Friday, March 12, 2010
Indian Media Unearths Alleged “Maoist Operation” in Delhi
This article appeared in Tehelka.
‘May You Live in Interesting Times’
The Maoists and Us
Could the cry of “Maoist terrorists” be the Congress led UPA governmet’s equivalent of the cry of “Islamic terrorists” during the BJP led NDA government? — asks PK Vijayan, Assistant Professor of English, Hindu College, Delhi University
On 20th February, the Hindustan Times, reporting on the chargesheet produced by the Delhi Police against Kobad Ghandy, stated that Ghandy was alleged to have been in direct contact with GN Sai Baba, a professor in Delhi University, and who is alleged to be in control of the CPI (Maoist)’s tactical counter offensive against Operation Greenhunt. Reporting on the same chargesheet, on the same date, the Times of India reported the investigators’ claim that civil rights groups like the PUDR and PUCL were actively helping the Maoists to spread their base; while Mail Today stated that there was an active Maoist operation amongst Delhi University students, specifically identifying the Democratic Students Union (DSU). Elaborating on this same chargesheet report the next day, the HT adds that a prominent research scholar and a human rights activist have been specifically identified by Ghandy as Maoist leaders in the capital, although they are not named by the newspaper. Interestingly, each of these details appears only in the particular newspaper mentioned, and not in any of the other papers: like the blind men and the elephant, it is as if each has ‘found’ something unique in the chargesheet, that characterises the contents of that document – but unlike the blind men in the story, who after all are each seeking to describe the same beast but end up describing only the part that they sense, these newspapers presumably all have access to the same ‘beast’ in its entirety (i.e., the chargesheet), but have chosen to report only on specific – but different – aspects of the extensive Maoist network that it alleges exists in Delhi. What, we may ask, is going on?
Very simply, if each newspaper reports on any one branch of this alleged Maoist network, each will have apparently reported something unique; further, each newspaper’s readership will have been made aware of one crucial way in which the Maoist ‘menace’ is apparently already in their neighbourhood, and spreading like a virus. But the total effect of all the reports is the imaging of a hydra, a Ravana, a many-headed monster conceived in the savage and distant tribal terrains of Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh and Orissa, and that is now slouching towards the safe cosmopolitan world of the NCR to be born. What is most disturbing in this picture – which would be fantastically ridiculous if it were not so dangerous – is that the heads of this monster that have been identified in the newspapers are intellectuals, civil rights bodies and university student organisations: the classic sites of dissent in any free society. In other words, Operation Green Hunt (or OGH) is no longer just ‘out there’, but is now itself slouching around in the NCR: dissent towards OGH is gradually itself being targeted under OGH.
Troublingly, sections of the press appear to be participating – wittingly or unwittingly – in this urbanisation of OGH. The fact is that if each of these papers had presented all that the others had also reported, the larger picture would have been self-evident, the elephant would have stood revealed as the state preparing to trample on intellectual dissent. One does not need to be particularly gifted visually or intellectually to see the connection between intellectuals, university students and civil rights activists. Every modern state has sought to control these sections of its society – and usually the press too – precisely because they have always been sources of political discomfort. When the press decides to go along with the state, or confines itself to being the voice of the state, it must ring a bell for us – in this case a very loud alarm bell, that tolls the names of Joseph Goebbels, over and over again. The question before us is, did the newspapers noted above choose to remain blind men? Or were their reporters deliberately fed partial information by the police, to ensure that the fear of the Maoist virus spreading would be treated as a ‘real’ threat, and not be perceived for what it patently is: a strategy for clamping down on any questioning of the government’s armed offensive against large populations of its own citizenry, in the name of cleansing the Maoist ‘infection’? Even if it was the latter, it was and is incumbent on any press worth its name – as another important site of dissent in any free society – to have sought out the information in its entirety, before rushing to press. Otherwise, in true Goebbelsian fashion, it will simply be blindly repeating the lies, over and over again, till the lies become the truth.
