In hearing of a case against alleged Maoist activists — Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Vernon Gonsalves, Sudha Bharadwaj and Gautam Navlakha — honorable justice of the Supreme Court Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, part of a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said, “Dissent is the safety valve of democracy. If dissent is not allowed, then the pressure cooker may burst”… “We must differentiate between armed struggle against government and expression of dissent by a section of people because of generations of suppression…. The shoulders of all, be it the government or the Supreme Court should be broad enough to take criticism and dissent.”
While a large segment of the media was fascinated by the term ‘urban naxals’ and the activists who were alleged to be associated with the banned Maoist outfits in quest for ‘breaking news’ and ‘winning the goodwill of government’, the Supreme Court, in line with its glorious tradition, was not swayed at all by any bias or prejudice or pressure. The way the term “urban naxals” is being popularized and discussed makes it pertinent to understand who the ‘urban naxals’ are?
Naxalites, far-left radical communists
Naxalites are considered far-left radical communists, supportive of Maoist political sentiment and ideology. They are inspired by the political philosophy of China’s late Chairman Mao Zedong. They are inspired by Mao Tse Tung, a Chinese leader and their purported goal is to fight for the rights of poor farmers and landless labourers. The doctrine of Maoism is to capture State power through a combination of armed insurgency, mass mobilization and strategic alliances. The Maoists believe that State and its institutions are in the grip of “ruling elite” who optimize their own interest at the cost of the poor and the deprived and are unjust and exploitative.
Educated voices against inequality, deprivation and exploitation is not naxalism
There are educated people in the urban areas who sympathize with the cause of the poor and the deprived, but do not subscribe to the idea of militancy and insurgency. Nevertheless, there are a few intellectuals who believe in positive and pro-active resistance against marginalization of peasants and labourers and exploitation of the poor. Describing all those who stand for the voiceless, marginalized, deprived and exploited as urban Naxals is misplaced. Most of the naxalism affected areas are far away from the urban agglomerations and consist of illiterate and poor people, whereas most of the critics of the state policies are people who are English educated and live in urban areas. They articulate the plights of the poor and the deprived theoretically and support it with the available facts from government documents and even from surveys conducted privately by them, without indulging in any militant violence and insurgency. They should not been ideally described as naxals.
Angry Intellectuals may provoke violence and insurgency as naxals do
However, a section of intellectuals also articulate the anger and frustration of the poor and the deprived in a hard-hitting way and advocate pro-active resistance, whose logic also extends to militancy and violence. Genuinely, only the pro-active segment of leadership and intellectuals, who indulge in factually wrong and ill-motivated propaganda and disinformation against State institutions and who intend provoking violence and insurgency, may be described as urban Naxals. Such far left scholars and leaders like extreme rightist ones are never shy of inciting and provoking people to break law, indulge in violence and oppose government and its machinery involved in governance and particularly in delivering development and welfare. It is counter- productive. But sure all of them are not urban and if they are dubbed as activists, they need to be in the vicinity of the naxals residing in far flung areas and hiding in forests. There is certainly an element of delegitimisation of dissenting voices by dubbing all critics as “urban naxals.”
There are people cutting across political spectrum who find criticism of state policies so inconvenient that they use the terminology of “urban naxals” to discredit and defile all intellectuals as if all criticism of state policy amounts to subversion of state and insurgency against it. This seems to be a very attractive proposition to a big faction of media, especially rightist-minded ones to popularize the term “urban naxal” in a blanket fashion. This tendency is unacceptable.
Pedagogical and practical significance of alternative thinking and criticism
There is an increasing tendency to demean and delegitimize Marxist method of analysis due to both ignorance and a well planned strategy based on anti-intellectualism and post truth. However, abusing Marxist thinkers and analysts is a kind of illiteracy. In fact Marxist thought has inspired research frameworks in many fields—art history, literature, culture studies, philosophy, historiography, and the social sciences. And these influences have proceeded through many different tropes within Marx’ s thought—the theory of alienation, the concept of mystification, the labor theory of value, the theories of class conflict and exploitation, the theory of the forces and relations of production, or the theory of the mode of production. So the question of Marxist method is complicated in a many-many way: there are many areas where Marxist methods have been employed, and there are many strands within Marx’s thought that have given rise to these various approaches. Marx is one of the unmistakable founders of modern social science. Throughout a lifetime of research and writing he aimed to arrive at a scientific analysis of modern economic life. Throughout most of his life he emphasized the importance of engaging in a scientific analysis of capitalism as a system. And he consistently adhered to a rigorous commitment to honest empirical investigation of the facts. Marx’s own goals were thus undoubtedly framed by his aspiration to construct a scientific analysis of the capitalist mode of production. And social science research and theory today is certainly strongly influenced by many of Marx’s contributions—especially in the areas of social history, sociology, and political economy. (Marxism and Method Daniel Little, University of Michigan- Dearborn)
