Recently on 28 August 2018, the Pune (Maharashtra) police arrested five activists in a nationwide crack-down in several cities for their alleged Maoist links in connection with the Elgaar Parishad and Bhima-Koregaon violence case. The police then produced the arrested individuals in different courts for seeking their remand; however, the supporters of the alleged activists, mostly left leaning intellectuals and academician activists filed a petition in the Supreme Court following day seeking the immediate release from police custody of all arrested activists. The Maharashtra Police submitted to the Apex court that the activists were arrested for their Maoist links and plan to spread violence in the country, and not for expressing 'dissent' as alleged in petition. The court, however, directed the Centre and Maharashtra government to respond to the petition challenging the arrests by stipulated date and put the activists under the house-arrest till such time. While delivering the judgment, the Apex Court made an interesting observation, "Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If you don't allow the safety valve pressure cooker will burst".
The release of alleged activists was celebrated by supporters citing it as the major win of democracy and human rights. Here are the salient points of what transpired between the arrest and the intervention of the Apex court:
- Petitioners submitted that the arrests of the five activists (A proclaimed Human Rights activist and journalist, two Lawyer-cum-activists, a Maoist ideologue-poet and a writer-columnist) were meant to muzzle dissent. According to them, all the five persons are peace loving, innocent and renowned citizens and human rights activists. They said that people who actually spread terror in the society through assassination and lynching should be arrested and not the peaceful human rights activists. A famous historian-petitioner questioned if the arrests were a demonstration to show that the democratic rights of citizens have been annulled.
- The Pune police argued that the activists had links with Maoist groups and there was conclusive proof that they actually worked in nexus with unlawful groups with deliberate involvement in a larger conspiracy to spread violence in the country. The police also submitted that the accused were planning to recruit members from many colleges and launch attacks.
- The activists were charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) which allows raid and arrest without warrant if the person is suspected to "support terrorist acts or unlawful activities", with restrictions on bail and allowing 180 days to the police to file charge sheet. The suspects were produced in three courts at Pune, Mumbai and Delhi but the proceedings were superseded by the intervention of the Supreme Court.
- Apart from the sharp reactions from the left leaning activists (including a press conference in Delhi’s Press Club), the police crack-down became a flashpoint between the government and the opposition too. While the Communist Party of India (Marxists) leaders expressed their resolve to fight government for the human rights, the Congress Chief tweeted, “There is only place for one NGO in India and it's called the RSS. Shut down all other NGOs. Jail all activists and shoot those that complain. Welcome to the new India.”
- The ruling party spokesperson argued against politics over these arrests reminding that the Congress Chief had forgotten how his own party and earlier prime minister had on several occasions held Maoist “urban naxals” as a bigger threat than those engaging in in guerilla warfare in jungles.
Elgaar Parishad and Bhima-Koregaon Incident
On 31 December 2017, a huge and passionate gathering ‘Elgaar Parishad’ comprising of the socio-political activists and leaders was organized in Pune mobilizing participants and audience from far and near places. Two retired judges-turned-activists staked claim as chief organizers to have organized and funded the said meet. Many speakers allegedly made fiercely revolutionary and inflammatory anti-establishment speeches during the meeting while emphasizing their commitment to fight against the allegedly repressive economic, social and cultural policies of the Modi (present prime minister) regime. The Elgaar Parishad followed another large scale gathering at Bhima-Koregaon next day on 1st January 2018 wherein large scale violence broke out between upper caste and lower scheduled caste people.
The term Elgaar implies to a loud invitation or proclamation which, the organizers feel was necessary to save the Constitution and the nation which are in danger since the right-wing party headed by Mr Modi came in power in 2014. Thus the Bhima-Koregaon incident refers to violence that occurred during the annual celebration at the place to mark the 200th year of the Battle of Bhima-Koregaon. While the gathering largely comprised of the lower scheduled castes, some upper caste Maratha people allegedly interfered that led to the escalation of the already tensed situation. The consequent clashes resulted in one death and injury to several dozen people and policemen. The incident was followed by Maharashtra bandh by the scheduled caste organizations on 3rd January with protests all over Maharashtra by the various groups for the next few days, with the opposition parties too joining the cause and chorus for own political reasons. Historically, a battle was fought in Koregaon on 1st January 1818 between the British East India Company supported by the local Mahar (scheduled caste) community and the army of Peshwas, in which the latter had to retreat. Ever since, the local lower caste communities commemorate the occasion as a mark of their pride and valour.
