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The first move in that direction is the concerted campaign that has been orchestrated to shoehorn the myriad forms of resistance taking place in this country into a simple George Bush binary: If you are not with us, you are with the Maoists. The deliberate exaggeration of the Maoist ‘threat’ helps the State to justify militarisation. (And surely does no harm to the Maoists. Which political party would be unhappy to be singled out for such attention?) While all the oxygen is being used up by this new doppelganger of the War on Terror, the State will use the opportunity to mop up the hundreds of other resistance movements in the sweep of its military operation, calling them all Maoist sympathisers. I use the future tense, but this process is well under way. The West Bengal government tried to do this in Nandigram and Singur but failed. Right now in Lalgarh, the Pulishi Santrash Birodhi Janasadharaner Committee or the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities—which is a people’s movement that is separate from, though sympathetic to, the Maoists—is routinely referred to as an overground wing of the CPI (Maoist). Its leader, Chhatradhar Mahato, now arrested and being held without bail, is always called a “Maoist leader”. We all know the story of Dr Binayak Sen, a medical doctor and a civil liberties activist, who spent two years in jail on the absolutely facile charge of being a courier for the Maoists. While the light shines brightly on Operation Green Hunt, in other parts of India, away from the theatre of war, the assault on the rights of the poor, of workers, of the landless, of those whose lands the government wishes to acquire for “public purpose”, will pick up pace. Their suffering will deepen and it will be that much harder for them to get a hearing. Once the war begins, like all wars, it will develop a momentum, a logic and an economics of its own. It will become a way of life, almost impossible to reverse. The police will be expected to behave like an army, a ruthless killing machine. The paramilitary will be expected to become like the police, a corrupt, bloated administrative force. We’ve seen it happen in Nagaland, Manipur and Kashmir. The only difference in the ‘heartland’ will be that it’ll become obvious very quickly to the security forces that they’re only a little less wretched than the people they’re fighting. In time, the divide between the people and the law enforcers will become porous. Guns and ammunition will be bought and sold. In fact, it’s already happening. Whether it’s the security forces or the Maoists or non-combatant civilians, the poorest people will die in this Rich People’s War. However, if anybody believes that this war will leave them unaffected, they should think again. The resources it’ll consume will cripple the economy of this country.
Last week, civil liberties groups from all over the country organised a series of meetings in Delhi to discuss what could be done to turn the tide and stop the war. The absence of Dr Balagopal, one of the best-known civil rights activists of Andhra Pradesh, who died two weeks ago, closed around us like a physical pain. He was one of the bravest, wisest political thinkers of our time and left us just when we needed him most. Still, I’m sure he would have been reassured to hear speaker after speaker displaying the vision, the depth, the experience, the wisdom, the political acuity and, above all, the real humanity of the community of activists, academics, lawyers, judges and a range of other people who make up the civil liberties community in India. Their presence in the capital signalled that outside the arclights of our TV studios and beyond the drumbeat of media hysteria, even among India’s middle classes, a humane heart still beats. Small wonder then that these are the people who the Union home minister recently accused of creating an “intellectual climate” that was conducive to “terrorism”. If that charge was meant to frighten people, to cow them down, it had the opposite effect.
The speakers represented a range of opinion from the liberal to the radical Left. Though none of those who spoke would describe themselves as Maoist, few were opposed in principle to the idea that people have a right to defend themselves against State violence. Many were uncomfortable about Maoist violence, about the ‘people’s courts’ that delivered summary justice, about the authoritarianism that was bound to permeate an armed struggle and marginalise those who did not have arms. But even as they expressed their discomfort, they knew that people’s courts only existed because India’s courts are out of the reach of ordinary people and that the armed struggle that has broken out in the heartland is not the first, but the very last option of a desperate people pushed to the very brink of existence. The speakers were aware of the dangers of trying to extract a simple morality out of individual incidents of heinous violence, in a situation that had already begun to look very much like war. Everybody had graduated long ago from equating the structural violence of the State with the violence of the armed resistance. In fact, retired Justice P.B. Sawant went so far as to thank the Maoists for forcing the establishment of this country to pay attention to the egregious injustice of the system. Hargopal from Andhra Pradesh spoke of his experience as a civil rights activist through the years of the Maoist interlude in his state. He mentioned in passing the fact that in a few days in Gujarat in 2002, Hindu mobs led by the Bajrang Dal and the VHP had killed more people than the Maoists ever had even in their bloodiest days in Andhra Pradesh.