#UrbanNaxals versus #MeTooUrbanNaxal: Vivek Agnihotri defiant as Twitterati demand suspension of director's account

A political storm and an online war of sorts is underway after the Maharashtra Police raided the homes of prominent activists in several states and arrested at least five of them for suspected Maoist links. The arrests sparked a chorus of outraged protests from human rights defenders.

The raids were carried out as part of a probe into the violence between Dalits and the upper caste Peshwas at Koregaon-Bhima village near Pune after the Elgar Parishad event on 31 December last year. Security officials said that two letters were recovered over the past few months, indicating "Maoist" plans to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and Home Minister Rajnath Singh, which were also a reason for the raids.

The raids, dubbed as a "dangerous sign" by many eminent personalities has become a point of debate on social media, many referring to the arrests as "witch-hunt". Filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri took the debate a notch up when he tweeted this:

Popularised by a book by Agnihotri, the term 'Urban Naxal' has become a catch-all to refer to a section of the population perceived to be "anti-establishment". In an essay, Agnihotri describes "Urban Naxals" as those "urban intellectuals, influencers or activists of importance" who are "invisible enemies of India". Some of these people, Agnihotri claimed, "have either been caught or are under the police radar for working for the movement and spreading insurgency against the Indian State". This is similar to the term coined by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in June about the "half-Maoist", a mysterious category of people who were a "serious threat to Indian democracy" as they became the 'overground face of the underground'.

The ambiguous definition of the term has allowed its use in discrediting, quelling and criminalising dissent. The tweets by Agnihotri ignited a vitriolic debate on Twitter.

The arrest of the activists which has come under severe criticism was hailed by Agnihotri. The filmmaker also slammed the editor of The Wire Sidharth Vardharajan who opposed the use of the term "left bastions" for institutions like JNU in Delhi and Jadavpur University in Kolkata.

While journalists demanded that the filmmaker's Twitter account be suspended, as it "risks real-world violence," people from his own fraternity slammed him for his comments. Several claimed that Agnihotri's tweet could very well incite violence. Speaking to Firstpost, Agnihotri said, "I am the one speaking against those who are inciting violence. The government is taking action against such people. For me, those tweets were an academic exercise because I work with a lot of young people so I wanted to see who are the ones defending stone pelters, jihadists, and Naxals."

The filmmaker rubbished claims that those arrested aren't Naxals. "How do you know? What proof do you have? The UPA government had a list with the same people on it, and now they have been arrested. This is about India, and it is my right to stand against Naxalism."

When asked whether he factored in the volatile nature of information floated on social media before collating such a 'list', Agnihotri said, "All these people (on the list) are supporting killers, and I won't stand for it. I cannot say what will happen in the future, I cannot take responsibility for what a third party will do. How can I be responsible for how a third party reacts?"

When author Kiran Manral referred to Agnihotri's tweet as "McCarthyism", the filmmaker said:

And the thread is unending.

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Updated Date: Aug 29, 2018 16:08:50 IST

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