Some Thoughts on the Latest Arrests of “Urban Naxals”

(Image coutesy: PTI and Firstpost)

The recent arrests of “human rights activists” or “urban Naxals”, depending on which channel you are tuned in to, shows again how difficult it is to deal with the Naxalism problem in India.

It is easy to make out those who provides the boots on the ground, wearing as they are military fatigues and carrying deadly automatic firearms, and deal with them as you do with enemy combatants.

Enabling though, which is what I believe defines the label “Urban Naxal”, is impossible to define, and even more impossible to legislate.

It is because short of carrying, storing, and distributing arms and making payments for direct procurement of said arms, much of what constitutes greater Naxalite activity is protected by law. Lawyers have every right to defend Naxalites in courts, doctors are oath-bound to provide them medical help, professors are allowed to challenge the existing order and provoke.

It is not illegal for the Roys to justify violence on the Indian state by calling Naxals as “Gandhiians with guns” or for the advancement of the good violence-bad violence argument—that the violence of the powerless is noble, the violence of those that are in power is not. It might be illegal, because of British era sedition era laws, to ask for the breakup for the country in so many words, but you can easily do the “wet sari move of 90s Bollywood”, that is do what you want to do, but after putting a white sari and water on it,  you can put Hindu patriarchial savarna hegemony as a placeholder for the Indian state, you can totally get creative, and legitimately side-step the law. This is incidentally why our favorite krantikaari Umar Khalid denies in every interview that he was part of the gang which raised “Bharat ke tukde honge” because he knows that’s illegal and could lead to jail time, which means less time in front of the media, promoting his personal brand. But then he praises Burhan Wani, a Kashmiri separatist and terrorist, which he knows is legal, the “Choli main dil hai mera” pullback, which then allows his supporters in the media to moan “Haaaaaaiiii” in that Ila Arun quarter-orgasm style, even though, if you think of it, supporting the dissolution of India and supporting a man who is working towards the dissolution of India is not much different.

Which brings me to the fundamental problem of fighting Naxalism. The people who want the destruction of the Constitution fight their battles under the protection of the same Constitution, those people who want to dismember India as a nation seek the protection afforded by the same nation. I know there is more iron in that irony than in Bailadila, but that is the price of being a democracy. “Screw the laws, screw due process, just throw the anti-nationals all into jail” might be a good talking point on your Whatsapp group, but just cannot be what drives law enforcement. Rounding up a few of those considered as enablers might provide good optics for a week, and one might even convince a lower court judge as to their culpability, but inevitably most of these cases get overturned at the higher courts, because law enforcement cannot make the connection between their legitimate activities and those that are demonstrably illegitimate.  And once that happens, the narrative of the oppressiveness of the Indian state is strengthened and further legitimized.

Take for example, the latest arrests. Take for example, one individual, Ms. Sudha Bharadwaj. And take for example, one of the accusations against her, of being part of a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister. The sole evidence provided for this, so far, has been a handwritten letter, purportedly from her, asking for a Rajiv Gandhi-style assassination attempt on the Prime Minister, a letter that to my knowledge was first shown to the world by Republic TV, and then cited by Maharashtra Police, and not, again as far as I know, part of a NIA investigation, which it should be, if it indeed was such a conspiracy.

There is a lot going here that does not pass the smell test. Someone putting down in a letter “I want to kill the Prime Minister” is kind of like Shakti Kapoor as Batuknath, the confidence trickster, talking to the camera, while dancing in delight: “Main lakhpati banoonga, sab kuch mera, haan sab kuch mera”. Funny in Chaalbaaz, not so much as in evidence. Second, if Sudha Bharadwaj is the supreme mastermind as she is being claimed to be, she would know that killing the sitting Prime Minister, without doubt the politician in India today with the biggest personal brand, would give the same “Hindu fascist forces” that the people of her ideological persuasion so obviously despise, the 2019 election in a gift wrap, and the next one too, even with two demonetizations in the middle, given the sympathy wave that would be generated.