Many of the Indian scholars and professionals like Amartya Sen, Jean Derez, Romila Thapar, Ashis Nandy, Prabhat Patnaik, D.D Kosambi, K.N Panikker, Irfan Habib, Ram Krishna Bhattacharya, Ram Sharan Sharma, Satish Chandra, Bipan Chandra, Ram Vilas Sharma, K. Damodaran, EMS Namboodaripad, Asgar Ali Engineer, Aijaz Ahmed, P. Govinda Pillai, Dipak Nandy, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan etc. have greatly enriched the culture of debate and discussion in general, and education in particular. These people are seen as problem mongers. They are not taken as intellectuals with an alternate view, but detrimental to a particular political view. It is, therefore, convenient to delegitimize them by calling them “urban Naxals” even if they do not indulge in any kind of subversion or insurgency against state. These are only few examples. There is a large number of people who share the pains and plight of the poor and the deprived and who doubt the corporate strategy of development and criticize boasting improvement in India’s rank of ease of doing business amid deterioration in hunger index and gender inequality index. These people invariably favour unity of India amid diversity and pluralism while they criticize majoritarianism, injustice and exploitation. Most of them are secular in their thought and believe in a modern Indian state which does not compete with small countries like Pakistan, a country on and off falling into retrogression. But these people are not convenient to the two main political parties of India and the ‘dominant ruling coalitions’ including the corporate sector because they raise questions and differ, they do not adjust to the status quo and give voice to the voiceless. They are what an “entertaining” media likes to call “Urban Naxals,” a media whose most important goal is “breaking news” and sponsored “hen fights” for increasing viewership and earning maximum advertisement revenue
Importance of debates and discussion in Democracy
Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation. (Atifete Jahjaga). Truth can see the light of the day when people freely explore and express. Just compliance to authority is not sufficient; questioning the authority also becomes indispensable in many cases. Albert Einstein, one of the greatest truth seekers and scientists ever born on earth, also highlighted the importance of dissent and said, “Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” Justice requires that we speak out where it needs to be done, Desmond Tutu rightly said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” True intellectuals should speak out the truth; they should give voice to the voiceless; they should raise voice against injustice and exploitation. That is their duty. Media has buckled and totally compromised. Only hope lies with true intellectuals.
But we see in present day India increasing intolerance and one-upmanship. Self righteousness is fast becoming a habit of Indians quite contrary to the great tradition of “shastrarth” (discussion among the scholars with grace and dignity). And the education system is also increasingly becoming skill oriented bereft of fresh human thinking and disruption of ideas. Everything is being guided by one or the other social prejudice. Openness is becoming a dying trait. Albert Eienstein rightly visualized this phenomenon; “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are incapable of forming such opinions.” It is sad.
Today there is an increasing tendency of dubbing all critics of government, the ruling dispensation or dominant political parties, as anti- national and anti- development. However dissent is the hallmark of democracy. George Washington had said, “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” From Socrates to Copernicus and to Mahatma Gandhi we can see how dissent or non-cooperation with unjust and exploitative state machinery led to freedom, change and progress. Only those who have some vested interest in maintaining status quo in social, economic and political order despise dissent and gag free thinking. If we see the intellectual traditions, dissent has been widely endorsed as a means of change and progress. William folkner rightly said, “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”
True meaning of freedom and liberty
The true meaning of freedom and liberty is that people enjoy the right to freedom of thought and expression. George Orwell rightly said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Voltaire remains eternally relevant when he says, ““I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Theodore Roosevelt, one of the all times great icons of democracy, said, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.” True patriotism, therefore, does not lie in siding with the government of the day, howsoever powerful, but with the people. Any political party’s win in an election is not the proof of its righteousness, but it reflects managing the winning numbers. This is true of all elections and more so in India where political parties mostly change seats of power by rejection of the ruling dispensation election after election. The political parties are increasingly becoming afraid and intolerant of those who choose to differ with them. They use existing provisions or make new ones to terrify the dissenting voices. We should never forget what Harry S Truman had said in this regard, “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
Is there any place of violence in a constitutional democracy?
No, not at all! If any scholar or outfit is supporting violence, subversion and insurgency against the state, its machinery and innocent people, it (no matter left or right) must be punished according to the rule of law. There is no place for vigilantism or violence in a constitutional democracy. The Indian constitution gives ample rights to the citizens and the state is also duty bound to fulfill the directive principles of state. There are ample constitutional ways to protest against and differ from government policies or question deficit of development or rise against injustice and exploitation. Change and progress can never be brought with violence. A tolerant state must never be confused with a weak state. State should not be compelled to act in vengeance. Reasonable restrictions to the fundamental rights have been provided in our constitution and fundamental duties have also been well defined. Citizens should not only comply with the Indian constitution, but also oppose any kind of action and vision which is affront to the very “idea of India” through constitutional means, no matter which political party is ruling. All Indians should try to make India a modern and progressive state which is not only affluent, but also more human. India has survived stress and strain through the ages, and this country is destined to survive in glory and greatness in future as well, no matter what! Only “we, the people of India”, would be held guilty in the history if we scuttle India’s great journey to prosperity, peace and happiness!!! Let’s be more responsible and have self restraint even in criticism and protest.