There are crimes of passion and crimes of logic – Albert Camus
Spokesmen of Maoist extremism have recently expressed regret for beheading a police officer and explained their actions as a defence of the oppressed. Their comrades’ brutality they say, is an aberration. They cite instances of state violence to justify actions they claim are undertaken in self-defence. There is more to this than meets the eye. Maoist theory holds that India is a semi-colonial polity with a bogus constitution that must be overthrown by armed force. The comrades view all their actions as part of a revolutionary war. Their foundational documents declare armed struggle to be “the highest and main form of struggle” and the “people’s army” its main organisation. In war, morality is suspended and limits cast aside. War also results in something the Pentagon calls “collateral damage.” Is it true that Naxalite brutality is only an aberration?
On August 15, 2004, the Maoists killed nine persons in Andhra Pradesh, including a legislator, a driver and a municipal worker. On August 14, 2005, Saleema 52, a cook in a mid-day kitchen in Karimnagar was beaten to death by Maoists for being a “police informer.” This was the second woman killed by them in a fortnight. A former Naxalite, Bhukya Padma 18, was hacked to death in Marimadla village on July 30. On September 12, 2005 it slit the throats of 17 villagers in Belwadari village in Giridih. Landmine blasts in February 2006 killed 26 tribals and injured 50 in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh. The victims were returning from religious festivals, and some from anti-Naxalite rallys. Another blast on March 25 killed 13 persons.
Some of these killings may be incorrectly reported, some carried out by local cadre on their own. But the comrades clearly believe in political assassination. Moreover, the decisions to kill are taken in a shadowy realm wherein the fault of the victim is decided by whim. Truth and falsehood are dispensed with because the Party is Always Right. Their targets have no chance of appealing for mercy, and no one will be punished for collateral damage. And all this is justified because the Maoists are at war - a circular argument, because whether or not we are at war is another whim.
But there is an elephant in India’s drawing room. Maoists openly defy the Constitution, which they say is a mask for a brutal order. Are not our mainstream parties equally contemptuous of the law? Why did the NDA regime try and do away with Schedule 5 of the Constitution, that protects tribal lands from encroachment? Why is it still being violated? Is there not prima-facie evidence of politicians’ involvement in massacres in Delhi and Gujarat in 1984 and 2002? Why haven’t they been brought to justice? In 1987, 40 Muslims of Meerut were killed in custody. Why did the case take eighteen years to come to court? The BJP and the Congress both supported the private army named Salwa Judum with disastrous consequences for Chhatisgarh’s population. Even the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court criticised the States’ recklessness. In 2007 the West Bengal government despatched an illegal armed force to crush its opponents in Nandigram. India’s rulers regularly protect criminals, and part of the public is complicit in this. Policemen in dereliction of duty get promoted. Mass murderers are hailed as heroes. Why are we addicted to the double-standard?
Those who believe in virtuous murder are today calling upon the democratic conscience. Does democracy include the right to kill? Our left-extremists have changed the world for the worse. Along with right-wing radicals, they ground their arguments on passionate rhetoric and a claim to superior knowledge. Fighters for justice have become judge and executioner rolled into one – in a word, pure tyrants. Every killing launches yet another cycle of trauma and revenge. Will Francis Induvar’s son ever dream of becoming a socialist? Should not socialists hold themselves to a higher standard than the system they oppose?
Symbolism counts for a lot in Indian politics. If the Maoist party is interested in negotiations, I suggest a demand that will expose the hypocritical nature of our polity: ask the government to remove the portrait of V.D. Savarkar from the Central Hall of Parliament, placed there in 2003. If it cannot do that, ask it to place Charu Mazumdar’s portrait alongside. Why not? Both were extreme patriots. Both believed in political assassination, both hated Gandhi and both insisted that the end justifies the means.
My suggestion will meet with indignation. But the deep link between these two currents of extremism is the unutterable truth of Indian history. Hindutva is the Maoism of the elite. In 1969, an ultra-leftist Hindi writer penned a diatribe titled Gandhi Benakaab that praised Godse as a true son of India. In 42 years of activity, Naxalites hardly ever confronted the communalists; although to be fair, one ultra-left group in Punjab did combat the Khalistanis. The assassination of a VHP Swami in Kandhamal in August 2008 is the only example. The Maoists owned the crime, but the Sangh Parivar vented its wrath upon Christian villagers. Thousands were displaced and over 30 were killed. The comrades were unwilling or unable to prevent the carnage.
Savarkar’s acolyte Nathuram Godse murdered Mahatma Gandhi. In 1969, the Justice Kapur Commission concluded that the conspiracy was hatched by Savarkar and his group. Sardar Patel said as much to Nehru in February 1948. If Savarkar deserves to be honoured by the Nation, so does Charu. Since the government is unlikely to accept either option, we may finally come to a debate about why one kind of political murder is anti-national, while the other is patriotic virtue.