‘Urban Naxal’ Varavara Rao No Stranger to Political Imprisonments
The revolutionary poet and activist has faced arrests by multiple governments since 1973.
Writer and activist Varavara Rao was arrested from his home in Hyderabad on Tuesday, 28 August, for his alleged involvement in the Bhima-Koregaon violence in Maharashtra last year and for being a part of an alleged plot to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Rao’s name had cropped up in a letter seized by the police in June during searches on those arrested in connection with the Elgar Parishad event on 31 December 2017, to commemorate 200 years of the Bhima-Koregaon battle of 1818.
In the left intellectual circles, Varavara Rao is a big name and is known for taking strong stances against neo-liberalisation of the state. A prolific poet, he has over 15 poetry collections to his name and is also a founding member of the Viplava Rachayitala Sangham or Revolutionary Writers’ Association, popularly known as Virasam. The association was later banned by the Andhra Pradesh government.
‘A Maoist Ideologue’
Born in 1940 in the then Andhra’s Warangal district, Rao’s tryst with revolutionary “Maoist” ideas began when he was serving as a lecturer in the Mahabubnagar district. In 1968, when he left that job to go back to Warangal and join a college there, Rao founded a group called Saahithee Mithrulu (Friends of Literature), which started producing a journal called Srujana in 1966. While Srujana later went on to allegedly propagate Maoist ideology, initially, it was only devoted to modern literature.
Warangal was one of the first places to respond to the Naxalbari movement, which began in Bengal in around 1967. In 1969, with Rao as one of the driving forces, Warangal saw the rise of a literary group called Thirugubatu Kavulu (Rebel Poets), which associated itself with the armed struggle going on in Andhra’s Srikakulam district then.
Virasam was formed as a culmination of the Srikakulam struggle and Rao has been a part of its executive committee since its inception. As a part of Virasam, he toured Andhra Pradesh extensively, while continuing his literary endeavours.
Rao has published 15 poetry collections of his own, besides having edited a number of anthologies.
His poetry has been translated into almost all Indian languages.
His thesis on 'Telangana Liberation Struggle and Telugu Novel – A Study into Interconnection between Society and Literature' published in 1983 is considered to be one of the finest works of Marxist criticism in Telugu.
A volume of his editorials was also published in Srujana.
During his prison days he translated Kenyan writer, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's prison diary Detained and novel Devil on the Cross into Telugu.
He also wrote his own prison diary Sahacharulu (1990), which was translated into English as Captive Imagination.
A Life Of Multiple Imprisonments
Varavara Rao is no stranger to political imprisonments. He was first arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) in 1973, and then again during the Emergency.
He was also amongst the 46 accused of overthrowing the Andhra government in the Secunderabad conspiracy case and was imprisoned once again in 1985.
After that he was also accused of attended a meeting where the plan to kill Andhra Pradesh Police constable Sambaiah and inspector Yadagiri Reddy was hatched. He was acquitted of all charges after 17 years in 2003.
In 2005, Rao went as an emissary for the People's War Group in peace negotiations between the Andhra Pradesh government and the Naxalites. After multiple rounds of talks failed, Virasam was banned. However, the ban was lifter three months later.
Even after this, he was arrested once again in 2005 and released in 2006.
Since the formation of the new Telangana state in 2014, he has been arrested four times.
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