It just doesn’t make any sense. The extreme Left may be a lot of things, but they are not stupid.

But let’s turn it around. What if she was guilty, no matter how unlikely I personally believe that to be the case. The thing is that our law enforcement agencies are not able to make charges stick when it comes to “anti-national” acts. Geelani walked. Afzal Guru almost walked. Kasab was unlucky, he got caught on tape and with a gun in his hand.

They fail for two reasons. Firstly, their own lack of investigative competence. They have turf wars, they want to talk to the media first, they do bad detective work, then use strong arm to cover up bad detective work, they do not follow standard procedure during detention, and they neglect the small things, wrong names and wrong dates and inconsistent charge-sheets.  Needless to say, they get exposed on every one of them in court.

They get exposed that bad because of reason number two, the people representing those accused of “anti-national” violence, are pretty much the very best legal minds India has. If you think Chennai Super Kings has the most committed fans, well whistle podu to you. They can get Justices to get up at mid-night, they can get the courts to act with a speed that common people can only dream of, and when they stand in court, they bring the full authority of their personas and their reputations and the full power of their indignant outrage to bear.

If you are going to go up against this well-oiled machinery, the government has to have all their ducks in a row. Which they pretty much never do.

Now the counter-argument is that even the government knows that they cannot convict, that the punishment is the process. This is of course true for most of us working a nine to five job, armchair whatsapp activists at best, being arrested and having regular court dates would pretty much break us for good. But we are not talking about us, we are talking about activists, pretty extra-ordinary people, those who believe in something, for whom the cause is bigger than their own individual interests, which is why I, despite disagreeing vehemently with them politically, still respect their commitment.

Kejriwal they are not.

For these individuals, the process is not as much punishment, as it is the ultimate validation of their struggle. It also brings attention to their individual causes, Dr. Binayak Sen became an icon after he was arrested, and I am sure that many who had not heard of Sudha Bharadwaj before will know hear of her, and I am not just talking about Sharma uncle who lives in the corner house, but Sweden and Norway, and human rights bodies, and people with funds and influence.

While we remain, more than ever a nation divided, depending on whether you follow NDTV and The Wire vs Times Now and Republic, what I believe we should all agree on, in the political interests of all concerned, is to insist that our government have a coordinated investigative and media outreach policy when it does such high-profile arrests, that the government goes all out or not at all, that they move only after they have collected enough evidence using legally validated means, in a way that gives them a high chance of conviction, that they do their prep work before coming to the exam hall.

Again I may be proven wrong, but based on what I see, that does not seem to be the case.


15 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on the Latest Arrests of “Urban Naxals”

  1. Rajeswari Narayanan September 3, 2018 — 11:50 pm

    Right on all counts ! Sadly so!

  2. So then, what do you think may be the reason why all these people were arrested? You have perfectly explained what can happen in the future, but there may be some agenda which the government may not be openly stating.
    I don’t buy the modi plot for all these different personalities. They almost seem disconnected.

    1. I can conjecture but I don’t have any facts to back it up

      1. You can probably give your view, then the ndtvs view to as ‘may not be true’ and republics view as ‘I doubt if it’s true’ and some totally nonsense possibility with disclaimer ‘who knows, it could be anything’.

        No one seems to be answering that part convincingly

  3. A very thorough analysis. Kudos!

  4. A logical and well written piece. Perhaps, you could have elaborated a little (like you did in your podcast) on the dangers of justifying ‘violence by the oppressed’ advanced by some in the garb of ‘Gandhians with guns’ or some such logic/metaphor. If that argument is accepted, then violence by ‘oppressed’ Kashmiri Pandits or even some Sanatan Sanstha people (on their logic that ‘Hindu’ culture and values are under threat and needs to be resisted with violence) may also get some traction.

