Anyone whose work revolves around analysing, questioning and maintaining accountability of the government is now an ‘urban Naxal’ and an ‘enemy’.
Search the words ‘urban Naxals’ and you’ll be bombarded with links from right-wing publications, outlining the detailed modus operandi and motivations of what is, they say, the greatest threat to the integrity of modern India.
The breathless, angry tone of the writers will make you wonder if everyone around you has some sort of secret anti-India agenda. Your friendly university student, your neighbourhood journalist, your kid’s college professor, the chirpy activist who talks to you about her NGO work – everyone, apparently, is an urban Naxal.
See a common thread there? A pattern? Somehow, anyone whose work revolves around analysing, questioning, and maintaining accountability of the government is now the enemy. S/he is lambasted across social media, held to rabid public courts on prime time ‘debates’, and reduced to a simplified and caricaturised ‘enemy’. The wildest, most fantastical comparisons to Syria and Egypt are made, and the complex social conflicts that have defined India since inception – those of caste, class, and their intersections – are reduced to a ‘with India/against India’ binary.
India doesn’t have the greatest record for respecting minority voices. This is a fact. Another equally valid fact is that at least in theory, it has always tried to be inclusive and accommodating. While it has often failed (with disastrous consequences), it has, on paper, not actively endorsed the silencing of dissent. Smriti Irani launched Vivek Agnihotri’s book with a glowing endorsement of his belief that JNU and Jadavpur University are breeding grounds for anti-national sentiment because they refused to screen his movie Buddha in a Traffic Jam.
People like Vivek Agnihotri and those propagating the myth of the ‘urban Naxal’ seem to forget that dissent is the very essence of a democracy. The groups protesting historical injustice, demanding reparations, and creating avenues for the voices to be heard aren’t trying to break India up. They’re trying to make a country they call home a better home for themselves. It is an important, fundamental exercise that pushes the boundaries of the limited social spaces that we have afforded minorities, and helps us reconfigure how we can be a more inclusive country. It’s an effort in making a better India – not a lesser one.
This government has maintained a relentless, brutal attack against any intellectualism in the country. From the insidious attacks against the autonomy of JNU to the arbitrary and honestly heart-breaking ouster of Atishi Marlena as Delhi’s education adviser, the message has been clear. The only education, the only narrative, allowed in the country is state-sanctioned. Anything else, of course, is against the government, and hence against the nation. This thought process has trickled down to anyone trying to point out how scary and downright fascist this entire erasure is.
The rise of the myth of the urban Naxals comes at the time when the juggernaut of the 2019 election campaign is poised to take off. This government knows that the battering the citizens have taken through ill-advised and ill-implemented policies have soured even their most fervent supporters. By positioning the campaign against two enemies – the ‘other’ or the minorities, and the vague, undefined ‘urban Naxal’ – they’re hoping to avoid the difficult questions on vikaas they have no answers to. Uniting a country with the hatred and fear they generate might win them this election, but it will cost India her conscience, which she’s retained through crises over the years.
In difficult and fraught times, it is our duty to not just actively counter this narrative with facts, honesty and advocacy, but also stand up for our fellow Indians who will be used as sacrifices to this altar of divisiveness.
Harnidh Kaur is a poet and feminist.