'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
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Monday, June 11, 2018
Bharat Bhushan - ‘Half-Maoists’: When less is more
We are witnessing the
creation of a new public enemy - the ‘Urban Naxalite’. The term describes not
only over-ground Maoist sympathisers, of which there are bound to be some,
but also encompasses a larger amorphous population of those who
sympathise with the condition of India’s most marginalised – Dalits and
Adivasis. Arun Jaitley, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s wordsmith, has ingeniously
designated them ‘Half Maoists’ a la Chetan Bhagat.
The etymology of the
term can be traced to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had described Aam Adami
Party chief Arvind Kejriwal as an anarchist who may as well join the Naxalites,
while campaigning for the Delhi assembly elections in 2015. By July 2016, Manoj
Tiwari, elevated to party chief in the national capital, had begun calling
Arvind Kejriwal an ‘Urban Naxalite’. With the recent
indictment of Dalit activists and lawyers by the Pune police, the term has
moved beyond the BJP’s political lexicon. It has been appropriated by law
enforcement agencies in the discourse of public security. The question is: Will
this strategy of displacement deflect attention away from the government’s
policy failure towards the poor?
Two major problems in
the way of the re-election of the Modi government are – the alienation of
Dalits and the plummeting popularity of Prime Minister Modi. Somebody has to
carry the can for policy failures. Blaming the old enemy, the “beef-eating”
minority communities, will not work. A new one will have to be found. The government was
unable to predict the huge participation in the Dalit agitations from
Bhima-Koregaon on Januray 1 to the Bharat Bandh called on April 2. It could not
identify those responsible. The intelligence agencies have attributed the April
2 Bharat Bandh to ‘Urban Naxalites’, organised apparently through word-of-mouth
and WhatsApp groups.
The fantastic proposition that an ultra-Left conspiracy
was afoot against the government has been eagerly lapped up. The
alternative would be to accept that Dalits across the country were deeply upset
with the government. Dalits have good
reason to be angry with the BJP and its government. Many Dalit youngsters were
killed and others virtually skinned alive for trading in cattle products. The
anti-beef and anti-cow slaughter agitation not only led to widespread violence
against Dalits but also to the growth of a new leadership within. In Gujarat,
the emergence of Jignesh Mewani and Dalit consolidation against the BJP cost
the party heavily in the state elections.
The violence in
Saharanpur and the arrest of young Chadrashekhar Azad of the Bhim Army; the
Bhima-Koregaon violence instigated by upper caste Hindutva ideologues; and the
perception that the government tacitly encouraged the dilution of the
provisions of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of
Atrocities) Act, have pitched Dalits against the BJP. The ensuing Dalit
anger has got the government’s knickers in a twist. Its somersault on the
provisions of the SC/ST Act before the Supreme Court, after having not even
sending the Attorney General to defend its initial case has failed to impress
dalits. Nor have they been impressed by the government’s move to permit SC/ST
quotas for promotion in government jobs.
Another problem is the
government’s awkwardness in dealing with the new Dalit leadership. The BJP
knows how to deal with the older established Dalit leaders who are formidable
electoral warriors. Its government has twisted the tail of the
recalcitrant ones and thrown a bone or two to the amenable.
However, this strategy
wont work with the new generation of Dalit street-fighters. They are educated,
they know their rights and are politically aggressive. Their leadership is
organic and their legitimacy does not depend on electoral successes.
Even when the new
leaders can be identified – say, a Jignesh Mewani or a Chadrashekhar Azad –
dealing with them is difficult for an inflexible and ideologically committed
government. It cannot alienate cow vigilantes and the BJP’s upper caste cadre.
At best it can throw Chandrashekhar Azad in jail, or use the police to restrict
Jignesh Mewani’s movements. Large-scale use of
force is ineffective against a movement that is diffuse and decentralised.
However branding protestors under the vague catch-all term ‘Urban Naxalites’
allows for a comprehensive crackdown. “Naxalite” invokes an association
sufficiently dangerous to publicly justify arrests and the use of draconian
internal security laws. The term might be
usefully extended to tar all those associated with any anti-government
agitation. Academics who question the govern-ment’s higher education policy and
its attitude to public universities, artistes who question its cultural policy,
media which is critical, and human rights activists can all be branded ‘Urban Naxalites’. One ‘Urban Naxalite’
no longer has to look like another. They can be lumped together
ideologically simply by their opposition to the government. Soon the BJP may
blame the Tuticorin agitation leading to the shutdown of the copper smelting
plant of Vedanta’s Sterlite Corporation on such elements. The huge farmers’
protests across India could also be ascribed to the intervention of ‘Urban
Already the State has
begun to implicate the lawyers of Dalit activists in the cases they are fighting
for their clients. This has happened to Advocate A Murugan in Tamilnadu,
Upendra Nayak in Odisha, Satyendra Chaubey in Chhattisgarh and now Surendra
Gadling in Pune in the Bhima-Koregaon case.
incarceration of social activists advocating the rights of the socially
marginalised is likely to bring diminishing returns. If Dalits and Adivasis
unite against the BJP, that is a quarter of the population gone. If only the
Dalits and the Muslims unite, that is 30 per cent voters. This artihmetic is bound
to give the BJP’s election managers insomnia.
Grandiose politics can
only explain its failure by blaming conspiracies. As the BJP becomes fearful of
the people and sees an enemy in every shadow, its political language sounds
increasingly neurotic. It is incredulous that an assassination plot against the
prime minister would be discussed over open email with no attempt to hide the
identity of the conspirators. “Half-Maoists” would sound “half-assed” were the
consequences for Indian politics not so serious.