Organizers and Police Versions
Two retired judges, the conveners of Elgaar Parishad, do not deny their left leaning and claim that they were the main organizers and sole funders of the Elgaar meet. According to them, the aim of the Parishad was to spread the message of fighting communal forces because Mr Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government is harassing and arresting activists who speak against the excesses of the state. They consider themselves rational thinkers who are fighting to save the Constitution and nation because the right-wing forces neither respect Constitution nor believe in democracy, secularism and socialism. They also complain that the most of the activists are being falsely implicated while cases filed against the two Hindutva leaders have not progressed at all.
However, the Maharashtra police have a different version. According to their construct, the event was organized and funded by the members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) which was banned by the government in June 2009 for their un-lawful and anti-national activities. According to them, while being responsible for instigating violence at Bhima-Koregaon, the chief aim of members of the banned organization was to spreading “rebellious thoughts” among people and establishing a nationwide anti-fascist front to wage war against the government and security forces. Also the date 31st December for the Elgaar meet was a strategic move coinciding with lakhs of people gathering at nearby Koregaon Bhima (about 30-35 Km) on the following day for the commemorative occasion.
With two entirely opposite versions, it is difficult to arrive at the truth or any conclusion. However, the attempts of politicizing police action by the organizers and opposition is incomprehensible. Though the opposition National party has taken lead in a propaganda against the government and police action but it is difficult to digest the fact that some of the same activists were arrested and prosecuted for the naxal links and anti-national activities during the earlier government regime only a few years back and now the same political party is giving them a clean chit glorifying them human rights activists and renowned citizens. Of the five people arrested by the Maharashtra police in connection with Bhima-Koregaon violence, at least three of them namely Varvara Rao, Vernon Gonzalves and Arun Ferreira, more particularly Rao, have a long history of arrests, conviction and imprisonment for their naxalite links and disruptive activities in the respective states under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) under the Congress and other regional parties’ governments.
The then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on several occasions had termed naxalism as “the greatest internal security threat to our country” and had simultaneously underlined the measures taken by his government to deal with their menace. In fact, way back at the Chief Ministers’ meet on Naxalism on 13 April 2006, he had given a long speech exclusively on naxalism citing the details of the threat posed by the naxalites and measures to tackle it in the country. It is interesting to observe that, with the change of guards, now the same political party finds these activists with proven naxal links in the past as intellectuals and human rights activists. The scholar/academics petitioners Romilla Thaper Inc see them as peaceful and respectable citizens with human cause conveniently ignoring to mention in the petition their past activities including arrests, conviction or imprisonment. One wonders if it should not tantamount to a case of misleading the Apex court on facts.
Doubting the motive of the state police, particularly for taking action to detain some activists for further interrogation after months of investigation and based on earlier arrests in same case and seizure of many incriminating documents may not be a fair idea. According to the admission of the chief organizers, they had invited a large number of like-minded organizations at the event. This would necessitate a huge funding, information network and coordination; and it is beyond a rational imagination that two retired judges-turn- activists would have necessary resources to bear the cost.
Who Are They?
As such the term Naxalite or Naxal has been coined from the Naxalbari, which is a village in West Bengal well known for a revolt in 1967 of poor peasants against the landowners and local government seeking their right to the crops in the cultivable land. The militant peasants’ uprisings led to several clashes and deaths triggering countrywide unrest and agitation by the left-wing which later turned in a movement against the democracy and Government of India. Inspired by Mao’s people’s war in China, conceptually the ultras of the left wing believe that power grows out of the barrel of guns and democracy is a slogan of hypocrites that must be replaced with people’s government. The present round of conflict with the government and security forces has a history from 2004 with the formation of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) which was declared a banned underground organization in June 2009.
The naxalite movement had started under the leadership of Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal, and gradually it spread in other parts of the country. Currently, they dominate with partial control in certain pockets in states like Orissa, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Jharkand, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, with such pockets known as ‘Red Corridor’. Their mission could be defined as converting India into a communist state through revolution (armed struggle) which they try to execute through kidnapping and killing of civilians, government officials and members of the security forces. To an extent, the Indian Communists and Maoists have similar ideology albeit the former do not indulge in or endorse violence and armed struggle. But their concept of nationalism and patriotism has always been debatable. It is a well-known fact that during Sino-Indian War in 1962, the communists supported China and, consequently, they were placed under detention hundreds in number.
Deeply influenced with the communist ideology, some white- and pink-collared persons in urban centres (small and metropolitan cities) engaged self in promoting and spreading the naxalite agenda. They provide ideological support, spread and create an environment in support of naxals and even covertly facilitate them in procuring propaganda and war material (i.e. pamphlets, films, arms, ammunition, explosives etc.). Instead of using guns, these people use pen, platforms and films to facilitate their cause; they tap platforms like institutions/colleges, cultural centres, media and film industry. People of this latter category are identified as ‘Urban Naxals’, a relatively new term that one may perhaps not find in any recognized dictionary.
