Why Are So Many 'Urban Maoists' Surfacing All of a Sudden?




August 28, 5:02 pm


Credit: Reuters


    During a recent visit to an exhibition in Berlin on the “People’s Court” that the Nazi regime ran from 1934 to 1945 to try ‘enemies of the state’, I was struck by the eerie familiarity of some of the material on display. Not because our existing judicial system has been replaced (at least as of yet), but because of the nature of the charges that were levelled against the individuals brought before the court. A mineworker who distributed communist leaflets to policemen in his area, a banker who made jokes about prominent Nazis, a sound technician who distributed satirical poems about Hitler and a real estate agent who sent postcards calling Hitler names – all of these ‘criminals’ were sentenced to death, accused of “high treason”, of “destroying the loyalty of a national authority essential for the war effort” (in this case the post office where the undelivered postcards were found), and “aiding the enemy”.


   In one case involving a 22-year-old Swiss missionary who was initially arrested only for ticketless travel and then under vigorous interrogation apparently confessed to his plan to kill Hitler because he was ‘the enemy of Christianity and of humankind”, the grounds for the death sentence were: “The defendant had resolved to deprive the German nation of its saviour, the man for whom the hearts of 80 million Germans beat with infinite love, reverence and gratitude, and who need his strength and firm leadership now more than ever.”


   An earlier exhibition at the Topography of Terror Foundation had dealt with the role of the press in Nazi times: while the oppositional press was destroyed, the vast majority “came to terms with the regime through anticipatory obedience”. After the war, some journalists who had been active Nazi supporters tried to rehabilitate themselves by changing their identity, but were eventually found out.


   The current spectre being created of a vast and ever-expanding ‘urban Maoist’ network, through an active collaboration between the police and some television channels, feels like a ‘fast forward’ to fascism. “Explosive” letters speaking of a “plot” to kill the prime minister appeared mysteriously first in the hands of Times Now; while purported letters from advocate Sudha Bharadwaj to some Comrade Prakash were breathlessly exposed on Republic TV. The illiteracy and improbability of such letters – which clearly take names, talk about money flows, connect Kashmiri separatists, stone pelters, human rights lawyers, JNU and TISS students, protests against the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, the Congress party and everything else the BJP and the police dislike – really doesn’t matter. The purpose is to defame, to intimidate, to polarise and to create hatred against democrats, as well as to assail the very concept of human rights.


   So far, it was activists, journalists, researchers and others who were being framed in this process while lawyers came to their rescue. Then the midnight knock began sounding for the lawyers too: Surendra Gadling, known for his defence of adivasis, Dalits and political prisoners; S. Vanchinathan, who was helping the Sterlite victims in Tuticorin; Chikkudu Prabhakar, a Hyderabad human rights advocate who spent six months in Sukma jail in Chhattisgarh on absurd charges.


   Now, the latest in the round of arrests is Sudha Bharadwaj who was picked up from her home in Faridabad on August 28 and is being taken to Maharashtra. Going by the charges against her – IPC 153A, 505(1)(b), 117, 120B, 34, UAPA 13,16,17,18,18B, 20, 38,39, 40 – one would think that she is a dangerous terrorist and not the hugely respected trade unionist, labour lawyer, and visiting professor at the National Law University Delhi that she in fact is.

   Five rights activists arrested on August 28: Arun Ferreira, Sudha Bharadwaj, Varavara Rao, Gautam Navlakha and Vernon Gonsalves.


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