Where does the buck stop?

‘Urban Naxals’

By Poonam I Kaushish

Move over jihadis, it’s the season of ‘urban Naxals’ as the five activists with allegedly Maoist links arrested last week have been code-named. A succinct testimony to the ongoing maelstrom over stifling dissent or an act of patriotism with the devil taking the hindmost!
The story has it genesis when a Pune resident registered an FIR in January against members of Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) (a cultural group under police scanner for Maoist connection since the previous Congress-NCP State Government) for allegedly making vicious and communal speeches and singing provocative songs to commemorate the Koregaon-Bhima war between Peshwa rulers and British which led to stone pelting and communal violence between Dalits, and upper caste Marathas. Based on this FIR, Pune police arrested five rights activists in June.
Last week, again the Pune Police in a crackdown in five States arrested five more activists, revolutionary writer Varavara Rao from Hyderabad, Delhi activist Gautam Navlakha, lawyers Arun Pereira, and Vernon Gonsalves in Mumbai and civil rights lawyer and trade unionist Sudha Bhardwaj in Faridabad on charges of “incriminating evidence” and “conclusive proof” of linking them to Naxals and planning a “Rajiv Gandhi-like” incident to end “Modi raj”.
Besides, raising funds for the Communist Party of India (Maoist), indulging in unlawful activities, seeking money to procure weapons and grenade launchers from Russia and China along-with having a nexus with other unlawful groups on various platforms to plot and “target high political functionaries.” Dubbing them ‘naxal mentors’, who are “wearing a facade of intellectuals and professionals for decades,” who were planning to recruit members from 35 colleges and launch attacks, the police added.
Underscored by Varvara Rao’s letter, “Due to enemy’s decision to impose demonetisation, we haven’t been able to help comrades in Gadchiroli and Chhattisgarh… please don’t misunderstand me. Bhima Koregaon agitation has been successful. The unfortunate death of a youth must be exploited. The riots were effective and we should mobilise the Dalit population against the rising brahmin-centred agenda of the BJP.”
Resulting in widespread suspicion and indignation that this was a part of an orchestrated crackdown on political dissent. With a cacophony of Opposition leaders calling it undeclared Emergency whereby voices against the Centre are being suppressed. Where is the evidence? It is nothing but an action by the Maharashtra police and Government to intimidate the activists, accused the Congress. Notwithstanding, that the erstwhile UPA Government in December 2012 had averred that seven of the ten activists arrested had links with the Maoists.
Adding grist to this, the Supreme Court observed, “Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If you don’t allow the safety valve the pressure cooker will burst” and ordered the activists be kept under house arrest till September 6.
Raising a moot point: Are the arrest justified? Does the police have a strong case? Are the arrests a culmination of a legitimate probe into a Maoist plot? Or is it yet another clumsy failure to distinguish between those who indulge in or actively support violent activity, and those who attempt to understand or empathise with the social conditions that breed extremism and insurgency? Is it a political witch hunt? Is India heading towards an era of political intolerance?
It is nobody’s case that activists or intellectuals are above the law, but the police carry an enormous burden of proof, having accused the activists of doing much more than inciting the violence that broke out in Bhima-Koregaon January. What began as a controversy over allegedly provocative speeches made at a Dalit conference has inexplicably morphed into a larger conspiracy involving the CPI (Maoist).
Interestingly, a 2004 Communist Party of India (Maoist) document titled “Urban Perspective” elaborates on “Urban Naxals” as those who reside in urban areas and work as activists, supporters and protectors of Naxal ideology who work on the fault lines of our society, always urging people to loose faith in the system and incite them to revolt while the active Naxals battle it out in the jungles and vast swathes of Maoist-dominated areas. They could be intellectuals, influencers, lawyers or human right activists et al.
It explains that the focus has to be on organising the working class, which is “the leadership of our revolution”. “It is the task of the party in the urban areas to mobilise and organise the masses, including the working class, students, middle class employees, intellectuals, women, dalits and religious minorities and build a united front
“While the armed struggle and the movement in the rural areas will play the primary role, the work in the cities will play a secondary role, complementary to rural work. The urban movement will send cadres to the countryside, infiltrate enemy ranks, organize workers in key industries with rural armed struggle. Without the participation of urban masses it’s impossible to achieve countrywide victory,” the document reads.
Another key point listed is that “while work must be done on the organised sector, there is also a need to mobilise the unorganised segment as well. This it explains is for recruiting cadres and developing leadership.” The document also points towards building a united front of all secular forces and persecuted religious minorities against “Hindu fascist forces”.
Dictated by the politburo strategy, “the urban Naxals just exploit the situation by organising protests and mobilising disgruntled people whoh can be used for Party building. They encourage students to take admission in different colleges and fail so that they can continue longer on the college campus and indoctrinated the youth by pretending to be concerned about social issues.”
The document clarifies the military strategy as establishing the base areas first in the countryside where the “enemy is militarily weak” and then capturing the cities, which are the “bastions of the enemy forces”. It adds that the urban movement should involve supplying arms and ammunition and sabotage actions. Performing these tasks is vital.
True, it is nobody’s case that activists or intellectuals are above the law, but the Maharashtra police having accused the activists of doing much more than inciting the violence that broke out in Bhima-Koregaon, which has inexplicably morphed into a larger conspiracy involving the CPI (Maoist) need to have an air-tight case.
Certainly, no quarter should be given to these “urban Naxals” but experience shows activists working in Maoist areas, have been harassed and arrested on suspicion of being in league with extremists. While action against them routinely makes the headlines, the truth is that prosecutions are rare as charges of sedition, waging war against the Government rarely end in conviction.
What next? Undeniably, the message has to go out clearly that no person, group or organization can threaten violence, and if they do, they lose their democratic right to be heard. However, given the sweeping allegations and the scale of implications in unconfirmed assassination plots, the burden of proof on the police is extremely high. Unless proved to the contrary, it will only confirm misgivings that the law has been bent with the sole purpose of targeting dissent.
After all, in a mammoth one billion plus country there would be a billion views and one cannot curtail people’s fundamental rights to dissent. Thus, it is imperative for the public to decide. Clearly, the speed with which our tolerance is falling to fragile levels is scary. It would be wise for the powers-that-be to remember that dissent is a sign of a thriving and robust democracy. Pay heed before it’s too late. —INFA