Varavara Rao; The rebel Poet Activist

Varavara Rao; The rebel Poet Activist

The Supreme Court on August 10 granted regular bail to Telugu poet-activist Varavara Rao on medical grounds in the Bhima Koregaon case.  While granting bail, a bench headed by Justice U U Lalit said he should not misuse the liberty in any manner.         

The bench also considered the factual aspects of the case to grant him bail, including that he is 82-years old and his medical condition has still not improved.


The 83-year-old had challenged the Bombay High Court order rejecting his petition for permanent medical bail. He was on interim bail on medical grounds and was to surrender on July 12. However, the Supreme Court had on July 12 extended Rao’s interim protection till further orders.

The case relates to alleged inflammatory speeches made at the Elgar Parishad conclave held in Pune on December 31, 2017. The police claim that this triggered violence the next day near the Koregaon-Bhima war memorial. The Pune police also claimed that the conclave was organised by people with alleged Maoist links. The NIA later took over the probe into the matter.  Rao was arrested from his residence in Hyderabad in August 2018. Rona Wilson, Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj , Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde are the others arrested in this case.


Born on 3 November 1940 in Chinna Pendyala, Warangal district into a Telugu Brahmin family, Pendyala Varavara Rao studied at Chinna Pendyala, Warangal and Hyderabad.  In 1960, he completed a post-graduate degree in Telugu literature from Osmania University. He started writing poems from the age of 17. After post graduate studies, he joined a private college at Siddipet, Medak district as a lecturer. He also worked as a lecturer in another private college. Rao also worked as Publication Assistant in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, New Delhi for a shirt time.


Rao was greatly influenced by the Naxalbari uprising in Bengal in 1967. More to add, the late sixties and early seventies also saw a political turmoil in Andhra Pradesh. The Srikakulam Armed Peasants’ Struggle (1967-70) for more equitable land rights was followed by the Telangana statehood agitation in 1969. The period saw a deep divide in the Telugu literary community. He was instrumental in founding two writer’s associations that actively engaged in politics; the Tirugubatu Kavulu (Association of Rebel Poets) in Warangal, and the Viplava Rachayitala Sangham (Revolutionary Writers’ Association), popularly known as Virasam, in 1970. The group was inspired by the Naxalbari uprising.

The Andhra Pradesh Government arrested for the first time in 1973 under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act, on charges of inciting violence through his writing. However, the court released him later after the State Government failed to show that his writings had resulted in actual violence. He was again rearrested in 1975, during the Emergency, under the same law.

In 1985, Rao was one of 46 persons accused of attempting to overthrow the Andhra Pradesh Government in the Secunderabad Conspiracy. Rao was also one of those arrested in the Ramnagar conspiracy case, and accused of attending a meeting in which there was a plan made to assassinate two police officials. Seventeen years later, in 2003, the court completely acquitted him of all charges in relation to this case. In 2005, Rao acted as an emissary for the People’s War Group to broker peace between the state government and the Maoist organisation. Following the breakdown of the talks, the police again arrested Rao under the Public Security Act (PSA) and Virasam was banned for a few months.


Considered one of the best critics in Telugu literature, Rao has, to his credit, over 15 collections of poetry. In 1966, Rao founded a group called Saahithee Mithrulu (Friends of Literature), which started producing a literary journal called Srujana. The journal initially published on a quarterly basis, became a monthly in 1970 following wide popularity.

Rao began publishing poetry in the late 1950s in journals and magazines, and his first poetry collection Chali Negallu (Camp Fires) was published in 1968. In 1983, his book Telangana Liberation Struggle and Telugu Novel – A Study into Interconnection between Society and Literature was published. It is considered to be a benchmark in critical studies.

During his periods of incarceration, Rao also wrote a prison diary, Sahacharulu (1990), which was later published in English as Captive Imagination (2010).


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