A conversation with an officer of the NIA on the arrest of 84-year-old Jesuit Fr Stan Swamy

The priest was arrested by the NIA for his alleged links with Maoists and for instigating the violence at Bhima Koregaon near Pune in 2017, a place he never visited

A conversation with an officer of the NIA on the arrest of 84-year-old Jesuit Fr Stan Swamy
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Uttam Sengupta

The conversation with the NIA officer took place at a location which cannot be disclosed at his request. The officer, not authorized to speak to the media, spoke on the condition of anonymity. Excerpts from the conversation:

Could you please explain what made you arrest the 84-year old Jesuit priest Fr Stan Swamy?

We have filed a charge sheet in court and we have provided the evidence we have against him.

Is it true that the charge sheet takes up more than 10,000 pages?

That is correct.

You can’t be serious. What do you have against the priest that the charge sheet should be so voluminous?

What we have is digital evidence. His emails, call records, his writings, speeches and past conduct. And the charge sheet relates to conspiracy and it is all linked. There are other conspirators too.

Let me get this straight. The mighty National Investigating Agency has charged the 84-year old priest for instigating violence at Bhima Koregaon near Pune in December, 2017?

That is correct.

But come on, Fr Stan did not even visit Bhima Koregaon. He has never been there. Are you suggesting that he engineered the violence sitting in Ranchi, 1800 Kilometres away?

You can conspire from abroad, from foreign countries. You need not be physically present. You can act as a conduit, accept and pass on money, guide other conspirators, give them ideas. This is the age of technology. Distances do not matter. Other conspirators charged in the case were also not present there.

If it is such an open-and-shut case, why arrest them? Ensure a speedy trial and the court can convict them and send them to jail

Such people are dangerous and the state cannot allow them to remain free and create more mischief, instigate more trouble, indoctrinate more people…

If Fr Stan Swamy or other conspirators are dangerous, would they not have been arrested earlier? Why would Fr Swamy wait to get into his eighties before engineering the violence in Bhima Koregaon? Other so-called conspirators too are all senior citizens…

I cannot comment on the case or what happened or did not happen in the past. We have done our job and it is now up to the judiciary to weigh the evidence and pass the sentence.

But by keeping them in jail during the trial, you are already punishing them. By filing a 10,000 page charge sheet and by listing hundreds of prosecution witnesses, you are ensuring that the trial would get prolonged. No magistrate can physically study the charge sheet so long…

It shows we have done a thorough, professional job. What else did you expect?

What I would expect is a precise, 10-page charge sheet and 10 more pages listing your evidence. That would ensure a speedy trial and Justice. What I suspect is that NIA just wants the conspirators to pass away during the trial so that the charges do not have to be proved.

Well, prove it in court. And if you believe in such things, we may have to investigate you and your writing.

Please do that. But many people cannot understand how an old priest can suddenly be charged with committing a crime…

It was not sudden. Pune Police had raided the priest’s residence in Ranchi a year and a half ago and seized his laptop, phone and papers. They were forensically studied, I can assure you. We questioned him and gave him the opportunity to prove his innocence. We are professionals.

I am still trying to understand what possible evidence you could have collected against the 84-year old?

I am not allowed to share the information. But perhaps he discussed plans of intensifying protests against the government, may be for overthrowing the government…perhaps he was in correspondence with other conspirators and putting them in touch with people who wanted to instigate violence.

Every crime must have a motive. And the congregation at Bhima Koregaon has been an annual event when Dalits celebrated the victory of a British Regiment comprising Dalits over Pune’s Peshwas, who happened to be Brahmins. This has been a festive occasion and remained peaceful all these years. Now you have spared the Brahmin leaders who gave provocative speeches and instigated the violence but Pune Police and NIA have gone on a fishing expedition to implicate Dalits and dissenters…

That is your opinion and a political statement. No comments.

In a democracy people do talk of protests and how to put the government on the backfoot. During the Jharkhand movement, people discussed the possibility of stopping the movement of minerals. During the Emergency there was the Baroda Dynamite Case in which George Fernandes was an accused. The JP Movement and the Navnirman Samiti planned disruptions. Even the BJP when in opposition and the Anna Movement were disruptive…

I am not justifying them. You are.

I am not justifying anything. I am merely pointing out that you guys are making a mountain of a molehill. In the eighties two Adivasi lawyers from Kolhan travelled to London to plead for independence of Kolhan, which in 1947 had self-rule, they argued. Strikes, road blocks, Rail Roko etc. are being organized by farmers in Punjab and Haryana. Surely, they are not criminal or seditious activities. Political, yes. But criminal?

You do not seem to have heard of Liberation Theology and the role of priests in revolutions. It is a long haul and they train and sensitise people for many years, seemingly making them aware of their rights, telling them of past revolutions, discussing why revolutions failed in the past. We know how these ideas are sown. And they have definite links with Maoists.

Maoists are also Indian citizens. Yes, it is a banned organization. But they grew up in the same villages as others, went to the same school before taking up arms. It is possible for their friends, batchmates, teachers and relatives to bump into them, exchange words and even eat together. That does not mean they are conspiring together. Fr Swamy and your other conspirators may have known some Maoists, counselled some of them or even sympathized with the lot of a few. But that does not make them Maoists.

That is what you may believe. But once these links are established, our mandate is to act. Ideas and words can be insidious and dangerous. We take them seriously in our business.

You mean if I write a mail to a friend or acquaintance and say in disgust that only a bloody revolution can change the world, I will be classified as dangerous, seditious and having links to Maoists ?

Do you really have doubts on that score? People have been arrested and jailed for far less. If you seriously harbour such ideas, I will advise you to keep them to yourself.

You know what I think? I think the state is stupid. If the state has any sense, it would engage with Maoist sympathisers, the Urban Naxals and armchair revolutionaries. You can collect a lot more information and Intelligence, develop a far better understanding of what is happening on the ground and why. By arresting them and putting them behind bars, you are doing no service to either people or the state.

That is the worm’s eye view. The state takes the bird’s eye view. And if you want to change the state, contest elections, wrest power and do what you must. You cannot be allowed to plan the overthrow of the state and still expect protection from the same state.

I give up. Thanks for your time.

(An imaginary conversation between a Fr Stan Swamy sympathizer and an officer of the NIA)

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