MUMBAI: It is going to be one of the most closely watched court battles in recent times. Alleged Naxal leaders Vernon Gonsalves (49) and Sridhar Srinivasan (50) go on trial in a sessions court from Monday.
The issue to be discussed before the court is whether the duo were dangerous anti-nationals with links to the banned terror group CPI (Maoist), or whether they were being persecuted for speaking out against the policies of the government.
Gonsalves and Srinivasan were arrested by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the city police from Govandi in August 2007. The police said it had recovered detonators, a hand grenade, two firearms, 20 high-explosive gelatin sticks, 106 CDs, a laptop, pen drive, three mobile phones, Rs 6 lakh and "banned literature" from them.
The literature included magazines such as People's War, People's March, a short biography of Joseph Stalin and booklets narrating tales of Naxalites and their struggle.
However, their friends and relatives said that the government had falsely implicated them because they had been working amongst the underprivileged in Vidarbha and opposed policies such as the SEZs.
"The entire case against Vernon is fabricated," said Gonsalves' brother-in-law, Thomas Abraham.
"If he was such a big threat as the police claim, he would not have been moving around freely in the city and living at a permanent address. Moreover, no arms were ever recovered from him," he added.
Senior police officers, however, said that both Gonsalves and Srinivasan held top positions in the politburo of banned Naxalite groups and had been active in underground movements for several years under assumed identities. They also alleged that the CDs recovered from them revealed details of Naxal training camps in the state and a list of their financiers.
The court will also have to decide whether Gonsalves was actually arrested with arms from Govandi as the Anti-Terrorism Squad claims or was picked up from near his house in Andheri as his wife, Susan, has been saying all along.
The duo will face trial under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Arms Act, Explosives Act and the Indian Penal Code.
Several intellectuals had protested the arrests soon after they were made and no less than the home minister had assured them at the time that justice would be meted out in the case.
In fact, a group of concerned citizens of the city, which included a former judge of the Bombay high court, noted lawyers, social activists, writer-directors and journalists had written a petition about the allegations of torture of Gonsalves and Srinivasan in custody.