Mumbai: From growing up in a large seafront apartment in Mumbai’s upscale Worli to spending his twilight years in prisons across India — the life of Kobad Ghandy is a story of the two extremes. The Maoist ideologue has spent the last decade behind bars in connection with one case or the other, from sedition to charges under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
Over the past decade, the septuagenarian, who is reportedly suffering from various medical ailments, has spent time at prisons in Delhi, Telangana, Jharkhand and Gujarat.
Ghandy’s latest arrest came last month, when he was picked up by the Gujarat Police in connection with a 2010 sedition case registered at Surat’s Kamrej police station. Ghandy is the 24th person to be arrested in the case for allegedly spreading Maoist activities in the state.
The case stemmed from a complaint filed against unnamed members of the CPI (Maoist), formed in 2004 and banned in 2009, for allegedly preparing an armed force in Surat, north Maharashtra, and south Gujarat.
Ghandy is accused of coordinating the activities of the Maharashtra and Surat wings of CPI (Maoist). He is also accused of authoring “The Urban Plan”, a blueprint for the CPI (Maoist) to generate support in cities for the Naxal movement in rural areas.
Apart from sedition, he has been charged with waging war against the government, criminal conspiracy, as well as under sections of the UAPA.
From one prison to the next
The Gujarat Police had been struggling to get Ghandy’s custody since June 2010.
To arrest him, they had to get in touch with their counterparts in Jharkhand’s Hazaribagh, where he was lodged in connection with two separate Maoist attacks he is accused of “masterminding” in 2006 and 2007.
But it’s nothing new for Ghandy, who, over the past 10 years, has exited one prison only to immediately enter another, for a completely different case.
The last time this happened was two years ago, when Ghandy got bail from a Hyderabad court but was almost immediately re-arrested by the Jharkhand Police. At the time, he had accused the government of trying to kill him.
“It is clear that police methods are being used to kill me legally, given that I am 71 years old and in very poor health,” he said in a statement. “They did not bother about this case for seven years, but arrested me for it immediately on release to keep me in jail as an undertrial indefinitely.”
A wealthy Parsi from Mumbai
Born to Nargis and Adi Ghandy, a wealthy Parsi couple, Kobad Ghandy grew up in Mumbai.
His father was a top executive at a pharmaceutical company, and the family owned an ice-cream brand and properties in the hill station of Mahabaleshwar.
Ghandy attended the elite Doon School in Dehradun and later went to Mumbai’s Elphinstone College before leaving for London to study chartered accountancy.
He left his chartered accountancy course midway and returned to what was then Bombay. He is said to have been largely influenced by the Left ideology during his time in London and participated in several civil liberties movements on his return, including during the Emergency.
In 1978, he founded the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, a civil rights organisation. In 2004, on the inception of the CPI (Maoist), he became a part of its central committee.
Meeting his wife
In the 1970s, while working in a slum near his house, Ghandy met his future wife, Anuradha Shanbagh.
Like Ghandy, Shanbagh also came from a wealthy, educated background, and had the same quest for pursuit of civil rights.
The daughter of a government official mother and sessions court lawyer father, Shanbagh was educated at some of Mumbai’s best schools before she went on to study sociology at Mumbai’s Elphinstone College.
The couple tied the knot in the early 1980s and soon moved their base to Vidarbha, before going completely underground.
Anuradha Ghandy, who was suffering from sclerosis, died of cerebral malaria in 2008.
Senior journalist Jyoti Punwani, who was Anuradha’s close friend, wrote in The Times of India at the time: “Anu never complained about the drastic change in her life: Cycling to work under the relentless Nagpur sun, living in the city’s Dalit area, the mention of which drew shudders from Nagpur’s elite; then moving to backward Chandrapur.”
She added, “In Marxist study circles ‘declassing oneself’ is quite a buzzword. From Mumbai’s Leftists, only Anu and her husband Kobad, both lovers of the good life, actually did so.”
The first arrest and all that followed
In September 2009, the Special Cell of Delhi Police had received a fax message from Hyderabad’s additional director general of police for intelligence.
Ghandy, described as a member of the CPI (Maoist), which had just been banned, was conducting a recce of targets in Delhi under different aliases, the Hyderabad police claimed. He was arrested shortly afterwards and lodged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail for seven years under the UAPA, a charge he was later acquitted of on 10 June, 2016. He was, however, convicted of cheating and forgery, for which he had already served his jail term by then.
The same year, a Patiala court acquitted him of all charges, including the UAPA, in a 2010 case where Ghandy was booked for allegedly delivering two anti-national speeches and trying to promote Maoist ideology at the Panjab University.
In late 2016, Ghandy was shifted to Hyderabad’s Cherlapalli Central Prison in connection with the 2005 murder of Congress MLA Chittem Narsi Reddy and subsequently moved to a prison in Vishakhapatnam in April 2017.
Eight months later, on 12 December, 2017, Ghandy was released on bail in five cases. Of the total eight cases against him in Telangana, he was finally acquitted in three.
But four days after his release, Ghandy was arrested again on 16 December. This time by the Jharkhand Police in connection with two cases – for the 2007 alleged Maoist attack on a Central Industrial Security Force unit at the Bokaro thermal power station area and in a 2006 landmine blast also allegedly triggered by Naxals at the Nawadih Police station.
Ghandy received bail in both cases in April this year, but was kept in prison due to technical reasons — the release required him to provide a cellphone number which he was not allotted — before the Gujarat Police sought his transfer.
Over the years, Ghandy was booked in nearly 13 cases of a similar nature in different states — waging war against the country, sedition, criminal conspiracy and so on — and has been acquitted or discharged in several of them.
The cases also include the murder of former Andhra Pradesh assembly speaker D. Sripada Rao in 1999. He was named in a case pertaining to an attack on a team of Greyhound commandos, an elite anti-Maoist unit, at a Visakhapatnam village in 2008 too.
‘Mere suspicion not enough’
The prosecution had argued that evidence sufficiently established Ghandy was living in Delhi with assumed names and fake ID proofs arranged for him by a ‘Rajinder Kumar’, a co-accused in the case who was also using fake names.
“A lot of material was recovered at the instance of Kobad Ghandy, which establishes that he was a core member of the CPI (Maoist), which is a banned terrorist organisation,” the prosecution said, according to court records.
“The material recovered also proves that Kobad Ghandy was not only a member of the said organisation but was actively participating and promoting the illegal designs of the said banned organisation,” it added.
The defence argued that the CPI (Maoist) was outlawed only on 22 June 2009, and none of the alleged evidence against Ghandy pertained to the period after the ban.
The court ruled that the evidence produced to prove Ghandy’s membership and association with banned organisations was not reliable. The order said that while the prosecution had been able to prove Ghandy was living in Delhi under an assumed name and that raised grave suspicion, mere suspicion was not enough.
When he was released on bail in Hyderabad on 12 December 2017, Ghandy was eager to return home to Mumbai.
“It’s good to be out after so many years. Certainly…I am badly missing Parsi food. I haven’t had my favourite dishes for so many years,” he had told The Indian Express over the phone after his release.
But within three days, he was arrested again — this time by the Jharkhand Police, which handed over his custody to the Gujarat Police on 26 August.
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