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If you protest against the government, you are a Maoist

So Union Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has uttered the M word: Maoists. Though he stopped short of insinuating that the Maoists were also there at Rajpath over the weekend. Even if he had, not many government watchers would have been surprised. All you would need is a Delhi police officer or an IB official reeling out some figures of Maoist infiltration in the National Capital Region for the media to lap up.

"Lumpen elements" and "hooligans" were the terms used instead. Introduced to the semantics by a section of the media, the government picked it up as well on Sunday and decided to give the Delhi Police danda treatment to the "hooligan" boys and girls on Sunday. "With you, for you, Always" never sounded more sarcastic.

"Unruly elements had infiltrated the protest and we had to protect Rashtrapathi Bhavan" was Shinde's defence. Indeed, for all the tear gas shelling that was happening in his neighbourhood, President Pranab Mukherjee's eyes must have been watering 24x7.

If you protest against the government, no matter the issue, you run the risk of being branded a Maoist. . AP

Comparing the protesters with Maoists, Shinde did a classic foot in the mouth act. "Tomorrow Maoists may come and demonstrate at Rajpath, should the government go and talk to them?" he asked indignantly. He didn't stop there. "Tomorrow 100 Adivasis will be killed in Chhatisgarh or Gadchiroli, can the government go there?"

Why shouldn't you, Mr Home Minister? If your job is not to engage with those unhappy with the state, then what is it? How can the lives of one hundred Adivasis be dismissed in such a disrespectful manner? Surely whoever asked the Union Home minister to give interviews did him and the country a disservice. Shinde, like his boss, is better in silent mode. Theek hai?

The Maoists have always been part of the conspiracy narrative especially in states like Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal. Who can forget Mamata Banerjee accusing a hapless villager of being part of the M-gang just because he dared to ask her an uncomfortable question. In Didi's mind, it is as if Maoist and Marxist are synonyms, out to decimate Mamata.

In Andhra Pradesh, the security forces introduce Maoists into the script whenever the plot goes out of hand. Like during the Telangana agitation on the Osmania University campus. Officers leaked "fears", in hushed tones, about Maoist sympathisers having a hand in the violence during agitations. "Normal students would not vandalise statues on Tank Bund in Hyderabad, they would not set vehicles on fire. This is a clear Maoist hand, went the narrative.

The Maoist support to the statehood agitation is another constant in many pro-united Andhra Pradesh reports that go from Hyderabad to Delhi. The fear that Maoists, who are strong in south Chhattisgarh and Gadchiroli, will cross the Godavari to take over Telangana, once statehood is granted. Given that the Prime Minister has described Maoists as the biggest internal security threat, such an input is obviously not taken lightly in North Block.

The other Maoist angle to the Telangana struggle is that many of the activists in the movement have allegedly had links with the outlaws at some point of time. Given that it is also true in some cases, the Maoist angle to the Telangana imbroglio is one of the biggest hurdles in the formation of a new state today.

Just like it was during the agitation to prevent power plants from coming up in ecologically fragile areas of the Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh. Again the police let it be known that Maoists had infiltrated the ranks and taken over the agitation, giving it a violent edge. In the firing that followed, three villagers died.

Again in the protests against Posco and Vedanta, the Odisha police made it known that the villagers were actually acting on the diktat of the naxals, who enjoy widespread support among the tribal groups.

The fact of the matter is that the governments which increasingly prefer to speak to its people through the police, have started speaking the police language themselves. By reducing ordinary boys and girls to hooligans and comparing them with Maoists, the government has exposed its thinking. It sees an enemy in anyone who has an opposing point of view. It sees a Maoist who is out there to defy the might of the state.

India's biggest failing is that it is refusing to engage with its people. Maoists or non-Maoists. And by refusing to lend an ear, it will eventually force more people to veer off the path of non-violence. After the Rajpath incidents on Sunday, we, the people of India became in the eyes of our government "We, the lumpen people of India". It won't take long for us to become 'We, the Maoists of India".

And Shri Sushil Kumar Shinde won't come to talk to us then as well.