Prosecutors in the state of Maharashtra filed charges on Wednesday asserting the group was behind a plot to kill the Indian leader. Of 16 charges in total, half were filed under the terrorism-related Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, with the rest under India’s standard penal code.
All 19 accused are “active members of [a] banned terrorist organisation and … conspired to wage a war against the government,” the draft says, referring to the Communist Party of India (Maoist), a prohibited political faction. The prosecutors also allege the group conspired to stockpile over $1 million in weapons, along with tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition, as part of the assassination scheme. Few details about the supposed plot have emerged beyond the charges, however, and it remains unclear exactly how the suspects planned to carry it out.
The charges stem from an event held in the city of Pune in 2017, known as Elgar Parishad, which featured a number of cultural performances with anti-caste themes. Police say the festival was bankrolled by the Maoist group as part of an effort to incite violence and overthrow the government, blaming the event for clashes that later broke out in the village of Bhima Koregaon. Last year, however, two retired Indian court justices, BG Kolse-Patil and PB Sawant, came forward to insist they were the sole organizers and funders of the event, denying any Maoist role.
Nine of the accused – most of them activists, lawyers, academics and commentators – have already been taken into custody, while police continue to track down ten other suspects, said to include five Maoist “underground operatives,” as well as five members of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM), a left-leaning cultural organization for Dalits, who sit on the lowest rung of India’s ancient caste system. While the KKM has previously been accused of ties to Maoists – commonly referred to as “Naxalites” – the group insists it has no connection to terrorism.
The court in Maharashtra is likely to convene a hearing to debate the charges early next month before the case moves ahead with a trial.