Given the need to show ‘results’ in Chhattisgarh, the police are pulling some unlikely rabbits out of still stranger hats. The latest is Lingaram Kodopi, tipped by the police to be “Azad’s successor”, but as Jefferson Airplane reminds , If you go chasing rabbits…
The following piece appeared in The Hindu under the joint by-line of Aman Sethi and Smita Gupta.
In a press conference on Sunday, S.R.P Kalluri, Senior Superintendent of Police of Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district, identified the prime suspect behind the July 6 attack on the house of Congress worker and civil contractor Avdesh Singh Gautam. According to a press release circulated by the Chhattisgarh police, “this attack was masterminded by Lingaram Kodopi, a resident of Sameli village.”
“In the last few months, Kodopi had received training in terrorist techniques in Delhi and Gujarat,” the release stated, claiming that Lingaram was “in touch” with writer Arundhati Roy, activist Medha Patkar and Nandini Sundar, a sociology professor at the Delhi School of Economics. The police also said that Kodopi was tipped to succeed Communist Party of India (Maoist) central spokesperson Azad, after the latter was killed by the Andhra Pradesh Police on July 2 this year.
Those named in the press release have condemned this attempt to drag them into the case and Professor Sundar said she intended to take stern action against the police for what she described as an act of gross defamation.
Curiously, despite naming Lingaram the Chhattisgarh-in charge of the Maoists, the State police have so far made no attempt to arrest him, raising questions whether the police even believe their own version of events. Lingaram is currently enrolled in a journalism programme at the International Media Institute of India in Noida. He held a tearful press conference in New Delhi on Monday protesting his innocence.
Security experts have questioned the rationale behind the police publicly announcing the name of a possible Maoist “mastermind” and only then seeking to apprehend him. “Frankly, they [the police] have destroyed the case before they made it, if they did ever have a case,” said Dr. Ajai Sahni, Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management. “If Lingaram wanted, he could have gone underground by now. They have been compromised operationally and legally.”
Director-General of Police, Chhattisgarh, Viswarajan, told The Hindu a police team had been dispatched to Delhi to question Kodopi. “We are acting on information that a contact passed on to SSP Kalluri,” said the DGP. “Arrests, if any, will be made only after questioning Lingaram.”
Speaking to reporters, Lingaram broke down as he narrated his past experiences with the Chhattisgarh police. “I have no connection with the Maoists,” he said. “The police is simply harassing me.” His lawyers said he was ready to answer any questions the police might have.
“In September last year, the Dantewada police picked me up from my village and kept me in detention for 40 days,” Lingaram said, alleging that the police repeatedly tried to force him to become a Special Police Officer. “The police released me only when my family approached the Chhattisgarh High Court in Bilaspur and filed a habeas corpus petition.”
Fighting back tears, he said he would prefer to kill himself to facing the
prospect of being arrested and tortured by the Chhattisgarh police again.
Writ petition (habeas corpus) No. 5469/2009, filed in the High Court on September 18 2009 by Lingaram’s brother, Masaram Kodopi, alleges “that the police picked up Lingaram Kodopi from his house on 26/27th August 2009. When the members of his family and villagers went to the police station the police refused to accept that he was in their detention and then after the villagers persisted in their enquiries they stated that Lingaram had come of his own accord to become an SPO.”
In an order dated October 6 2009, the High Court directed that Lingaram be allowed to return to his family. The court, however, noted that he himself had made no allegations of illegal detention.
At his press conference, he said he did not speak about his confinement before the judge because the police had threatened him with dire consequences.
He said he left Chhattisgarh soon after his release as he feared for his personal safety, but is worried that the police may now harass his family members who are still at Sameli village. In April, he appeared before the Indian People’s Tribunal in Delhi along with a dozen or so victims of police atrocities – including several teenage widows — whom he had fetched from Dantewada at great risk to himself.
“The only Lingaram I know is a young boy staying at Delhi Forum [an NGO],” said writer Arundhati Roy in a statement emailed to The Hindu. “He has spoken at several public forums and told the story of being kidnapped by the Salwa Judum. For the police to say he was a replacement for Azad and is in charge of Chhattisgarh operations is delusional.”
Prof. Sundar said that she met Lingaram when he moved to Delhi last year. “I met Linga when he moved to Delhi after being tortured and forced to become an SPO by the Dantewada police,” she wrote in an email. “It is preposterous to suggest he is the mastermind of the attack on Avdesh Gautam. By linking him, and, in turn, all of us, to the attack, the Chhattisgarh police appear to have completely lost their minds.” Prof. Sundar, who has filed a PIL petition in the Supreme Court against Salwa Judum atrocities, said the police wanted to prejudice the case by falsely claiming that civil society critics like herself were linked to the Maoists.
SSP Kalluri was not available for comment.