"Show us something which shows that the accused encouraged the students to pick up guns. Is there anything to indicate that they told students to procure arms or get a bomb or something like this?”
This is exactly what the Supreme Court demanded to know from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Wednesday, 1 March, while hearing bail pleas of Bhima Koregaon accused Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira.
What the NIA said: Additional Solicitor-General for India KM Nataraj, appearing for the federal agency, said that the NIA had relied on reports that suggested that both were involved in the conspiracy to, inter alia, wage a war against and overthrow the Indian government.
“The accused played an active role in recruiting students, illiterates, Dalits into this radical movement and encouraging them to take this revolutionary path. These gullible people would be brainwashed and would be trapped," he added.
When Were the two arrested? Gonsalves and Ferreira had been arrested in 2018 under the widely contested Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and have now challenged the Bombay High Court's 2021 order which denied them default bail even though it was granted to another co-accused Sudha Bharadwaj.
The reason? Alleged inflammatory speeches made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017, which the police claim triggered violence the next day (1 January 2018) near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial.
The NIA later took over in 2020. The case is yet to go to trial.
Back to the courtroom: Responding to ASG Nataraj, the court retorted:
This document [containing a mention of one alleged ‘radical students’ union initiative’ spearheaded by Gonsalves and Ferreira] only indicates that they have something to do with students, and are close to students. Show us something which shows that the accused encouraged the students to pick up guns.
ASG Nataraj didn't stop there.
“They refer to Bolshevik training…,” he argued on.
“‘Bolshevik training’ is a very vague term. It could mean so many things,” Justice Dhulia replied.
To which Nataraj said:
“What we understand of Bolshevik training, and what they understand might be very different. We cannot delve into their language because they routinely used code words.They have projected as though there is nothing. My primary duty is to show that there is something and that something is very serious.”
Only a day ago, Gonsalves' counsel Rebcca John had contented that denying him bail on the basis of little evidence was a stretch:
"If there is no material, not granting bail is a stretch, particularly when the court granted bail to co-accused who had more evidence against them.”
Who delayed trial? Additionally, the NIA refused to take responsibility for the delay in begginning the trial in this case.
ASG Nataraj said that the case had been posted for framing of charges but there were nine discharge applications delaying the process.
“Let me clarify that there is no default from our side, as a prosecuting agency, resulting in the delay,” he argued.
What now? The division bench of Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia and Aniruddha Bose, who are hearing the pleas, have now adjourned it till Friday, 3 March.
(With inputs from LiveLaw)