They are not directly or physically involved in the Maoist attacks on people, government officials and security forces but certainly serve as ideological spearheads and motivational force to carry out such attacks on ground. Instead of the traditional gun-trotting and hideous naxals, they operate in the society with the deceptive identity as NGOs, professors, human right activists, lawyers, journalists etc. and covertly work on the Maoist agenda in disguise of activists. The name urban naxal has been ascribed to these people because of their deceptive appearance. While working against the state, some of them go even to the extent of working in the interest of the enemies in the foreign nations or organizations.
How they Operate!
Ideologically, these people are mostly seen as anti-establishment and critic of security forces whom they try to project as enemy of people. They project their image as proletariat and often seen sympathizing with Maoists as poor, tortured and desperate people. There is a well-known activist and writer who has more than ones targeted the Indian army with allegations that they use rape as a weapon and also openly spoken in favour of the independence of the states like Kashmir and Manipur. They are the part of the support system in urban centres that covertly guide, advise and facilitate guerillas on ground by remaining anonymous and on face living a respectable life in the society as lawyers, writers and poets, liberals, human rights activists, as mentioned earlier.
They always criticize and oppose the Indian government whether it was UPA regime or it is NDA regime; only the pitch and intensity of opposition changes with the change of governance. They try to project the government as fascist, corrupt, inefficient and anti-poor in meetings, conferences, media and press; despite the government’s commitment and constant endeavor to protect life and property of the common people in the Maoist terror and violence affected areas, assurance that they get minimum support price for their produce and enforce Constitutional provisions in favour of the scheduled castes and tribes. The recent legislation is a case in point whereby the government restored and further strengthened laws in their favour, earlier diluted consequent to the Supreme Court verdict.
Sometimes, they also provide a bridge or nexus between different outfits in various parts of the country that have a professed ideology and commitment to bring about the desired change i.e. freedom or rule through violence, armed struggle and revolt. In a nutshell, they conspire and try to embarrass and bring down the state by instigating change through violence, revolt and civil war. The most ironical part is that the enemies of nation are among us, their acts clearly fall under the category of treason but their clout and modus operandi is such that it is very difficult for the intelligence and law agencies to nab them and bring to the justice covered under the laws of the land.
To illustrate the points mentioned in the foregoing paragraph, few excerpts are cited here from the counter-affidavit filed by the erstwhile UPA government in the Supreme Court in November 2013. In the said affidavit, the government said that academicians and activists in urban centres had come to control “mass organizations” organically linked to Maoist under the cover of human rights. Citing urban naxals, it said that these fronts are “organically linked to CPI (Maoist)” and these cadres are “in many ways more dangerous than the cadres of the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA)”. The PLGA, it said, is the armed wing of the CPI (Maoist) and that the Maoist have since 2001 have killed 5969 civilians, 2147 security personnel and looted 3567 firearms from various police and paramilitary forces (as on November 2013). It also said that “these mass organizations are generally manned by ideologues, which include academicians and activists fully committed to the party line.” Such organizations ostensibly pursue human rights related issues and are adept at using the legal processes of the Indian State to undermine and emasculate enforcement action by the security forces and also attempt to malign the state institutions through propaganda and disinformation to further the cause of their revolution.
Nexus and Clout
Actually, it’s an old Maoist strategy to target urban centres and population to organize masses, leadership and united fronts to facilitate augmentation of manpower, material and infrastructure. India represents a peculiar position where many interested individuals and groups carry out their hidden agenda often in the garb of a non-government organization (NGO), human rights activism or posing as liberal and intellectual. They frequently use the fundamental rights and democracy as shield their ominous and sinister acts. Many in the security forces are of opinion that the underground naxals accord immense regard to its ‘urban factors’ for the leadership and supply of material, technology, information, expertise and logistic support.
The urban naxals live in the society as respected citizens such as community leader, poet and writer, lawyer, professor, human rights activist, secularist, liberal and intellectual. The author would like to clarify here that he has high regard for these noble professions and only a faction of such people have such leanings and affiliations which is pretty difficult to establish in law due to their nexus and clout. The case in point could be the recent episode where based on some collateral evidences and incriminating documents, the Maharashtra police claims naxal links of five men arrested seeking their remand but they are finding it difficult to convince the Apex court, pitted against a battery of the committed and famous people as sympathizers and supporters. Only in some odd cases, for illustration Professor GN Saibaba of JNU, the law enforcing agencies successfully nab, prosecute and reach to conclusive ends.
