Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Naxals' identity raises questions

Supriya Sharma
Tuesday, August 28, 2007 (Mumbai)
Is Vernon Gonsalves, arrested in Mumbai last week, a Naxal leader who wanted to blow up Mumbai?

Or is he a social activist charged only because he worked in the Naxal-impacted district of Chandrapur in Maharashtra's Vidharbha region?

Police in Vidharbha say there is no ambivalence. There are 16 cases against Vernon and serious charges.

So why did it take more than a decade to arrest him? Police say, it was because of a familiar naxal pattern.

''They have double names, double roles, at some time have been activists and other times have been underground Pankaj Gupta, IG, Anti-Naxal Operations.

And so the police claim Vernon Gonsalves visible as an activist slipped into an invisible role in his alias as Vikram, senior leader of the banned naxal group CPI Maoist.

But Vernon's lawyers say these are trumped up charges, a legacy of the time he and his wife Susan Abraham spent working with tribals in Chandrapur in the eighties.

But visit Chandrapur on Tuesday, more than Vernon, it is Susan who is remembered as a young activist. She doubled up as a lawyer.

''Advocate Susan was very active in the workers movement. She campaigned for fair wages for workers,'' said Bhagwan Patil, Advocate.

Bhagwan Patil, is Susan's close associate and fellow activist.

''We rarely met Vernon. He was usually out of Chandrapur for his activities. We never tried to probe what those activities were,'' Patil added.

The couple moved out of Chandrapur long ago in the early nineties but 15 years has not erased the memory of Susan's work as an activist. Her legacy has survived but not Vernon's. In fact barely anyone here knew him.

''Vernon did no social work here, only Susan did,'' said Devendra Gavande, Journalist. He often met Susan but remembers her husband as a shadowy figure.

Even then police said he was a core committee member of PWG. It seems like an elusive legacy, which makes it hard to establish the claims of both the police and his lawyers.

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