Delhi Police on Tuesday said it will ask Maharashtra engineer Shantanu Muluk, who allegedly created a social media toolkit on the ongoing farm protests, to explain why he was present at the Tikri border on January 26 when violence broke out at many places in the Capital during a tractor rally by farmers.
“Our technical probe to ascertain Muluk’s phone location shows that he was present in Delhi between January 21 and 27. And, that he was at the Tikri border protest site on January 26. We will ask him to join the investigation and tell us what was he doing at the Tikri border when farmers were taking out the tractor parade,” an officer associated with the investigation said on condition of anonymity.
The Bombay high court on Tuesday granted transit anticipatory bail to Muluk while reserving the order on a similar appeal by Mumbai-based lawyer Nikita Jacob, another accused in the case, for Wednesday.
On Saturday night, Delhi Police arrested 22-year-old climate activist Disha Ravi from Bengaluru on charges of sedition, intending to riot and criminal conspiracy, for editing and creating a toolkit, essentially a Google document.
The police alleged that the toolkit was created to spread misinformation and incite unrest. They also alleged that Ravi shared the document with Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg who tweeted it but later removed it.
Muluk has been accused of similar charges as Ravi.
Investigators said that Ravi created a WhatsApp group, International Farmers Strike, on December 6. Police said Jacob allegedly joined the group on December 11 while a few members of the pro-Khalistani group, Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF), also joined it.
Muluk was added to the group on December 6, the police alleged, adding that the group was created to discuss the modalities of the Google toolkit document titled Global Farmer Strike and Global Day of Action, 26 January, backing the ongoing agitation by the farmers against the three laws passed by Parliament in September.
The three suspects also attended a meeting organized on the video conferencing platform Zoom by the PJF on January 11 this year, investigators said.
The police said they have written to Zoom and WhatsApp, seeking details such as the identities of the participants, the creator, and administrator of the group, the meeting coordinator, apart from the deleted chats, videos, and documents.
“These details will help us ascertain the sequence of events leading to the creation of the Google toolkit documents and the role each participant played in it. Disha deleted the WhatsApp group soon after Greta Thunberg accidentally posted the entire toolkit document on Twitter and later deleted it,” said a senior police officer associated with the case, requesting anonymity.
The police’s decision to arrest Ravi and charge the activists has drawn sharp criticism from activists and opposition politicians.
On Tuesday, Karnataka Congress chief DK Shivakumar attacked the Centre. “Arrest of Disha Ravi is an attack to weaken the moral strength of India’s Youth and make dissent illegal. Police action against her, using a concocted ‘Toolkit’ conspiracy violates legal norms. Why not approach a competent court before arresting a young woman?” Shivakumar tweeted.
Activists from various organizations say creating a toolkit was the standard operating procedure for advocacy and media outreach, and did not constitute a crime as it was entirely up to people whether or not to follow what toolkits suggested.
The Left-wing All India Students’ Association (AISA) staged a protest at the Delhi Police headquarters on Tuesday, demanded Ravi’s immediate release, and accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of running an “anti-democracy campaign”.
Police said Ravi’s interrogation, and examination of her laptop and mobile phone showed that she deleted a series of emails related to the toolkit. Efforts to retrieve those emails are being made, they said.
A second police officer, who did not want to be named, said their investigation so far has shown PJF founder Mo Dhaliwal contacted Ravi, Jacob, and Muluk through a Canada-based woman named Puneet.
“Puneet got in touch with Jacob in the first week of December and was told about the PJF’s ‘bigger plans’ pertaining to the farmers’ agitation. We have reason to believe that after Jacob agreed to be part of the plan, she roped in Muluk and Disha. Muluk is the common link between Jacob and Disha. Disha’s direct link with Thunberg could be the reason why she was included in the toolkit plan,” the second officer said.
Police said their probe pointed to the alleged involvement of another PJF member, Anita Lal.
“We have found that Disha, Jacob, Muluk, and others communicated each other through an email created on PJF’s domain apart from other secured messaging apps,” the second officer added.