Even more intriguing and amazing is that these elements are very powerful and resourceful in their influence in their reach even to the Apex judiciary. For instance, if a common citizen is arrested for an alleged crime, the hearing would almost invariably take place in a Magistrate’s court in the lower judiciary. Here the people with alleged naxal links and unlawful activities are arrested, a readymade ecosystem immediately gears up to take up their cause, the petition is filed in the Apex court which readily agrees to hear the petition and temporary relief is immediately granted till the detailed hearing and judgment. The point is after a police crack-down based on the confessions of other accused and incriminating documents, if the suspects are simply put under house detention, they will have ample opportunity and time to destroy evidences, if any, about the crime.
Now let’s see what is the normal procedure or methodology for dealing with arrests in the country. In certain cases, people seek anticipatory bail as applicable from the Sessions or High Court else if a person is arrested, he is normally produced before the magistrate or special judge, as the case may be, seeking a remand for further interrogation. The magistrate would examine merit of the case and either allow custody of the suspect or grant release/bail. If the suspect is not satisfied with the order of the magistrate, he would have option of challenging it before the Sessions Court, High Court and Supreme Court in the same order or occasionally skipping the order in one odd case.
In the case of five activists in the instant case with alleged naxal links, the case was not only directly filed and admitted in the Supreme Court for urgent hearing but also a battery of half-a-dozen top lawyers of the country were lined up to fight the case. Reportedly, the cost of engaging these lawyers is very high, some of them charging as high as about rupees ten lakh for a single appearance. This suggests that these activists individually have financial resources of the magnitude to engage these lawyers. The other possibilities could be that the people supporting them are willing to spend money of that magnitude to secure their release or these people are so influential that the top lawyers of the country have agreed to defend them without seeking any charge.
Fundamental rights and personal liberty of citizens is indeed paramount but it is also true in this country that numerous common citizens are daily arrested and many of the accused persons languish in jails often for years under investigation or even without trial. One wonders if the applicants in the instant case could have also been advised to first seek redressal from the High Court(s)/lower judiciary. As per reports, the matter was almost simultaneously being heard in a few High Courts but their hearings were superseded by the Apex court. Another aspect is that there is nothing to suggest that the lower judiciary had shown any inadequacy or failed in their duty prompting the Apex court to take over the case as a corrective measure.
The Maharashtra police had not arrested these activists in haste. Bhima-Koregaon incident took place in the beginning of January 1918. After the first information report (FIR), the case was under investigation for months, the police arrested few persons in the last June based on evidences against them and after further investigation and collection of evidences, they finally laid hands on these suspects claiming enough evidences about their involvement with the naxal activities. In the meantime, one Maharashtra police officer shared with the inquisitive media some evidences about the suspects’ involvement in crime. While the author is penning down these lines, in another hearing in the Apex Court, the Maharashtra government and police have been rebuffed for going to press and status quo maintained till next date. The entire episode once again only vindicates the grievances of common citizens that the law is not equal for all.
Opposing or criticizing the government or a political party should not at all be an issue or cause of concern in a parliamentary democracy whether the critic is an individual or a party/group/organization. It becomes alarming when such people involve themselves in covert activities and start plotting and pursuing violence to overthrow a democratically elected government or change the social order. Political or social violence and unrest cannot be endorsed or tolerated both at the ideological and ground level. Unfortunately, this is the agenda that the guerilla naxalites are carrying on ground and their urban sympathizers (urban naxals) inciting and promoting by all available means. The political parties must also understand that if the person(s) pursued and indulged in anti-national activities during one regime, the same people with similar activities in another regime cannot be justified as human rights activists. Instead, they are the real curse and threat for the security and integrity of the nation.
It is not so important what name we give to such elements. It is well known fact that there is indeed a section of intellectuals, liberals and human right activists in this country who selectively undertake a cause. For instance if some injustice is caused to certain minority community member, these people make hue and cry to make it a national cause and even publicize it internationally only to bring infamy and discredit the nation but the same elements would maintain an intriguing silence even if injustice is caused en mass to the majority community. They plead about the rights of stone-pelters and separatists in Kashmir and elsewhere in the country but conveniently ignore the plight of displaced Kashmir Pandits, and families and security men killed in ambush and terrorist events. In the name of fundamental rights and freedom of expression, they endorse and defend those who oppose or even insult national symbols like flag, anthem and song but openly criticize and oppose patriots and nationalists citing their sentiments hyper-nationalism. In fact, the list of such paradoxes is long.
The democracy and fundamental rights in Constitution come with certain riders in the form of “directive principles” and “fundamental duties” which every Indian is morally obelized to abide. This inter alia include abiding the Constitution and respecting it’s ideals and institutions, the National Flag and National Anthem, and upholding and protecting the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India. The author is deliberately reminding this because it is the same white-collared so-called liberals and human rights activists, who constantly invoke the Constitution while supporting the cause of separatists and disruptive forces overtly and covertly. The history is witness that only those countries progressed and prospered well where the people (nationals) have genuine love and attachment for the motherland, language(s) and culture.