The judicial custody of Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bhardwaj and Vernon Gonsalves has been extended till 19 November by the Pune sessions court. They were arrested by the Maharashtra police for allegedly planning large-scale violence in collaboration with the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
It again shows that the lower judiciary in our country can hardly be expected to stand for individual liberty and the right to dissent when the state says that it is threatened.
It was, therefore, a surprise when the Delhi High Court granted bail to Gautam Navlakha. Gautam has also got relief from the Bombay High Court, which has restrained the Pune Police from arresting him, Anand Teltumbde and Stan Swamy till 21 November.
The Pune Police made an explosive claim that it has also uncovered a conspiracy to assassinate the Prime Minister and suspects a large nationwide network secretly working for it.
The Brazenness of the State
The absurdity of these discoveries has since been discussed at length in the media.
But more than that we need to admire the utter brazenness of the State, which has, through these raids and arrests, nearly buried the question of responsibility of the violence that took place after an event on the eve of New Year at Bhima-Koregaon.
It was alleged that it was planned and executed by some Hindutvavadi groups. Instead of probing them, the Pune Police introduced an entirely new angle to the whole story, claiming that the event by the Dalits at Bhima-Koregaon was actually funded and supported by the Maoists, and was part of a larger design to create unrest in the country.
Though multiple raids across India on activists and intellectuals – active openly through their writing, speaking, and known for their record of standing up for the Dalits, tribals and the marginalised – an impression of a hidden network of Maoists was sought to be created. The Hindi media and a section of the electronic channels helped the government drive this theory deep into the popular mind.
The people were made to believe in the fiction of the gangs of nation-breakers being sheltered by universities like JNU and Hyderabad Central University by a helping media. That narrative has now been made more sensational by adding this new element of ‘anti-national, violent’ Maoists active in our backyards.
It was not a coincidence that the outfits affiliated to the BJP and the RSS launched a campaign at the Delhi University a year ago to free the campus from red terror. Meeting and seminars are being held across India to enlighten people about the threat of the dangerous Maoists masquerading as teachers, students, artists, filmmakers, etc.
It is said that the very openness of the urban spaces is being misused by the Maoists to further their agenda. A high-decibel campaign supported by the ministers of the central government is bound to impact the people who have no other channel of getting information than the Hindi newspapers and popular TV channels like the Zee TV.
A nationalist narrative is being woven by them in which the State is made one with the nation. And the government is the sole carrier of this nationalism. Any criticism of the government automatically turns into an attack on the State and the nation.
The Great Confusion in the Minds of the People
It is only 10 months and all of us have forgotten about the violence against the participants of the Bhima-Koregaon event.
Instead, we are busy discussing whether the arrested or raided activists are Maoists or not.
It looks absurd but it remains a reality that in the popular imagination, Maoists are seen as dangerous terrorists armed to their teeth and flushed with funds. They are funding Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid, and everyone who is doing something that is critical of the policies and actions of this government. When the writers and artists started their protest by returning State awards, the finance minister suggested that they were being funded by anti-nationals.
There are different kinds of activists working all over India. Some of them are openly sympathetic to the Maoist ideology and there are others who, even when differing or disagreeing with the Maoists, would defend their human rights as a matter of principle. It does not mean that they indulge in or support violent acts.
But the government has created a great confusion in the minds of the people. It is bizarre but even the Congress party is portrayed as conspiring with the Maoists or Naxals, since Rahul Gandhi chose to speak against the attack on student leaders like Kanhaiya or criticised the recent raids and the arrests of these activists.
There is no use talking about the significance of the work people like Anand Teltumbde, Stan Swamy, Sudha Bharadwaj or others are doing. The design to club different kinds of people together needs to be understood.
We must recall the warning the Prime Minister gave to to the judges just after taking over. He had told them that their judgments should not be influenced by the perception created by the five-star activists. It is important for this government to intimidate and silence this privileged and noisy class. The raids and arrests are part of this strategy.
A situation is being created in which the articulate section of the society, which keeps disturbing the nationalist narrative of the government, would just disappear.
The meaning of these arrests would be clear if we put them together with the attempt to take away from the University academics the right to speak and write freely, to disallow non-State views to be aired on campuses.
The objective is to let only one voice get echoed from all corners. What is disturbing is that most of us don’t find it disturbing at all.
(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.)