At least 48 years before being branded as ‘Urban Naxal’, he was termed ‘Literary Naxal’ or ‘Naxalite in literature’. Twenty five cases were foisted against him in the subsequent 45 years but the prosecution could not prove a single charge in a single case. Now, under a new nomenclature of urban Naxal, a new draconian Act as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Action and a new case called Bhima Koregaon violence, Varavara Rao is going to be prosecuted and persecuted again. This time around, will the state be able to prove its charge, much more ridiculous and fabricated than all the earlier ones?
When Varavara Rao, a 30 year old poet with a collection of poems, Chalinegallu, published two years ago and the respect he commanded as the editor of Srjana, a quarterly forum for modern literature in Telugu to his credit, founded Viplava Rachayitala Sangham (popularly known by its acronym Virasam – Revolutionary Writers’ Association) that openly champions the cause of the Naxalite path of liberation for Indian masses, along with doyens of Telugu literature like Sri Sri, Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao, Rachakonda Viswanatha Sastri, KV Ramana Reddy, Kalipatnam Rama Rao as well as young firebrand poets like Cherabandaraju, Jwalamukhi, Nikhileswar and Nagnamuni, all of them were branded as ‘literary Naxals’ or ‘Naxalites in literature’ by a pro-establishment, highly respected literary critic.
The state, particularly police, also relished this coinage and began implicating these ‘literary Naxals’ in case after case. Several cases were foisted on many members of Virasam, but in none of them the prosecution could prove the charges and the ‘literary Naxals’ came out of the trials without any conviction. Stranger is the case of Varavara Rao, against whom the state was particularly vindictive and arrested at least 15 times in the last 45 years and implicated in 25 cases.
For the first time Varavara Rao, along with Cherabandaraju and M T Khan, was arrested in October 1973 under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA), a draconian law passed by Parliament in July 1971, giving police unlimited powers like indefinite preventive detention, search and seizure of property without warrants and tapping personal means of communication, amended several times in Emergency and finally repealed in 1977. However, Andhra Pradesh High Court struck down the application of the MISA against writers and the three detained were released within five weeks.
The High Court judgment asked the government not to resort to such actions against writers unless their writings have an immediate and direct bearing in a physical action. Taking cue from this hint, the government prepared a grand conspiracy case wherein all the actions of Naxalites, including murder, attempt to murder, dacoity, rioting, unlawful assembly, criminal conspiracy, waging war against government, spreading disaffection and sedition were shown as the direct consequences of a poem or a speech or a writing of revolutionary writers.
Prominent Virasam leaders Cherabandaraju, KV Ramana Reddy, T Madhusudana Rao, M T Khan, Varavara Rao and M Ranganatham were implicated in the case along with 41 revolutionary activists. This infamous conspiracy case, known as Secunderabad Conspiracy Case, was filed in May 1974 and ended in acquittal in February 1989, after 15 years of
prolonged and tiresome trial.
In connection with the Conspiracy Case, Varavara Rao was arrested in May 1974. He was denied bail several times and finally released on conditional bail in April 1975, only to be arrested again on June 26, 1975, on the eve of proclamation of Emergency. During Emergency he was a detainee under the MISA again. He was one of the few prisoners whose interviews with their relatives were restricted and their mail was subjected to stringent scrutiny. Though all the prisoners were released on the day Emergency was lifted, Varavara Rao was arrested again at the entrance of the jail and was kept behind the bars for a week more on a fresh MISA warrant. He was released only when the new Janata government repealed the Act itself.
Later, Varavara Rao was implicated in 20 more cases with serious charges including rioting, armed with deadly weapons, attempt to murder, murder, using arms and explosive substances, assault on public servant, unlawful assembly, criminal intimidation, criminal conspiracy, waging war against government, spreading disaffection, and sedition. He was charged not only under various sections of Indian Penal Code, but also under the Indian Arms
Act, the Explosive Substances Act, the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act. But none of these dreaded charges could be proved by the prosecution and he was acquitted as “not guilty” in all the cases by courts of law.
In one of the cases he was charged with procuring and distributing bombs while actually he was arrested a day before a bandh call given by various mass organisations in protest of the death of a student activist in police lock-up. The poem he wrote at that time said: “I never distributed bombs, I did not even spread ideas. But it is only your iron heel that crushed the ant-hill and there sprouted the ideas of revenge”.
The story of Ramnagar Conspiracy Case against Varavara Rao too is interesting to know. In May 1986, some Naxalites including Nalla Adi Reddy, the then secretary of AP State Committee of CPI (ML) (Peoples War), were arrested in a shelter in Ramnagar (Hyderabad) along with literature, arms and ammunition. Police made a big case out of this showing various offences in the preceding years as conspired at this shelter. Varavara Rao was also included as an accused and prosecution leveled several unimaginable charges including that the minutes of a district committee conference of Peoples War were in the hand writing of Varavara Rao and the police failed to prove that it was his writing. Finally after 17 years of trial, he was acquitted as not found guilty.
Even though he was not convicted on any charge in any case, he had to be in various jails in the state for over seven years as an under-trial prisoner leading to his health problems and suffering of his family. That also meant that for seven long years he could not be in public life and was unable to lend his voice to the voiceless as he has always been doing for the last five decades. This time also the police very well know that their charges will not hold water in any court of law, but in the meanwhile, they hope that he can be imprisoned and his voice can be silenced at least for a few months till he gets bail. Silencing his voice now is very much needed for the ruling classes, particularly when Hindutva onslaught against people in general and dissenters in particular is on the rise.
[The views expressed belong solely to the author, and may not reflect the opinions of the editorial team]