‘Urban Naxal’ Witch-Hunt: Spectre of Insecurity Haunts Modi Govt

Professor Apoorvanand likens arrests of activists across India to America’s McCarthyism of the 50s.

5 min read

A spectre is haunting India – the spectre of urban Naxalism or Maoism. People are being made to believe that dangerous killers are hiding in the garb of teachers, writers, media persons, lawyers, actors and filmmakers, allegedly conspiring to assassinate the beloved Prime Minister of India, and derail the fast train of development under his stewardship.

It is believed that Maoists are the creatures of the jungle who thrive only with the succor provided by these respectable people.

The present finance minister invented a category of ‘half-Maoists’. A shrill campaign was launched by the minsters and spokespersons of the ruling party with the enthusiastic support of a ‘nationalist’ media labeling all the critics of the present government as Maoists, urban naxals, etc. As if the label of anti-national was not working any more. Or, to make them interchangeable.


‘Urban Naxals’ – Not a New Scare

It must be said that the scare is not of recent origin. It was the learned economist, a man of few words, who, as the Prime Minister in the previous UPA regime had said that Maoism was the greatest internal security threat. It created a ground for the actions of the present regime to target all the human rights defenders.

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The arrests on 28 August of Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira and Varavara Rao; as well as simultaneous raids on the residences of Father Stan Swamy, Susan Abraham, and Anand Teltumbde, follow the 6 June arrests of advocate Surendra Gadling, English professor Shoma Sen, writer Sudhir Dhawale, forest rights activist Mahesh Raut, and prisoners rights activist Rona Wilson in Maharashtra. The Pune police claims that the examination of those detained revealed their links to so-called Maoists, which necessitated the recent raids and arrests.

The original case is now almost forgotten. It was the violence which was perpetrated on the dalits in the wake of an event to celebrate the valour of the Dalits at Bhima Koregaon near Pune, which was to be investigated.

This is an annual event which is held every year by the dalits, who believe that the victory of the British against the Peshvas in a battle two hundred years ago, was actually achieved by the dalits. This year, this event was opposed by several organisations including Akhil Bhartiya Brahman Sabha, who called it ‘anti-national’. Violence broke out, and a person was killed. Dalit groups blamed right-wing bodies, specifically naming two persons, ie, Milend Ekbote and Sambhaji Bhide for having conspired and organised this violence.

Manufacturing Lies Against ‘Anti-Nationals’

Subsequently, two FIRs were filed against the speakers at the event, blaming them for provocative speeches causing enmity between communities and disrupting peace. It was the second set of FIRs the Maharashtra police are more interested in. Its claim is that the event in itself was a conspiracy of the Maoists, and was funded and supported by them. It is this theory which allowed them to raid and arrest Dhawle, Gadling, Raut, Wilson and Sen in June.

A most bizarre discovery of a letter from the computer of one of the detainees, ‘discussing the plan to assassinate Prime Minister Modi, the way Rajiv Gandhi was killed’, is made.

The country cannot afford to take lightly this threat, we are told. Forget the absurdity of the ‘letter’ whose content ranges from sources and destination of money, to Kashmiri separatists, stone pelters, human rights lawyers, JNU and TISS students, protests against the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, the Congress party – and everything else the present regime dubs as ‘dangerous’.

Senior journalist Prem Shankar Jha dissected the purported letter in great detail, showing how fake it is. He also says the reason for his belief that the letter is concocted, is the habit of the present regime of floating fake news, videos, etc, to defame its opponents. The Home Minister warned the nation that the student leaders of the JNU were linked to terrorists sitting in Pakistan – an absolute lie. But this lie, convenient for his politics, had made the lives of student activists Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid hell, and they have been criminalised in the eyes of the people who would never believe that their Home Minister could manufacture a lie.

Similarly, the Prime Minster himself fabricated the story of a meeting at the house of Mani Shankar Aiyar, in which a ‘conspiracy was hatched’ with the help of Pakistan against the BJP.


An Ongoing Witch Hunt

One has to look at the pattern in the witch hunt was launched against human rights activists. The Prime Minister, way back in 2015 had told the judges that they should not be fooled by the ‘five-star activists’. “There is a need to be cautious against perception-driven verdicts,” said the Prime Minister, adding, “Perceptions are often driven by five-star activists.”

It should also be noted that the campaign against the human rights workers was done in the name of anti-corruption, alleging that they are being funded by dubious sources, and live opulent lives.

This was the pretext used to hound Teesta Setalvad.

It is not difficult to understand why it is important for this government to suppress people like Sudha Bharadwaj. They work, mostly through the law, to defend the rights of the poorest of the poor, and the most dispossessed – the tribals and dalits. It is crucial for the government to deprive the tribals of this support. Thus, Chhattisgarh has now been emptied of almost all journalists, activists and lawyers who wrote about the loot of the land and natural resources by big corporations, and defended the tribals. Similarly, Jharkhand is on the target list.

The dalits are the new articulate political grouping, which threaten the narrative of a seamless majoritarian project of the ruling party in the name of Hindutva.

That is why it has become necessary to defame and criminalise it, by dubbing it ‘Maoist’ and ‘anti- national’.


India’s Own Version of McCarthyism

The present regime has been rattled by the opposition it is facing from the newly- educated dalits. So, the design is to paint the dalit anger as a Maoist fabrication. It has been said that the likes of Rohith Vemula are pseudo-dalits, and are agents of the Maoists. It is said that the mother of Vemula, has been given money by the Maoists to campaign against the present nationalist government.

It is interesting that just three days before these raids and arrests, a seminar was organised on ‘Urban Naxalism’ in a college in Delhi University.

Speakers warned the audience that these ‘urban Naxals’ were hiding in places like JNU and Ramjas College. A popular teacher of the Ramjas College told me that when he was talking to a student, he heard another one, who is affiliated to the student wing of the RSS, shouting “Maoist hai”. Last year, a campaign was launched in Delhi University by the teachers affiliated with the RSS, to ‘free the campus of red terror’.

India is witnessing its own version of McCarthyism.

Blacks, human rights workers, actors, film makers, teachers, writers were accused of anti-America activities and of being undercover communists by the then American Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was in office in the early-50s. It led to a four-year-long witch hunt, hounding and persecuting some of the best minds of America. In India, the terror of the present regime, has a similar tone.

(The writer teaches at Delhi University. He tweets @Apoorvanand_. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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