  5. Your entire analysis is wrong. The case against most of these activists appears very strong if the letters are not fabricated. I’m not convinced any of the letter are fabrications. If Maharashtra police had to create forged letters, it would have added a lot more juicy details to frame the activists. The reason these naxals do not get convicted is probably because many of the judges are left liberals and sympathize with the movement. Kamlesh Tiwary continues to rot in jail and Col Purohit’s appeal to set up SIT gets dismissed by SC. It is obvious that the entire top brass of our judiciary belong to the “left liberal” camp.

    “The extreme Left may be a lot of things, but they are not stupid.”

    Actually, they are. Any militant movement against the mighty state can only be a result of stupidity. Or rather, emotions overriding rationality. Didn’t Prabhakaran didn’t realize that killing PM of India would be akin to signing death warrant of LTTE? He did it anyway and as a result all traces of the organization were wiped out from Tamil Nadu. Left wing extremists don’t understand reality. They believe Modi is a Hitlerish character who needs to be eradicated by hook or by crook to prevent takeover by fascist forces. Look at the plethora of childish Hollywood plots of going back in time and killing Hitler. They actually believe that if Hitler would have been murdered there would have been no nazism. These morons believe that if Modi is killed, he would be replaced by a moderate leader and fascism would be averted. (I’ve commie friends who have actually said these words!)

    “Dr. Binayak Sen became an icon after he was arrested, and I am sure that many who had not heard of Sudha Bharadwaj before will know hear of her,”

    Binayak Sen has become a non-entity. He isn’t capable of winning any elections for the left. Ultimately, its a battle of votes. The left has been totally discredited and these arrests will discredit them even more. The congress, by cozening up with the leftists, is loosing its relevance day by day though it may not be visible on facebook liberal groups where the left liberals appear to be winning. Living in US and relying on mainstream media or facebook won’t give you the true picture of the churn that has been happening in India, The rapid disintegration of AAP which is a political front of urban naxals and was groomed as an alternative to congress and left has proved that BJP’s strategy of taking them on aggressively has paid off. The same aggressiveness is required to demolish the non-political naxals in our midst.

  6. What you see as incompetence, I see as deliberate sabotage. From the prosecutor’s selected, to the way evidence is presented, it has happened too many times to not be sabotage.

    Indian police is pretty good – when it wants to be, and when it is allowed to be.

  7. I disagree. The state should not afford dignity to the Communists. They must be crushed but it must be done quietly.

  8. Full Marx to you on the B Bollywood movie analogy, and apt considering Prabhuji is a former Naxal.

    But seriously, huge and yawning inequalities seen in societies today are flashing a red sign today. If the 20th century is any guide, this will lead to the rise of fascistic identitarian AND socialist redistributionist ideologies with the clash between them and today’s nation states playing out in conventional and online media; as well as in violence. We are only seeing a tiny part of the struggle, which is history in action.

    1. The route cause of all evils of our country are the result of legacy of “Divide and Rule” policy handed over or passed on to Indians by Britishers before leaving India. When critically analysed, it will be noticed that behind every decision, action, law or rule, there is shade or taste of this policy. Disparity in all Indians on social, economic,education, jobs and businesses, housing and hospital facilities,income, religions and castes etc are deliberate to ensure few enjoy the full benefits of this “divide and rule” approach.
      Even linguistic states, their boundaries, rivers and minerals, natural resources are not spared and used fully to divide Indians all the times.
      This situation is fully exploited and used against our country by outside people with the help of our own people who also want to enjoy the fruits of this “divide and Rule” policy.

  9. Naxalism is not just about a place or even a party but it is also an idea – and putting people behind bars will do absolutely nothing to suppress it but only bring it to attention of a wider section of society.

    1. It had its moment in history once, about 40 years ago. No longer.

  10. I think a “Baby” is the best option.

  11. The analysis is right. The present mechanisms of the Indian democracy are too easily subverted deliberately to be effective in crushing these elements, who are using the very freedoms and protections that the Indian state grants in order to wreck it from within. Their aim is to replace India with a version of North Korea.

    How about doing a Putin and have these people “deaded” or “suicided” or “disappeared” conveniently?

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