First published in The Hindu
Narayan Sanyal is a 74-year-old man with white hair parted to one side and fibromatosis in both hands. His arrest memo notes that he wears dentures, has spots on his body and smokes cigarettes. “My health is not going well, arthritis is a new thing catching up, age is telling,” he writes in a letter addressed to a ‘Dear friend V’. This letter and two others became crucial evidence in the conviction last week of Mr. Sanyal, Kolkata businessman Pijush Guha and eminent doctor and human rights activist Binayak Sen.
Behind their conviction lies a curious paradox to which the Chhattisgarh police has never given a satisfactory answer: Why was Mr. Sanyal — whose Maoist connections led to charges against the co-accused in the first place — himself never charged with sedition or conspiracy to wage war or even with belonging to or supporting an unlawful organisation until well after Dr. Sen’s arrest under those serious offences?
On December 24, Judge B.P. Verma of the Raipur Additional District and Sessions Court held that Mr. Sanyal was the key figure in a criminal conspiracy to commit sedition along with Mr. Guha and Dr. Sen and sentenced all three to life imprisonment. Mr. Sanyal was sentenced to an additional 10 years for belonging to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).
The Judge held that Mr. Sanyal wrote three letters (including the one mentioned above) and passed them on to Dr. Sen, who gave them to Mr. Guha. Apart from ruminations on Mr. Sanyal’s health, the letters castigate an unnamed associate for failing to maintain regular contact, congratulate others for completing the ninth Congress and urge the reader to concentrate on propaganda as “propaganda is overwhelming people. They are able to influence conceptions and thinking, knowing that they are corrupt and anti-people.”
Mr. Sanyal is frequently described as a “Maoist ideologue” in newspapers and is believed to have joined Charu Mazumdar’s CPI (Marxist-Leninist) in the late 1960s. However, the police have struggled to pin him down on any specific charges until this most recent case.
It is known that Dr. Sen visited Mr. Sanyal 33 times in the Raipur Central Jail in his capacity as a doctor and Chhattisgarh Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. But why was Mr. Sanyal imprisoned at all?
On December 27, The Hindu reported on the mysterious circumstances around Mr. Guha’s arrest. Now witness testimonies in the Binayak Sen case also suggest that the Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh police colluded to arrest and illegally detain Mr. Sanyal.
In the Binayak Sen case, the prosecution sought to establish an acquaintance between Dr. Sen and Mr. Sanyal prior to the latter’s arrest. Prosecution witness Deepak Choubey testified that he rented out his father-in-law’s house in 2005 in Daulat Estate, Dangiya, in Raipur to Mr. Sanyal at the behest of Dr. Sen for Rs.1,500 a month. But then he also went on to say something which was at odds with the official narrative. “In January 2006, I went to collect the rent when my neighbour told me that my house was raided by the Andhra Pradesh police who arrested Mr. Sanyal,” said Mr. Choubey.
On January 2, 2006, the Hindi newspaper Dainik Bhaskar carried a story dated Jan. 1 under the headline “Prominent Naxali leader held in Dangiya?” The story did not offer any sources but claimed that a joint police team from A.P. and Chhattisgarh raided a house in Daulat Estate, Dangiya, and arrested Comrade Prasad alias Vijay, a politburo member of the banned CPI (Maoist), who had come to Raipur for medical treatment. The report stated that the A.P. police team had arrived in Raipur on December 28 2005.
On the same day, Mr. Sanyal’s brother, Radhamadhab Mohan, filed a habeas corpus petition in the Bilaspur High Court, alleging that his brother had been arrested by the A.P. police on December 28, 2005 when he came to Raipur to seek medical treatment. In Delhi, the People’s Union of Democratic Rights issued a press release about the arrest and The Hindu carried a news item to this effect on December 30, 2005.
In their submission dated January 6, 2006, the Chhattisgarh police denied any knowledge of Mr. Sanyal’s whereabouts and denied that he had been arrested in Raipur. In a fax message dated January 5, 2006, the A.P. police claimed that Mr. Sanyal alias N. Prasad alias Vijay, had been arrested on January 3 that year at the Bhadrachalam bus stand in A.P.’s Khamam district, found to be in possession of a 9mm pistol and 6 live cartridges, and arrested under various provisions of the Arms Act.
The police did not produce a charge sheet and so, after 90 days of custody, Mr. Sanyal was released on statutory bail on April 4, 2006 from Bhadrachalam, only to be arrested 70 km away at Konta in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district on April 7, 2006, and charged with the murder of one Hungaram Markam in 2005. Soon after, Mr. Sanyal was shifted to Raipur, where he has been since.
“Every witness has turned hostile in the Konta case,” said Mr. Hashim Khan, Mr. Sanyal’s lawyer. “The only person left to be examined is Investigating Officer Vijay Thakur, who has refused to appear in court for three years and so the case drags on.” In 2008, Dr. Sen’s lawyers filed a bail petition in the Supreme Court in which they pointed out that while Dr. Sen had been accused of aiding the banned CPI (Maoist), Mr. Sanyal had been arrested for murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and was not even charged with any Maoist-related crimes under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005, or the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967.
Soon after the bail application was filed, additional charges were slapped onto Mr. Sanyal’s case. “The police know that they can’t keep Sanyal in jail using the Konta case,” said Mr. Khan, “so they have manufactured the Binayak Sen case to ensure that he remains behind bars.”