27 January, 2012
The national and state intelligence agencies have advised the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) that “ some rights organisations ” that decry state violence are purposefully or at least effectively taking sides with Maoists and “ actively helping spread the Maoist ideology ”. The intelligence age ncies (“IB” is the term used in the report title), therefore opine that “ rights organisations ” lay themselves open to prosecution for “ aiding and abetting a criminal conspiracy .” The advice goes on to say that these rights organizations “ have extended their reach to those areas which help spread Maoist ideology ” and that they are “ functioning as the points persons for the Maoists ”. Accordingly, they have suggested that “ the Union government take steps to limit the activities of leading human rights organizations ”.  .
This bodes ill for rights organizations and persons who agitate for civil, democratic, dalit, women's, human et al rights. That such advice is condemnable is to put it mildly. It is a generalized verdict against rights organizations (notwithstanding that the word “some” has been used), implying that demanding people's constitutional rights from the State and agitating for them with the State tantamounts to opposing the very idea of the State as the Maoists are reputed to do. This amounts to equating dissent with disloyalty. If people are not to agitate for rights for fear of being clubbed with Maoists, it amounts to denial of democratic rights by instilling fear into public life to enforce conformity with whatever the State deems fit to provide to the public. This leads in the direction of a totalitarian state disguised as a democracy, with the people's servants becoming the people's masters. As one wag put it, the leaders who shout “Power to the people!” want the people to shout “Power to the people!” so that people's power is transferred to the leaders who shout “Power to the people!”.
Workers in rights organizations support the rights of people who are not empowered to agitate their own rights themselves. This involves demanding information from governments, or criticizing, rejecting or resisting governments' policies, plans, projects or actions. This is dissent being voiced within society. Dissent should be used as a “thermometer” by governments to get a measure of social agitations and diagnose their fundamental reasons. These agitations may be for food, water, employment, fair wages or their enhancement, better working conditions, minimum support price (by farmers), etc. However, in present times, the agitations are more frequently in the form of resistance to governments' plans or policies, or government-approved corporate projects that take away land and/or livelihood from people who are already variously disadvantaged. Agitations in Odisha against mining and industrial projects of Vedanta and POSCO; Jaitapur (Mah), Koodankulam (TN), Kovvada (AP) against nuclear power plants; Polavaram (AP), Tipaimukh (Manipur), Gerukamukh (Assam) against dams, are merely the most recent, on-going agitations that are reported in the media. Governments with a sense of social justice and equity would “treat” the agitations as social ills, with the democratic political tools of consultation and dialogue. But this is not happening. Rather, governments use the intelligence agencies to stoke trouble so as to provide justification for use of police or military force to brutally break the backbone of the dissenting movement.
Dissent can be peaceful and persuasive, or peaceful and vocally militant, or militant and armed. Thus, not all dissent is militant or armed. (We are not discussing insurgency or terrorism). This may be observed across the length and breadth of the country. However, the intelligence community – which operates under intense secrecy and is, in that sense, an anti-democratic organization – glosses over these differences in dissent. In the report mentioned above, it seeks to tar all dissent with the same brush, and then brand it as direct or clandestine support to Maoists.
The intelligence community is neither stupid nor inefficient. Their advice rendered to MHA is designed to ensure advantage to corporate demands for land and other resources. The intention of the advice in question is clearly to sideline or minimize dissent or criticism of state policies and actions; and if that is not possible, to crush it using state / central police or the military. The reason for this intention is widely understood as inspired by corporate need for land and/or raw material resources, to provide obscene profits to the corporates and huge kick-backs to those who collude with the concerned corporates. A P-B-P-C (politicial-bureaucrat-policeman-corporate) nexus that implements neo-liberal economic policies and operates against already poor and disadvantaged people by dispossessing them of their lands or livelihoods, is behind such use of state force. (Not all politicians, bureaucrats, policemen or corporations form this nexus). What is worse, this is done in the “public interest”, which makes it even more hurtful to those whose lives are small change in this so-called pursuit of public interest by governments to benefit corporates. This has been exposed repeatedly in many states in our country.
It is by now well recognized that the State has a predilection to suppress dissent by use of police or military force rather than address it by time-tested political means of dialogue and consultation. Further, the State is also prone to report its use of force as achievements of body-counts of militants and capture of weapons and ammunition. When human rights organizations question and investigate these actions and encounters, and bring the matter into the public domain, the police often (and the military less often) spin a web of lies and half-truths to deny wrong-doing. This is as often as not, at the behest of, or with the tacit support of, or at least within the knowledge of, the State.
