A Letter to a friend

From Nirmalangshu Mukherji

Friday, 31 August 2018

Dear xxx,

Cannot agree with you more on your observation that ‘this sort of thing happens to the poor every day (muslims, dalits, foresters, slumdwellers), but as soon as the middle class gets oppressed and gets into the resistance it is all over the newspapers, so one can’t miss it.’ You didn’t explicitly mention it, but I know you are talking about the five people arrested two days ago on the charge of ‘maoist affiliations’: Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha, Vernon Gonsalves, Varavar Rao, Arun Ferreira.

However, let me qualify your statement by saying that it’s not just any ‘middle class’ that generates such outrage in the left-liberal circles; it needs to be a certain pretty well-defined section of elite intellectuals with a radical history of sorts. Let me explain with some case studies.

Please note that among these 5, Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, and Arun Ferreira are old activists who have been to prison several times on similar charges in every regime. The activist circle knows about this history; the rest of the left, not to mention high profile liberals, never cared. Now they are very prominent in the media because they are in the company of Sudha and Gautam. I guess you have at least heard of all of them.

Among these two, Gautam is a very well-known wealthy writer deeply associated with the elite Delhi community of advocates like Shanti Bhusan and his team, and top writers and publishers, Arundhati Roy, Penguin, etc. He has a long editorial association with EPW, and is active with PUDR writing excellent reports on state oppression. As far as I know, otherwise, notions of ‘people’s representative’, ‘working for the poor and the marginalised’—freely used for him currently—do not apply. He is just a very well connected, elite, journalist based in Delhi who writes radical stuff. There are dozens of such non-elite journalists across the country covering the miseries of the poor on a daily basis, no one cares about them. I know quite a few personally, have mentioned them in my book on Maoists.

Sudha Bharadwaj is an exception in this lot and needs a separate para. As you know, she is the daughter of Krishna Bharadwaj who was a star student of Sraffa, top economist, JNU professor, EPW editor etc. Sudha gave up her US citizenship and returned to India, got mathematics degree from IIT Kanpur, got involved with labour movement, shifted to Chattisgarh to work for Chattisgarh Mukti Morcha founded by the legendary Shankar Guha Neogi, and the rest is history. Her life, along with a very few others like Binayak Sen, Medha Patkar and Bela Bhatia, are contemporary legends in the annals of resistance. She is the one who has truly worked with and for the real poor and marginalised, and is internationally known for it. My point is there are hundreds of dedicated middle-class activists working for the poor in remote, forgotten corners of this wretched country. But they don’t have the pedigree that Sudha has. Those hapless activists, I have known dozens of them in my life (even in Delhi) just work in miserable conditions, hopping from one tiny forum to another, and disappear without noise. It’s this pedigree and elite connection of Gautam and Sudha that generated the outrage this time.

Just to give you a brief idea of the ‘privileged justice’, if you allow, note that within a few hours of police conducting search operations for Gautam and Sudha, big time advocates intervened throughout the night to stall their remand and transfer to Pune. Within a few hours, the Supreme Court was alerted by the following battery of advocates, the who’s who:

Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Sr. Adv.
Ms. Indira Jaising, Sr. Adv.
Mr. Dushyant Dave, Sr. Adv.
Mr. Huzefa Ahmadi, Sr. Adv.
Dr. Rajeev Dhavan, Sr. Adv.
Mr. Chander Uday Singh, Sr. Adv.
Mr. Raju Ramachandran, Sr. Adv.
Mr. Sanjay R. Hegde, Sr. Adv.
Mr. Amit Bhandari, Adv.
Mr. Prashant Bhushan, Adv.
Ms. Vrinda Grover, Adv.
Ms. Ratna Appnender, Adv.
Mr. Prasanna S., Adv.
Mr. Soutik Banerjee, Adv.
Ms. Cheryl D’Souza, Adv.
Mr. Tushar Mehta, ASG
Mr. Maninder Singh, ASG
Mr. R. Balasubrmanian, Adv.
Mr. Rajat Nair, Adv.
Ms. Swati Ghildiyal, Adv.
Mr. Sachin Sharma, Adv.
Mr. A.K. Sharma, Adv.
Mr. B.V. Balram Das, Adv.
Mr. Anil Grover, AAG
Mr. Satish Kumar, Adv.
Mr. Sanjay Kr. Visen, Adv.

In less than 24 hours, Supreme Court took up the petition from Romila Thapar, Prabhat Patnaik, Devaki Jain, Satish Deshpande etc. with a 3-judge bench chaired by the CJI. Very swiftly the police action was stayed and the activists were placed under home arrest till September 5. The nice bonus is that Arun, Vernon, and Varavara too returned home, this time.

As you saw, the TV and mainstream media is full of prominent stories on this with Hindu devoting headlines and nearly full pages. The situation is so heightened that even characters like Ramchandra Guha and Pratap Bhanu Mehta, who were praising Modi as the greatest leader since Nehru and predicting BJP rule for 25-30 years, have started giving fiery interviews and published blistering attacks on the mockery of the constitution, democratic norms, and dissent, to pave the way for corporate loot, etc.

In contrast, nobody raised a finger when 7 other activists including Rona Wilson, Dr. Shoma Sen, and others—each of whom have a long history of silent but wonderful work on human and democratic rights, especially the rights of political prisoners—were arrested, swiftly charged and imprisoned in June this year. They are still there, although as a trickle-down effect, people have now appealed for their bail in the Supreme Court.

More disturbingly, Dr. Sai Baba, a very well known ‘maoist’ activist was totally illegally arrested three years ago, swiftly convicted under UAPA, and awarded life. Sai Baba is 90% disabled and crawls on his hands and knees. Despite shrill campaign from some of us, the left-liberal, JNU-type fraternity never cared. Public meetings, street demos never saw more than a dozen hapless activists. I wrote on his condition at length at the time of his arrest, and repeated many times since. You can check on this site. <>

His devastated family and some committed activists have regularly circulated updates on his medical condition. Many attempts have been made to garner elite attention. To no avail so far. Sai Baba is rapidly sinking to death.

Isn’t there a topic called ‘moral luck’?

Sep 6, 2018

Nirmalangshu Mukherji

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