On 27 May this year, some prominent people who belong to the right-wing ideology in India, particularly in the cultural context, gathered at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, in the national capital. The event was the launch of filmmaker and social media influencer Vivek Agnihotri’s book, Urban Naxals. The chief guest for the occasion was Union Textile Minister Smriti Irani. At the venue, Irani, introducing the book, took to the dais and observed:
Research has found that there are at least 21 organisations overseas who send their people in the garb of professionals and academicians to come to India and study Maoism and go back to their country of origin, a way to ensure the over ground support of Maoism continues and the funding isn’t stopped.
What these 21 organisations are, where they are based, and what research she was quoting from, Irani did not mention. Vivek Agnihotri’s 27 May book launch was preceded by a two-part essay that appeared in the magazine Swarajya in May 2017, wherein he defined and detailed the meaning and concept of the term ‘urban naxal.’ This essay in turn was preceded by his 2015 feature film that dealt with the similar subject, called Buddha in a Traffic Jam.
Who Exactly is an ‘Urban Naxal’?
Agnihotri’s 2017 Swarajya essay provides an important direction in answering that question.
In the essay, he says urban naxals are the “invisible enemies” of India, some of them have been caught or those who are “under the police radar on the charge of spreading insurgency against the Indian state. One common thread amongst all of them is that they are all urban intellectuals, influencers or activists of importance. A quick look into the accomplishments of all the urban naxals suggests that they have indoctrinated the youth by pretending to be concerned about social issues. However, my observation is that they never tried to find a solution to social problems. Dictated by the politburo strategy, they just exploit the situation by organising protests and mobilising masses which 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.”
But, hold on, if you, like me, would have your eyebrows raised over a few words used in the aforementioned definition – such as ‘intellectual’ ‘activist’ and ‘influencer’ – and wonder what on earth is really wrong in being either one of these, then yes, you have come to the right place.
The thrust of Agnihotri’s argument – both in the two essays and in his book – is that there are two kinds of ‘intellectuals’ who inhabit this country. On one hand are those right-thinking intellectuals who are more inured to the heat and dust of this country, regard the spiritual traditions of Indic civilisation in high order, disbelieve in caste, and for whom the only idea of Hinduism is one that is perennially opposed to any other religion, particularly Christianity and Islam. The other kind are the urban naxals, or intellectuals who are all a part of a large multinational NGO-Academia nexus. The prime charge against them is that they’re a part of something called ‘Breaking India’ forces.
This phrase, ‘Breaking India’, itself has an interesting history. It first came to prominence through the works of another individual named Rajiv Malhotra, a former entrepreneur turned Indic scholar. The basic core thrust of this entire ecosystem is basically the same argument reiterated in different refrains – that India’s largest enemy is internal, and this enemy has to be a group of intellectuals, or pseudo-intellectuals to use their word, whose only job has been to highlight the problems of Indian society, rather than look to the nation’s glorious heritage.
But for anyone who has ever studied a liberal arts course in India or outside, one would know that these arguments hold no water, and not because of ideological reasons, but primarily because these arguments are based on nothing but a sense of profound ignorance, almost bordering on stupidity.
For instance, you don’t require a PhD in Sociology to understand that caste is a reality, and has been a reality for as long as we can remember. That Hinduism was never an organised religion, and only became one with the advent of the British. Heck, Sanskrit doesn’t even have a word that stands for religion. The nearest one – dharma – means ethical conduct, and not religion! And above all, unless and until one studies the problems, one cannot hope to arrive at the solutions.
State Policy of Mediocrity
The intellectual fountainhead from where the category ‘urban naxal’ is derived from, is the same one which loudly proclaims that the main way to solve the problem of unemployment is by the youth to start milking cows and open pan shops (Here’s looking at you, Biplab!), which, in turn, is connected to our PM’s claim that selling pakodas is also employment, or his earlier ‘intellectual’ claim that plastic surgery existed in India during the Vedic age.
There is a reason why we need to contextualise the term ‘urban naxal’ within the larger intellectual history of what constitutes the right-wing ecosystem. This same ecosystem, since its very formation, could never boast of any strong intellectual tradition. It’s primary energies have always been spent in trying to recover a mythical past, rather than look to the future. Because now, being in power, what is being done is nothing but the institutionalisation of mediocrity, whether it’s by changing and rewriting school textbooks to reflect a wrong history, or by a slew of ministers giving statements that sounds, at best, surreal. And, at worst, ignorant. It has driven into the system an anti-intellectual culture, promising to push the country back into the dark ages. And the term ‘urban naxal’ is a metaphor for that change.
The ongoing arrests of the activists in connection with the Bhima-Koregaon violence, and that too on flimsy charges, proves beyond doubt that the term urban naxal is no longer the subject of mad tweets of a filmmaker looking for the spotlight, which, otherwise, would have eluded him.
It has emerged from the netherworld of social media trolls, received state sanction, sacralised by the presence of a Union minister during the book launch on the same topic, it has entered the domain of TV studios, thundered at by editors turned dictators-in-chief deciding on what the nation needs to know, and has finally culminated into unheralded raids in the private domains of those activists whose life’s work has been to engage and speak for the marginalised communities, whether they be Dalits or Adivasis.
When Trump rode in power to the White House, one of the jokes that circulated through the cyberspace was that for the first time in history, an internet meme has become the president. 28 August’s arrest of activists, proves beyond doubt that a word that hithertofore was confined to the usage by right-wing Twitter trolls, has now become state policy. Therefore, be afraid. Be very afraid.