This has been brought out most recently and very succinctly by a Supreme Court bench comprising Justices Aftab Alam and C.K.Prasad . In a news report  , the counsel for the State of Gujarat denied the allegations of fake encounters and questioned the bonafides of the petitioners, who were obviously defending the right to life of those killed in police encounters. The Court told the Gujarat State counsel, “ It [sic] is no point questioning the bonafides of the petitioners. Why in Gujarat [sic] when the matter comes [up before court] the state initially stoutly denies it. When the matter is scratched even slightly the fact comes to light and then the State government admits it as a fake encounter .” While this particular case refers to Gujarat, a similar attitude of State governments can be easily demonstrated from almost every state in India. Such rights petitioners are “bad boys” who possibly get to be watched for suspected links with Maoists. Even a person who comments upon or criticizes governments' policies and actions, especially their handling of dissent would possibly be on some intelligence watch list.
The advice of the IB to MHA questions the bonafides of rights organizations across the board even though they may have named only “some” organizations. (The names of such organizations or persons is often confidential or secret). It goes on to advise that they may be prosecuted for “ aiding and abetting a criminal conspiracy .” It is well known that police are apt to foist false criminal charges against leading activists in peaceful movements that stand their ground in opposing State policies or actions. One of the methods in their capacious “bag of dirty tricks” (framing false charges, illegal detentions, faked encounter killings, custodial torture and killings, etc.) is for police intelligence to secretly infiltrate their operatives or agents into peaceful protest meetings and demonstrations to initiate violence – just stone-throwing sometimes suffices, but at other times public or private property is destroyed. This gives police the necessary “justification” for filing suitable criminal charges against “ring leaders”. Suppressing people's dissent is itself certainly anti-democratic, but using police intelligence methods as outlined above is plainly State criminality by elected and appointed officials who are de jure public servants but de facto public masters. To be fair, peaceful movements do occasionally turn violent on their own, without “help” from the police.
This not a digression from the IB's advice to MHA. It indicates the mind-set of people in government, who are in positions of power. Whether these worthies actually serve the people of their constituencies or of the state or country has been discussed ad nauseum , but the preponderant view is that they do not. One view point that bears repetition in this context is, “ It is unfortunate that governments do not understand the oft-repeated position of human rights and other social activists, that standing against [state] violence does not mean sympathy with or support for militant groups, that there is a third position which is equidistant from both sides of the conflict, and that the position of “if-you-are-not-with-us-you-are-against-us” is deeply flawed in the common law and social senses. Equally unfortunate, speaking against violence and in favour of peaceful negotiations is interpreted by government as opinions of misguided peaceniks at best, or as overt or clandestine collaboration with militants. ” Also, “ In matters such as the militancy and terrorism that are presently rife, many people fear that governments' policy that militancy (caused by decades-long neglect and misgovernance) should be crushed by the use of police and military firepower, will make presently bad situations worse. Such people take the so-called third position, ... and [are] in favour of peace and harmony. ”  . This is a viewpoint that is socially responsible and the only viable long-term solution to militancy.
All people who respect the Constitution and value the rights and freedoms that flow from that hallowed document need to vehemently and publicly condemn the advice of the intelligence agencies against rights organizations, that diminish those freedoms and rights and make nonsense of the Constitution. We do not want India to become a police state. The MHA needs to unequivocally assure the people that such unconstitutional advice from the intelligence agencies will be rejected out of hand and the person(s) of the intelligence community who rendered the advice will be put through a formal course of education on the Constitution of India.
1. Anil Sinha and Deepak K Upreti, “ Rights groups fronting for Maoists, says IB ”; < http://www.deccanherald.com/content/221668/rights-groups-fronting-maoists-says.html >; Deccan Herald, New Delhi, Jan 23, 2012.
2. “ Supreme Court orders probe into all fake encounters in Gujarat ”; The Hindu, Bangalore; January 26, 2012, page 1.
3. Vombatkere S.G., “ The Third Position – Non-alignment with violence ”; Mainstream, New Delhi; Vol XLVIII No 13, March 20, 2010, p.29-31.
S.G.Vombatkere retired as major general after 35 years in the Indian military. He is engaged in voluntary social work, and is member of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) and People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). As Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Iowa, USA, he coordinates and lectures a course on Science, Technology and Sustainable Development for under-graduate students from USA and Canada. He holds a master of engineering degree in structural engineering from the University of Poona and a PhD in civil structural dynamics from I.I.T, Madras.: email@example.com