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Heart of darkness

by Dilip Simeon, 2 January 2010

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In 2006 I attended a discussion on Naxalism that included a retired police officer and a Maoist spokesman. The policeman called for soul-searching from the political class, whom he blamed for the rise of left-extremism. He defended the Salwa Judum, a force funded by corporates and supported by both Congress and BJP, whose atrocities are documented and whose existence was questioned by India’s chief justice.

The Maoist spokesman denounced the despotism of the Indian state — ironic, considering that he was freely espousing violent revolution from a public platform. I welcomed the call for introspection and asked whether officialdom too did not need to look within? Wasn’t Maoist violence symptomatic of something more far-reaching?

I asked whether only Naxalites indulge in lawless behaviour. Isn’t there evidence of politicians and policemen enabling massacres in 1984 and 2002? Thousands were killed by hooligans patronised by mainstream parties, but none of the instigators has been punished. Doesn’t our establishment regularly protect criminals? Jihadi violence is rightly denounced as terrorism, but why are communalists of another colour hailed as patriots?

During the Babri Masjid demolition campaign, a retired DGP of Uttar Pradesh joined the VHP and called for India’s Muslims to be stripped of voting rights. Charged with hatred, this campaign cost the lives of some 1500 citizens in 1990 and 3000 in 1992. Some years ago a retired director of the CBI exhorted the Bajrang Dal’s ’patriotic’ activities at its annual function. Senior retired functionaries of RAW openly sympathise with the RSS.

Officers in UP and Maharashtra have been promoted despite strictures against them by commissions of inquiry. People are entitled to hold extreme views, however much we may dislike them. The question is that of using one’s formal power to promote lawlessness. It is here that every mainstream party carries a burden of guilt.

Conversely, many serving officers paid a price for upholding the Constitution. A senior police officer of Gujarat testified about the government’s incitement of criminal activities in 2002. He was transferred and denied his promotion. Several officers in Gujarat were transferred for curbing communal rioters. If Maoism is a challenge to Indian security; how may we describe the elite’s own brand of extremism?

In a recently televised discussion, P Chidambaram was asked about land acquisition. (A report by the rural development ministry has referred to corporate activities in mineral-rich regions as "the biggest grab of tribal lands since Columbus.") Dodging the question, Chidambaram discussed the benefits of modernity. He did not address Schedule 5, that protects tribal land from appropriation; nor its systematic violation. The devastation of scheduled areas shows that the question is not of ’development’, but development of what kind and at whose cost.

On November 20, two Adivasis were killed by the Orissa police in Koraput district. They had joined a demonstration by the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha against atrocities committed during combing operations. Tribals speak of beatings, abuse and confiscation of agricultural implements. Meanwhile a satyagraha march protesting the reign of terror in Chhattisgarh has been prevented from reaching Dantewada. Gandhian activists are assaulted by the police for refusing to co-operate with the Salwa Judum. Does the law of the land not apply to Chhattisgarh? If the Union can assist the states fight insurgency, must it not also safeguard constitutional freedoms?

For their part, Maoists speak of the ongoing war against India’s people. But war is the central motif of their politics. Having launched "peoples’ war" 42 years ago, they now want the support of democratic opinion. Can assassination be a democratic right? The Maoist programme works in tandem with the communalists and corporates to further erode human rights. It is not capitalists but the poor who pay the price. After the Maoists assassinated a VHP Swami in Kandhamal in August 2008, the Sangh Parivar assaulted Christian villagers, resulting in massive displacements and deaths. The comrades left the people to their fate. Collateral damage yet again.

In November 1947 the AICC warned that "the activities of the Muslim National Guards, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Akali Volunteers and such other organisations... represent an endeavour to bring into being private armies, (and) must be regarded as a menace to the hard-won freedom of the country." The proliferation of private armies in India over the decades proves the foresight of this warning. "Once crime was as solitary as a cry of protest"; said Albert Camus; "now it is as universal as science. Yesterday it was put on trial; today it determines the law." Sadly, some citizens sympathise with criminality. This is the dilemma of our country and our time.

The author is a Delhi-based academic