In the late-1960s and early-1970s, it was not unusual to hear about young men and women from privileged backgrounds breaking off ties with their families, catching a train to some god-forsaken place in Bihar and then going “underground”. When I joined Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, unquestionably a citadel of both excellence and privilege, in 1972, there were many who viewed all imports from Calcutta as potentially suspect and contaminated with the Naxalite virus. After all, too many bright sparks had abruptly disappeared into the countryside in search of the class war that would finally liberate India and elevate China’s Chairman into “our Chairman”.
Mercifully, such puerile manifestations of impatience with the old order yielded little fruit. The majority of those who packed a pair of jeans and tried to persuade poor peasants that they should hack the local landlord into pieces and feed the jackals, returned dejected and traumatised. Most of them had done nothing really purposeful during their “underground” stint but there were a few who had taken the perverted prophet Charu Mazumdar at face value. Some had indeed killed hapless traffic policemen, ageing vice-chancellors and third-rung politicians.
These amateur criminals posed a problem both for their parents and those in charge of stamping out the Naxalite movement. Fortunately there is one law for the aam aadmi and one law for those who have connections. Thanks to an astonishing show of flexibility by the authorities, the PLU murderers were given a way out. Their parents were advised to send the deviants to a foreign country and make sure they didn’t return in a hurry. Most never did. The US in particular hosts a large number of law-abiding people of Indian origin who were banished from the mother country for heinous crimes. In the old days, criminals in England were transported to Australia and French criminals suffered on Devil’s Island. Four decades ago, we sent off our political criminals to taste life in the heartlands of capitalism. It was the most agreeable punishment devised by an otherwise brutal state.
Needless to say, this punishment was reserved for some. The Indian state came down hard on the less fortunate. Few of them have lived to reflect on their misguided past.
The ones who went “underground” for a lark returned to their normal lives after hunger and dysentery overwhelmed their Maoism. The few who were truly agonised over the plight of the poor joined the Human Rights and Civil Liberties groups. It was a prudent change of tack since these bodies have been generously funded by angst-ridden Europeans (if only to show that India is at the core a rotten Third World country) and have evolved into overground service centres for every conceivable group that is waging war on the Indian state. In hindsight, Charu Mazumdar’s investment in the brat pack of the 1960s has paid off. Today, in the guise of protecting civil liberties, they operate as ideological covers for any group that wants the disintegration of India.
It is necessary to provide a background to the contrived tear-jerking that is being witnessed in the English-language media over the arrest of one Kobad Ghandhy, an ideologue and Politburo member of the outlawed CPI(Maoist). Normally, the arrest of a senior Maoist leader doesn’t lead to every cub reporter shedding tears. But Ghandhy’s advantage is that he came from a rich Bombay family, went to Doon School, bummed around London in the 1970s, was a leading light of the Human Rights industry and, finally, went “underground” to service a group of armed murderers.
Of course, Ghandhy has probably never killed someone personally or planted one of those deadly mines that have led to the deaths of policemen and para-military forces in Chhattisgarh. For that matter, he was probably never personally around when his comrades turfed poor Adivasis out of their homes for the crime of refusing to acknowledge the power of the Red Flag. No, or so the argument goes, Ghandhy was a good man because he felt for the poor, spoke good English and had eschewed his inheritance. He was a good man because he cut a romantic figure.
The campaign to paint a halo around Ghandhy has begun in right earnest. In time, we may even witness countless intellectuals and even Nobel Prize winners sign petitions calling for his release, perhaps on medical grounds. It is even possible that an orchestrated campaign may lead to the courts ordering his release on bail on compassionate grounds — the paediatrician Binayak Sen was granted bail on grounds of ill health. But does a spirited campaign by bleeding hearts necessarily absolve Ghandhy?
A man who occupied a top leadership position of an outlawed organisation that has assaulted the sovereignty of the Indian state cannot claim with any degree of credibility that he was oblivious of the military wing of his party. The armed struggle is an integral part of the CPI(Maoist) and its military operations have been sanctioned by the political leadership. Obviously, Ghandhy may be unaware of the operational details of the arson, murder and extortion in the deep forests of central India. But these operations have been sanctioned by people like him. His supporters cannot whitewash his culpability.
The law doesn’t make a distinction between those who can speak English and those who are better versed in the vernacular. Over the past two years, many of the so-called ideologues of the Students Islamic Movement have been arrested. They preached the idea of jihad and motivated many earnest Muslim youth to kill innocent people for the sake of a larger cause. But these ideologues never actually carried out the bombings; they left it to the more daring and resourceful.
If Ghandhy is to be released, the top leadership of SIMI (also a banned outfit) should be feted by Human Rights-wallahs in five-star hotels and invited to meaningful seminars underwritten by the European Union. Would that be a sign of India’s enlightenment or India’s stupidity?