found nothing incriminating against Gonsalves from his electronic devices and had only arrested him on the basis of his name being mentioned in correspondence between an accused and unknown person," said Desai.
“None of these letters or emails were written by Gonsalves, or were addressed to him. Therefore, in the absence of any cogent incriminating evidence against him, Gonsalves shouldn't be denied bail," he argued.
To this, Additional Public Prosecutor Aruna Pai said the other materials seized from his house were evidence enough to prove that the accused was involved in anti-national activities. She said the affidavit by the state and the chargesheet had mentioned the names and titles of books and CDs recovered from Gonsalves’ house, proving his involvement.
Desai said "mere possession" of such books and CDs "did not make Gonsalves a terrorist, or a member of any banned Maoist group". Although Justice Kotwal agreed with the defence that mere possession of such material does not make anyone a terrorist, he said that Gonsalves will have to explain why he kept such material at his home.
The judge said that the Pune Police also have to do "much explaining" to convince the court that the material found on such CDs and in the books incriminates Gonsalves.
"So far, the police have failed to provide details of what was on the CDs or in the books and pamphlets recovered that linked Gonsalves to the case. Merely stating that they have objectionable titles is not enough. Have you tested these CDs? What if they turn out to be blank inside?" the judge asked. "If you (prosecution) do not place on record the content and details of such material, the court will have to ignore them."
The bench also directed the police to provide details of the source of the emails and letters and their authors and recipients. The arguments are likely to continue on Thursday.
Dalits celebrate the anniversary of the Bhima Koregaon battle every year as they believe that the Army of the British comprising 'Mahars' or scheduled caste soldiers had defeated the forces of the Brahmin Peshwas.
(With inputs from PTI)