That this did not happen, for whatever reason, is closely related to another issue, which is the absence in the mainstream press and media in general, of any real understanding of or interest in the anxieties and apprehensions that OGH has given rise to, and of the consequent concern over it. This anxiety and concern has been emanating from several very diverse quarters, and essentially pertains to whether it is appropriate for the state to take arms against its own citizenry. Very few of these voices may be considered even remotely sympathetic to the Maoist cause; several of them have explicitly, repeatedly and sometimes even vehemently spoken against it. Irrespective of their take on Maosim, however, these voices have focused on the fact that OGH is an operation that is unconstitutional, violative of fundamental human rights and pretty evidently underway in order to further the interests of big corporate investments in the ‘infested’ areas. They have repeatedly sought to point out that the perceived ‘infestation’ actually constitutes the local tribal populations living there. If large sections of the tribal populations in these areas – threatened with displacement, destitution and/or violent death at the hands of big-money private armies and/or the state’s own military and paramilitary apparatus – should choose to resist this apparently inexorable process of internal colonisation, sometimes violently, then should we in Delhi be surprised? Delhi’s denizens are now world-famous for resorting to fists, lathis and the odd baseball bat on what might be considered the slightest provocation: it might be a neighbour parking his car in my space, or another’s washing hanging over my balcony – our sense of our space as sacred is powerful. Then, when the tribal – for whom it is not parking space but her very livelihood, history and future that are being stolen with her land – decides to protest, should we not be stirred by sympathy? If we are not, we need to wonder why we are not. And at least part of the reason for that is because we have been buying into the Goebbelsian lies of the state: that these tribal movements are all controlled and managed by Naxals/Maoists; or that the tribals are actually being coerced by Maoists; or that there are no tribals, only Maoists. That these are people fighting for rights sanctioned to them under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, is a fact that gets drowned in all the noise.
The Indian state – which is thus explicitly enjoined by the Constitution (among other documents) to protect the social and economical interests of tribals in these scheduled areas – is financially and politically too deeply invested in the project of clearing these areas and making them accessible to corporate exploitation, to acknowledge this. It would lose legitimacy and become a global scandal. Or it would simply reveal what most states under this stage of capitalism are doing. Hence the extended exercise of labelling all tribals protesting its actions ‘Maoist’; all intellectual and civil rights attempts to dissuade it, ‘Maoist sympathisers’; and all dissent in general is increasingly being viewed as ‘terrorist’. This, as will be easily recognised, has long been the hallmark of McCarthyism. And as with that form of political repression, no doubt a chain of arrests will be initiated based on ostensible ‘confessions’, beginning with Kobad Ghandy’s, and spreading out in a network that will be produced as Maoist, with no way of knowing if it actually is.
It is particularly instructive that Joseph McCarthy’s strategy of labelling all dissent ‘communist’ arose at a time when the capitalist economy of the United States was, post-Depression, impatiently seeking to lose the shackles of Franklin Roosevelt’s socially oriented New Deal policies. Thus, any policy that carried even a whiff of being social-welfarist was immediately branded communist and dumped, and its proponents attacked socially, politically and legally.
The parallels are clear with our own context: we live, as the old Chinese curse goes, in interesting times – when our own capitalism is kicking with impatience at obstacles to (irony of ironies!) ‘economic reforms’; when its increasing population of dollar billionaires are panting to go forth and multiply their billions by raping the hinterlands of the country; when the state is itself eager to role back measures like the PDS and to massively fudge figures on poverty, even as prices of especially essential commodities continue to escalate and farmers continue to commit suicide; when ‘Islamic terror’ – that bogeyman that allowed the BJP to simultaneously terrorise the Muslim community as well as steamroll its own version of economic reforms through – has given way to the ‘red terror’ of ‘Maoism’ (after all, the Congress can’t be seen as anti-Islamic), but to the exact same end. While there may appear to be a kind of poetic irony in our own Chinese curse seeming to be Maoism, the not so poetic fact is that it is not the spectre of Maoism that haunts the land today but the multiple spectres of unbridled corporate capitalism, state collusion with and participation in this capitalist expansionism, the consequent and unprecedented assault on the lives and livelihoods of millions of tribals in the ‘infected’ areas. And the ideological cover for all this in our own brand of McCarthyism: OGH or ‘anti-Maoism’ (which is less of a mouthful than Chidambaramism, although that would probably be a more accurate term). (We shall for now not even touch upon the absurdity, in an ostensible democracy, of banning an ideology, as has happened with Maoism; who or what, we might well ask, even if we do not subscribe to this ideology, is being sought to be protected by this ban?) The Indian state is, it seems, learning well from Joseph Goebbels and Joseph McCarthy; perhaps it will very soon look to Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge too. And it seems, the first to be purged from the metropolises will be the nuisances identified above: inconvenient intellectuals, university students and civil rights activists who will all be identified as ‘Maoists’ (never mind that they may actually be socialists, Gandhians, environmentalists or other such ‘beasts’) and removed from ‘shining India’. And once the intellectuals and activists and students are disposed of, Mr. P (Joseph?) Chidambaram will no doubt find an able ally in Mr. Kapil Sibal, to ensure that they do not surface again – for the latter as we know, is already working hard to dismantle the higher education system and sack it off to private and foreign institutional interests – but that is another tale. Suffice it for now to reiterate that, thanks to Mr. Chidambaram and his ilk, we do indeed live in interesting times, and all the interest is accumulating in the pockets of our dollar billionaires.