On August 28, lawyers, poets, academics and activists known for their defence of the dispossessed were arrested by the Maharashtra police. The recent hue and cry with regard to their arrests for alleged links to Maoists recently has raised the inevitable question as who are the urban Maoists. It also breaks open the deep fissures between the civil society and State. The Law Commission of India in a consultative paper has recommended that it is time to re-think or even repeal the provision of sedition (Section 124A) from the Indian Penal Code. It also observed that the right to dissent and criticism of the government policies are essential ingredients of a robust public debate in a vibrant democracy. It is in this context, attempt is made to understand the Urban Maoists and the role and constraints of State police machinery in apprehending them.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), frontal organizations of Left Wing Extremists (LWE) are the off-shoots of the parent Maoist party, which professes a separate existence to escape legal liability. The functionaries of Front Organizations provide intellectual veneer to the inherent violence in the Maoist ideology. The Front organizations carry out propaganda/disinformation for the party, recruit ‘professional revolutionaries’ for the underground movement, raise funds for the insurgency, assist the cadres in legal matters and also provide safe houses and shelters to underground cadres. The Front organizations exist in 20 States of India.
A 2004 Communist Party of India (Maoist) document titled “Urban Perspective” elaborates on the strategy of the Maoists to focus on urban centres. The core objective was to build leadership, organise masses, organise a united front and engage in military tasks such as providing personnel, material and infrastructure for the Maoist cadre. The document further explains that the focus has to be on organising the working class, students, and middle class employees, intellectuals, women, Dalits and religious minorities. It explains on the need to create front organisations for extending the reach of the CPI (Maoists).
During operations by security forces, the CPI (Maoist) underground cadres shift to softer areas including urban centers looking for safe hideouts. On such occasions, the over ground front organizations provide safe hideouts to armed cadres. The front organizations also facilitate procurement of supplies etc. to the Maoist war machinery. They also initiate legal action on various issues to circumvent the law enforcement regime. They are also adept at dissemination of propaganda and disinformation to demonize the state and the security forces.
In reply to a parliament question on February 18, 2014, the Government of India identified 74 active front organisations of CPI (Maoists), whose activities are closely monitored. There are also other reports from the media outlets that have identified 128 frontal organisations, suspected to have links with the Maoists. The time has come for the procedure of naming the frontal organisations to be revisited on the basis of hard core evidences and facts with due consultation with all stakeholders concerned and affected by Maoist insurgency. The courts can best be the arbiter to adjudge the vital issue of defaming the front organisations of Maoists after hearings from both parties (State/ Civil society) concerned.
In the current impasse where the houses of activists, lawyers and journalists were raided, the Supreme Court while hearing the case challenging the arrest of the activists in the Maoist Crackdown case remarked that dissent is the safety valve of India’s democracy. If you curb this dissent, the pressure valve will burst. Hansraj Ahir, Minister of State for Home, said that it was also not right to demoralise the police either over the arrests of the five activists for their alleged links to the Maoists. However, Police have at times in the past are not able to provide a sound proof case in persecuting those individuals/ groups who are actually in complicit with the Maoists.
It is best for the honorable courts to decide on legality of the case therein charged by the State police. Under due process of law, better sense prevails if both sides present their arguments based on concrete and valid evidences for the courts to decide. If, it proves true that the alleged sympathizers of the Maoists violence are responsible for the implicit acts of violence against State, the law must take its due course. If it is proved otherwise, of their innocence, there ought to be redressal of grievances, best decided by courts and parties concerned on a mutual understanding. In both the scenarios, a time bound redressal of grievances and concerns needs to take place in the true spirit of democratic values enshrined in the Indian constitution. Also, evidence of their involvement with the Maoists is the key for either party concerned to claim and counter claim their pleas before the honorable court.
A balanced approach of combatting front organisations of Maoists is best called for; rather than a hurried judgement of facts without due competence. The time has come to address the trust deficit existing between the civil society and the government in addressing the problems of tribal displacement, tribal injustices through rapprochement and reconciliation efforts. It is a futile exercise to blame a regime for its omissions and commissions. It goes other way too. Civil society by their works in the interiors of rural areas needs to be complemented for their efforts and vigilance at ground level, rather than being labelled as anti-nationals. The naming and shaming of activists, journalists, lawyers or the state does not address the core problems of governance in the Maoist affected areas. Government and activists needs to engage in a healthy debate of policies and work on developmental deliverables, rather than engaging in duels and labelling each other as anti-nationals or Maoists. Violence of any kind from the side of Maoists and oppression of State machinery is not healthy for a vibrant, plural democracy like India.
*Dr. Mathew Simon is a researcher at Internal Security Centre, IDSA.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.