Those we call 'Urban Maoists' are people who care for others. They are not new. Neither is the crackdown on them.

DailyBiteAug 31, 2018 | 14:02

Those we call 'Urban Maoists' are people who care for others. They are not new. Neither is the crackdown on them.

Once the prospect of a presumed assassination plot against the Prime Minister of India was projected in the wake of the Bhima Koregaon episode, the August 28 crackdown on alleged 'urban Naxals' was only waiting to happen.

There was a time when just being a Maoist was a crime. Now, being a sympathiser is as well. One has to invest one's sympathies with circumspection. The state has arrogated to itself the right to decide where and how citizens' sympathies could be exercised.


Poet Varavara Rao after his arrest in Hyderabad. (Source: PTI)

The problem with criminalising sympathies is that it is notoriously elastic in its scope. Almost everything — from making a random donation in response to an appeal for help for a humanitarian need, to associating with the struggles of the dispossessed and the victims of state-crony capitalist violence against tribals and adivasis — can be labelled as 'crimes'. 'Sympathy' does not have to be in deeds; it can be suspected to exist in the nebulous domain of 'intentions'. It is a dangerous thing to criminalise intention, as in nudging 'sympathy' into the basket of criminality.

From the early days of the organised existence of our species, every society has been divided into two blocks: the aristocrats of the mind and the masses. History is on the side of the latter. All institutions — including democracy, governance, law, education, journalism, religion, politics, among others — run with the common man under their yokes.

He is an object, not a thinking subject. He is acted upon by a host of external forces, the chiefs of which are religious establishments and the state. In Cartesian terms, the common man does not exist; for he does not think for himself. He outsources thinking. Today, the media has taken it over wholesale. This explains the unprecedented political clout of the media today.


The aristocrats of the mind — for which the Russian term is 'intelligentsia' — are, in any given society, a tiny minority. But they are a force to reckon with. They see history upside-down, so to speak. What they see, what they value, and what they advocate, are generically different from the general drift of events in any society.

The outlook of the common man is wholly bounded by the status quo. His concerns do not exceed the prospect of deriving optimum charity from the powers that be. The intelligentsia, whose counterparts in religion are the 'prophets', see beyond what is in vogue. They are the architects of what should be.

The hallmark, hence, of the authentic intelligentsia is a passion for justice; especially justice for the poor and the oppressed. As the South American Catholic bishop, Helder Camara, said: "When I dole out charity to the poor, they call me a saint; but when I ask why the poor are poor, they call me a Communist."


As per the social contract theory, all societies are founded on insecurity. Every society, for that reason, is quick to react ferociously and punitively when the status quo is sought to be changed. The status quo, as a rule, is weighed heavily in favour of the ruling elite. And today, it tends to work to the extreme detriment of the tribals and the adivasis, whose fundamental rights, lives and livelihoods, are disrupted in the name of development. Revolution, which is an organised effort to bring about futuristic changes oriented to the fundamental values of "justice, equality, liberty and fraternity" — the values adumbrated in the Preamble to our Constitution — is seen with utmost indignation by the ringleaders of the status quo.

Throughout history, there has been a wide cleavage between the masses and the intelligentsia. This chasm is occupied by resentment on the part of most of the commoners and condescension on the part of most of the intelligentsia. But there are, also, sections in both blocks that break out of their class conditioning and see their roles vis-a-vis the given social order in activist terms, believing that something new, something more just and humane, can be midwifed into existence.

Their predicament, as the lives of thinkers from Plato to Mahatma Gandhi prove, is a lonely and perilous one.

For one thing, the masses fail, for the most part, to understand their vision and to enter into enduring solidarity with what they advocate. For another, the reigning establishment crushes them with all its might. And the masses, for whom the activist intelligentsia stand and struggle, tend, in most cases, to flee from them in fear.

This is well-known. It emboldens oppressors to crush the intelligentsia with impunity. It is assumed as axiomatic that there will be no political price to pay for silencing the intelligentsia. On the contrary, there is much to be gained from it, especially short-term. As a rule, no society is ever ready for its visionaries. The masses prefer demagogues to visionaries. They feel more at home with them; for the demagogue is, or seems to be, 'one of them' and 'one with them', as in a Prime Minister, being a gate keeper of the common man's interests.

So, it is factually incorrect to see the present crackdown on human rights activists as something sui generis. Rather, this is the way things have happened.

The Congress, especially with P Chidambaram as the home minister, did the same after its own fashion. The infamous Emergency was not a happy time for the intelligentsia.

This is not to argue that what the Maharashtra government is doing is prima facie justifiable. No, it is shocking; if the activists are indeed being harassed on fabricated charges for purposes that are different from what is sold to the public. But how are we, the common people, to know what games are in the offing? Credibility in respect of events in the public domain is today at its lowest ebb ever. Speculating is never a safe or responsible thing. All we can do is to wait in hope that justice will be done; which we still can, because the courts in this country, by and large, hold their own still.

Last updated: August 31, 2018 | 14:02
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