Greatest Threat to Internal Security
The state is not worried about the guns of the Naxalites. It is scared about the dissent they foment.
Anand Teltumbde (email@example.com) is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.
It is role of the police to see law and order situation of the State and not to create problems of law and order.
—Debaranjan, a human rights activist and documentary film-maker from Odisha
On 15 June 1969, J Edgar Hoover, the notorious chief of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) declared, "the Black Panther Party, without question, represents the greatest threat to internal security of the country." He swore that the party would be exterminated by the end of 1969. Nearly six decades later, it was not any lowly counterpart of Hoover in India but the country's most learned Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, who repeated the phrase while referring to the Naxalites. However, Singh did not fix a date for decimating the Naxalites in spite of unleashing an all-out war on them through Operation Green Hunt and the most unconstitutional Salwa Judum that pitched Adivasi against Adivasi. It was not possible for Singh to fix a date because he knew that the Naxalites were homomorphous with the poor and Adivasis and represented their survival concerns.
As both the state's open war on its own people and the crooked Salwa Judum began being questioned by the civil rights groups and concerned intelligentsia, the government came out with a high-pitch propaganda about Naxalites building an urban network. This propaganda insinuated a threat that any word of criticism of the government action against the Naxalites would be construed as support to them and would incur the wrath of the state. The government made an example by arresting Binayak Sen, a saintly doctor with impeccable record of public service, and sentencing him to life imprisonment. He was repeatedly denied bail despite the huge public outcry both inside andoutside the country—including by a group of Nobel laureates.
Sen stands released on bail after suffering 47 months in jail, but not without a crisp communication about what lies in store for anyone wanting to raise a voice against the mighty state. Sen's incarceration was followed by that of many others. Of course, their arrests were proved pure mala fide but only after they had already put in three to four years of jail and suffered media infamy as "dreaded Naxalites."
Narendra Modi, who rode a massive wave promising acche din to people, has within no time intensified the bure dinof his predecessors. His regime has outdone its predecessor in declaring to the Supreme Court, the ultimate custodian of the country's Constitution, that Naxal ideologues (read civil rights activists) are more dangerous than armed cadres. State terror is unfolding all over the country and intimidation of all those who raise their voice against the violation of civil rights of poor people is palpable.
On 14 August, all the members of the CDRO (Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations), a confederation of 20 civil liberties and democratic rights organisations from across India, received a shocking mail from Debaranjan. Known in the circle of civil rights activists as Deba, Debaranjan is a human rights activist and documentary film-maker from Odisha. The mail described Deba's horrific experience during his recent visit to Malkangiri where he had gone to shoot a documentary on the land problem and the agricultural situation of tribals of the district. Deba is no stranger to this area, having closely followed the tribal peoples' movement through his participation in several fact-finding missions, his articles (see countercurrents.org and academia.edu for specimens) and films. No sensible person, who has read his reports or watched his films, will describe him as sympathetic to Naxalites. But that did not deter the state from putting him under surveillance and unleashing harassment.
On 8 August, the day Deba arrived in Malkangiri, he reported that several anti-Naxal forces visited Tapobhumi Trust, where he was staying. These security personnel insisted that Deba and a Tapobhumi trustee accompany them. Since these security personnel did not disclose their identity, Deba refused to comply and instead told them that he would see their boss in the evening if they gave him his name and address. Since they called him "Debraj," he thought that it could be a case of mistaken identity.
The next day when Deba was shooting at Udupi village, two officers of the special branch of intelligence who introduced themselves as Ashok Parida and Jagannath Rao visited him at about 1 pm. They were accompanied by a constable who introduced himself as Pradhan. The three interrogated Deba for more than an hour. He was questioned about his activities, his association with GASS (Ganatantrik Adhikar Suraksha Sangathan) and the purpose of his visit to Malkangiri. He cooperated and answered all their questions. But when these officials visited the place where he was camping again, in the evening, Deba refused to entertain them. Later, when Deba was preparing to return, Sunita Das, a sub-inspector in civilian dress came with her unit. She alleged that Deba had molested a woman that morning at Champakhari village and insisted on taking him to the Malkangiri Police Station in her vehicle. Stunned by the allegation, Deba asked her for a copy of the first information report. But Das did not show him the document. So Deba refused to comply and left on his bike after a few hours.
