By Sandeep Pandey
IT IS a familiar plot by now. If there is an activist or an organisation questioning the government’s development policy (an euphemism for handing over precious public resources to corporate interests), or just exposes corruption — viewed as a necessary evil for the sustenance of mainstream political parties — the security agencies, at the behest of the government, will brand them as Naxalites. The latest victim is Akhil Gogoi of Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), Assam.
We’ve seen how Dr Binayak Sen spent two years in jail for allegedly being a Maoist. The Chhattisgarh government is yet to produce any concrete evidence, even though it has lined up over a hundred witnesses against Sen in the ongoing court case. Himanshu Kumar, the Gandhian activist working in Chhattisgarh for over 17 years, became an eyesore for the government, ever since he started taking up cases of human rights of ordinary tribals being violated by the security forces, Special Police Officers (SPOs) and the Salwa Judum. His ashram was demolished in May 2009 and all his colleagues, including Medha Patkar, were threatened. Similarly, the vicepresident of Karnataka People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Dr E Rati Rao, was charged with sedition by the Mysore police for editing Varthapatra, the Kannada bulletin of PUCL. Meanwhile, the UP police have arrested Seema Azad, a joint secretary of PUCL and editor of another publication Dastak — needless to say, for being a Maoist.
The KMSS is a peasants’ organisation fighting for the cause of ‘land to the tiller’. It uses Constitutional provisions to access benefits for ordinary people, and to help them assert their fundamental rights. For example, the KMSS used the RTI Act to expose corruption in the Indira Awas Yojana. A list of fake beneficiaries was obtained, and siphoning of funds exposed.
KMSS’ actions have mass appeal. They have grown from strength to strength, unearthing many a scam and forcing action to be taken against the guilty. KMSS and Akhil Gogoi were thus becoming a threat, not only to the corrupt and powerful, but also to the political parties, who used both threat and lure to try and contain him. But there was no stopping Gogoi or his band of activists, who are, meanwhile, also opposing the construction of dams in the Brahmaputra river basin.
Using statutory provisions like the RTI, Akhil Gogoi and KMSS fight for the rights of farmers and expose corruption
The government has undertaken a huge expansion plan for hydroelectricity, in this ecologically fragile and seismically sensitive area. Clearances have been obtained without proper studies of downstream impact. A team of experts from IIT (Guwahati) and Guwahati and Dibrugarh universities have recommended in their interim report that the construction of the 2,000 MW Lower Subansiri Dam be stalled until the studies are completed. However, the government ignores this report, putting the existence of both human communities and wildlife at stake. The KMSS’ stand has been supported by the likes of Bhuban Pegu, MLA from Jonai — who too has been accused of having Maoist links.
That the political-administrative system is totally corrupt is an open secret. The people in charge of running it use violence to suppress dissent. But when it comes to countering Naxalites, the same system adopts a holier than thou approach. Suddenly, the government and the parties appear as non-violent, and Naxalites and terrorists the only violent groups. Thus, democratic people’s movements are accused of being hand-in-glove with violent illegal forces. Actually, it is a ploy to divert people’s attention from the misdeeds of the political-administrative system by tarnishing the image of those who raise uncomfortable questions.