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It was 2011, that election for change. Travelling from Darjeeling-Siliguri down Bengal, one reached Lalgarh with a friend-photographer in tow. An attack on then CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharyya and a blockade by locals had led to a crackdown. A red alert was still on. Reaching a government-forsaken

Published: 31st August 2018 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 31st August 2018 01:19 AM   |  A+A-

soumyadip sinha

It was 2011, that election for change. Travelling from Darjeeling-Siliguri down Bengal, one reached Lalgarh with a friend-photographer in tow. An attack on then CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharyya and a blockade by locals had led to a crackdown. A red alert was still on. Reaching a government-forsaken tribal zone after passing through Kharagpur, with its famous IIT, was in itself surreal. A stark reminder of how India’s absolute incompatibilities coexist cheek by jowl.

A visit to the police post was mandatory before going in. If we were not back by sundown, they couldn’t ensure our safety, they warned. It was not without a bit of anxiety that we took that single tarred road that led us to Lalgarh, the ‘Maoist zone’.The tribal man sat in the front court of his single-room mud-hut, inebriated, shrivelled and shrunken. “Chhatradhar said don’t support the Maoists, we’ll fight for our constitutional rights, get school, college, health centre, sports, job cards,” he intoned, unprompted. “But they took him away. All we got was a BSF food, no job, no school, no forest rights...”

Chhatradhar Mahato, the only graduate of his village, dreaming dreams of becoming a political leader, had been picked up for alleged links with Maoists. Once he was gone, the real Maoists actually landed up, forcefully took away the boys, including Mahato’s brother, into the jungles. A BSF post was the obvious corollary. 

In the innards of tribal India, the lines get very blurred. When the UPA had planned Operation Green Hunt in the ‘red corridor’ under P Chidambaram’s home ministership, the mainstream Left was most perturbed about the plan for aerial attacks. How would the red flag of a mainstream parliamentary Left party be distinguished from that of the Maoists, they asked. Anyway, the idea was aborted, not least because the Air Force for one was not comfortable about striking at Indian citizens.

Maoist presence in central India has largely dissipated, they say; some even indicate a near-wipeout. Even if that’s taken with a pinch of salt, a lot more noise is filling the airwaves on account of a kindred catchphrase: #UrbanNaxals. Floated by Vivek Agnihotri, an alleged Bollywood filmmaker famous for being on Twitter (and who once described the idea of India as a broken Barbie doll cradled by a mad woman), how much prime play it got was a sign of the nihilistic space we are entering.

The phrase has been used as a validating idea in the crackdown on prominent civil rights activists, lawyers, management gurus, poets, academics and intellectuals in the past few months. Six of them were saved from transit remand by the Supreme Court, which talked of the necessity of dissent, and ordered a mere house arrest for them. (Not coincidental how that sounds as if another edgeland, Kashmir, has somehow seeped into the mainland!)

There’s a list being compiled on Twitter on who all can be branded  #UrbanNaxals, by the same gang, one of whose members tweeted that everyone on that list should be shot dead by the cops—or else he could volunteer. Who are on the list? Historians, journalists, academics, lawyers, intellectuals, even Supreme Court judges! Twitter had to suspend the handle.

Keeping this blood sport on social media aside, it’s not clear even to the courts why exactly the Pune police found it necessary to arrest Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves. The charges: “inciting violence and enmity between communities” (read, between Brahmins/Marathas and Dalits). Venue: at Elgaar Parishad, a day before the 200th year commemoration of the Peshwa army’s final defeat by the Dalit Mahar troops at Bhima-Koregaon turned into a violent clash.

Bharadwaj and Navlakha, by all available accounts, were not even present at Elgaar Parishad. It’s hard to believe anyway that a conference organised by two retired judges, P B  Sawant (former SC judge) and B G Kolse Patil (former Bombay High Court judge) would have been a platform for inciting caste violence. And those earlier found complicit by the same police force, right-wing stormtroopers Sambhaji Rao Bhide and Milind Ekbote, have meanwhile been let off on bail.

Why did the investigation take such a dramatic turn? Here social media comes in again. Tushar Damgude, a businessman/writer of inflammatory Facebook posts, said to be a follower of Bhide, lodged an FIR implicating these five. On what grounds it’s not known except that he thinks Bharadwaj and Navlakha are versions of Osama Bin Laden.

The purported recovery of a letter allegedly plotting to assassinate the PM has also been mentioned, as also an attempt to float an ‘anti-fascist front’. Why the latter would be a crime is another mystery. Since the credibility of the Pune police probe is not exactly very high given the judicial strictures passed on it on Wednesday, looking to it for answers may not be fruitful. Anyway, the incident has brought the focus back on the subterranean Dalit unrest. (Urban Naxals are only a distraction.)

Since Rohith Vemula and Una, there has been a sense of unease in the ruling BJP about a growing Dalit youth conflagration against it. As three decades of growth winds down, the BJP is facing antagonism from the youth, always naturally anti-establishment. Its Dalit articulation is further imbued with a politics of justice.

How can a crackdown on ageing left-of-centre activists arrest that? The trails are blurred, with identity politics and leftism in conflict all along the axes of social justice movements, the zones of their interface. Angry OBC and SC/ST youth signal a new phenomenon: a further democratisation of education. The category confusion that underlies right-wing denunciations misses its essence.

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