That night at around 1 am, several security personnel came to the camp and asked for Deba. They detained his cameraman and an employee of the trust for a day. Later, Deba learnt that the police was harassing local tribals who had given him interviews and the local teachers who had assisted him. On 16 August, he was sent a notice in connection with the molestation charge (U/S 294/ 341/323/354/354-B/506(ii) Indian Penal Code) and was asked to appear at the Malkangiri Police Station on 23 August.
Any sane person can gauge from the sequence of events that the charge is a fabrication and perhaps a ploy to entangle Deba with a charge designed to bring social disrepute on him, instead of the usual method of harassment by raking up Naxal connections—possibly because they could not find any such connections. It, however, served their purpose in sending Deba into hiding, stopping his activities and possibly embroiling him in long-drawn legal battles.
Back to Hoover
In the film, A Huey P Newton Story (2001) on the life of Huey Newton who along with Bobby Seale founded the left-wing Black Panther Party for Self Defense in October 1966, Newton, played by Roger Guenveur Smith, has a perceptive statement,
If you read the FBI files you will see that even Mr J Edgar Hoover himself had to say that it was not the guns that were the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States of America... it was the Free Children's Breakfast Program.
The statement in the biopic was probably a true picture of the state of affairs. The Free Children's Breakfast Program, an innocuous sounding community programme, was launched by the Black Panthers in January 1969 by feeding a handful of kids in an Oakland church. It became so popular that by the year end, the programme spread to 19 cities where more than 20,000 children were fed free breakfast (bread, bacon, eggs, grits) before going to school. While the programme operated in predominantly Black neighbourhoods, children of other communities including a partly middle-class neighbourhood in Seattle were also fed.
The programme raised public consciousness about hunger and poverty in America, and also brought people closer to the ideology of the Black Panther Party. It spoke volumes about both the needs of the Black community, and the reach and capacity of the party nationally. Hoover acutely noted it as "infiltration." This is precisely what the Indian government thinks. It is worried about the uncongenial ideas that progressive expression represents. It is not afraid of the guns of the Naxalites; it is afraid of the counterpoint they represent. It is not the Naxalite ideology, whatever that may be; it is sheer dissent, the uncompromising disagreement with the state's anti-people policies that scares it. Taking up the cudgels for the poor, speaking against the violation of democratic rights and questioning the constitutionality of government actions do not go well with the state. It wants to create a fear psychosis among gullible people that there is a Naxalite network in urban areas. In fact, there may not be any because not many would agree with the ideology and methods of Naxalites. But there would still be many who would speak against the excesses by the government on poor people labelling them Naxalites.
As I write this, the news of the midnight crackdown on the protesting students of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) at Pune and arrest of five of them is flashing on television. Those who do not see a connection between the government's targeting of the "urban base of the Naxalites" and the arrests of the FTII students need to be reminded about Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Subramanian Swamy's statement of 10 July. Swamy had described the protesting students of FTII as Naxalites. Indeed, the doggedness of their protest in these neo-liberal times will surely make the government sniffers smell Naxalism. After all Gajendra Chauhan, whose singular lack of qualification to head the prestigious FTII society has spilled into public domain, is not such a great gun that the government should incur negative publicity over such a long time. The entire who's who of the film industry and progressive India have come out to endorse the students' demand and urged the government to accept them. The recent revelation that Chauhan is a disciple of the god-woman, Radhe Maa, should only add to the government's shame. But despite all this, the government will not concede victory to the "Naxalites."
It is simple. The agitation of the FTII students represents dissent, it questions the propriety of the government decision, it exposes the mala fide design to saffronise institutions and poses a democratic challenge to fascist mentality. If conceded, it could be infectious, threatening the very raison d'etre of the ruling junta.
Not a bad logic! The only flaw is that they are dealing with students who could be a far bigger threat than the "greatest threat" they knew so far.