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The Serpent We Forgive And Forget

The Serpent We Forgive And Forget

Author: Apoorvanand, Writer & Literary Critic
Publication: Tehelka
Date: May 16, 2009
URL: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main41.asp?filename=cr160509the_serpent.asp

Introduction: It is high time civil society owned up to and condemned the violence inflicted by revolutionary groups

The first three phases of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections have passed peacefully. Not taking into account the Maoist killings of poll officials and police personnel during elections. Although in Maoist strongholds, they pressed civilians to boycott elections, the people chose, instead, to risk their lives and exercise their right to vote. Most recently, the tribals of Lalgarh in West Bengal defied the Maoist boycott call and voted. Unable to convince the masses, the Maoists have resorted to the old strategy of ambushing poll parties and demolishing public property to mark their presence. Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Maharashtra, Bihar and West Bengal witnessed violence by armed groups of Maoists. Interestingly, they have not, in any statement issued, owned up to these acts.

In West Bengal, men from the CPI(M) cadre were killed for defying the Maoist diktat ordering them to leave the party. To consolidate their position in the state they are taking advantage of the anger and frustration of the people toward the arrogant and violent CPI(M) party machinery. None of us who have been vocal against the violence of the CPI(M) in Singur and Nandigram have voiced our opinion on the Maoist killings. Last year, in Bihar and Jharkhand, members of the CPI(M) and JD(U) were killed for being in the 'wrong' parties. And yet, not one word of condemnation from us who find every single act of state violence repugnant! Do we see natural justice taking its rightful course in the killings of the CPI(M) cadre?

Recently, while addressing a gathering on the Sri Lankan crisis, Varavara Rao, the public ideologue of the Maoists, tried hard to justify the violent methods used by the LTTE. Rao has been consistently justifying the violent attacks by the Maoists in India by calling them "acts of resistance". Were the recent killings of the poll officials also acts of resistance? Resistance against the assault of parliamentary democracy? When asked, Rao trivialised the killings of innocent people by revolutionaries, asserting that "these were matters of details".

To defend Maoist killings, Rao could have as well used the term 'collateral damage', invented by the Americans to justify the killings of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. He seems to suggest that this is an inevitable price the masses have to pay when they are passing through a phase of class struggle. This utter lack of remorse is reminiscent of the tough Stalinist era, which saw lives disappearing in the maze of the continuum of revolutions. Going back even further, Lenin was condemned by Maxim Gorky for encouraging the proletariat violence after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. In 1917, he wrote in Novaya Zhizn: "Lenin, Trotsky, and their companions have already become poisoned with the filthy venom of power, and this is evidenced by their shameful attitude toward freedom of speech, the individual, and the sum total of those rights for the triumph of which democracy struggled… On this road Lenin and his associates consider it possible to commit all kinds of crimes, such as the slaughter outside St Petersburg, the destruction of Moscow, and the abolition of freedom of speech and the senseless arrests." He further asks, "Does not Lenin's government, as the Romanov government did, seize and drag off to prison all those who think differently?"

It was the courage and honesty of a true writer which enabled Gorky to speak in the face of 'revolution'. We, however, seem to think differently. We let the crimes committed by revolutionaries pass off. Last year, when there was a move to issue a statement condemning such violence, there were efforts to dissuade people from signing it by asking questions like: "By doing so would we not be equating people's violence with state violence?" and "How do we know that these killings were committed by Maoists and not the state forces themselves to discredit them?" While the first question involves a theoretical position, one cannot miss the clever opportunism behind the second question, which seeks to fudge facts when they are not comfortable.

Fudging facts is not something unique to the bourgeoisie. Some months ago a leaflet was printed as part of the campaign seeking the release of Binayak Sen, who is imprisoned for allegedly providing logistical support to the Maoists. His crime was that as a human rights activist he helped an ailing, old Maoist leader, Narayan Sanyal. But does Sen support violent means in the name of the 'people'? He has categorically said several times that killings cannot be condoned, whatever the justification. This statement, explicitly mentioned in the leaflet, was deleted by one of the campaign members who thought it an unnecessary detail. That the deletion of this sentence was a conscious act of political editing was proven when it was justified with this question: "By writing such sentences, are we not trying to distance ourselves from certain forms of struggle which could be violent?" The person responsible for this editing forgot that he was censoring a fact very crucial to Sen's case, a fact about Sen's political stand. He was, instead, imposing his own political stand on the campaign and on Sen, who is contesting the false charge by the State that he subscribes to a violent political ideology. Incidentally, the Maoists have not thought it necessary to contradict the false claim by the State that Sen is part of their organisational structure. Are they relishing this expansion of their zone of influence?

Whenever there are attempts by civil society or rights' groups to question 'revolutionary violence', there are counterattempts to abort them. We have heard arguments like: Is it necessary to give so much importance to such sporadic acts? By doing so, would we not be diverting the attention from the regular acts of State violence? Do we not realise that we would be falling in the trap of the State, which, through a complicit media is trying to magnify this violence? Strangely, these arguments have been employed by all apologists of violence. The State says that cases of violation of human rights are negligible. The CPI(M) claims its violence was restricted to very small areas of Nandigram. The RSS and BJP plead that criticism against them was disproportionate to the 2002 massacre, which was limited to very small pockets of Gujarat.

We are seeing a dangerous trend of civil society turning a blind eye to violence inflicted by revolutionary groups. More than 90 years ago, there were writers like Gorky who, condemning the summary trials and killings in the name of revolution, pleaded, "Murder and violence are the arguments of despotism, they are base arguments and they are powerless, for to violate somebody else's will or to kill a man can never mean killing an idea…" One should conclude by repeating the question he put forth to his countrymen, or perhaps all of us: "The most dreadful enemy of freedom and justice is our stupidity, our cruelty, and all the chaos which has been cultivated in our souls by monarchy's shameless oppression, by its cynical cruelty. Are we capable of understanding this?"

- apoorvanand@kafila.org

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