Civil libertarians are up in arms against any possible police action against Arundhati Roy for her pro-Maoist stance.
There are several big guns like Aruna Roy and Jean Dreze who favour a virtual anticipatory bail for the Booker prize winner. Their contention is that support for Maoist insurgency doesn’t constitute a crime. Mamata Banerjee, too, is of the same view although, she was far more forthright in her expression of support for the Sahitya Akademi prize winner Mahashweta Devi. West Bengal would “burn”, she had threatened, if the pro-Maoist writer was arrested.
There will be a measure of support for these views although not everyone will endorse Mamata’s method of protest. The essence of such liberalism is that the freedom of expression should not be suppressed. It is also undeniable that Maoism elicits a kind of snobbery, especially among the well-off, where support for the rebels is intended to stress their superiority via an overt empathy with the downtrodden.
Or it may be a guilt complex harboured by the affluent over the destitution of the underprivileged. It is the same complex which makes a section of the upper castes root for Mayawati. Since the Maoists are supposed to be fighting for the poor, their supporters in polite society claim a higher moral status than their critics, who are the “running dogs” of capitalism, to turn to a phrase used in Mao Zedong’s time against Liu Shaochi and the chairman’s other opponents during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
The pro-Maoists believe that their case is ethically foolproof. There are occasional muted murmurs about the violence perpetrated by the insurgents, such as the killing of policemen in Dantewada. But, as the more vocal among the apologists point out, such incidents are unavoidable where the Maoists have to defend themselves.
It is the old Leftist argument about the state being the more violent of the two while the working class merely fends off the attacks of the rich and the powerful, thereby causing a few casualties in the process. The underlying assumption is that the state does not really represent the “people”. The legitimacy for this stand is drawn from the historical battles of the Bolsheviks, Mao’s guerrillas, Fidel Castro’s jungle warriors and Ho Chi Minh’s peasant army.
The scene in India is a little different in that it is neither a monarchy, nor a dictatorship, nor is it under a regime which is propped up by the Americans although the last allegation is made in a roundabout way.
The main charge made by Roy, Mahashweta Devi and others is that Indian democracy is devoid of any sympathy for the oppressed because its present-day rulers are under the thumb of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Again, this is an old Marxist characterisation of a bourgeois government as a committee of the exploiters.
However, even if the pro-poor credentials of the Maoist supporters are conceded for argument’s sake, the point remains as to what extent this entitles them to behave as virtual subversives. The answer may become clearer if the activities of another group of militants — the Islamic fundamentalists — are taken into account.
Will the state allow their supporters the luxury of using the openness of democracy to speak for them? And will the champions of human rights be as vocal in their endorsement of the jehadi cause as the Maoist uprising?
Probably not. Yet, the jehadis claim to represent an even larger section of people than the Maoists, who speak for the poor in India only. The Islamists, on the other hand, believe that they are voicing the grievances of the ummah or the entire community of Muslims, who live under dictatorial regimes which are in league with the Americans.
In India, Simi and the Indian Mujahideen have joined the terrorists apparently for the reason stated earlier, and also because of the depressed condition of Muslims in this country and the violence unleashed against them by a seemingly biased state machinery during communal outbreaks, as in Gujarat. Like the Maoists, the jehadis also do not expect any redressal of their grievances under the existing system and want to supplant it in India (as well as in the Muslim countries run by America’s “puppets”) with one which is true to Islamic tenets. Their caliphate is no different in this respect from the Marxist utopia.
Despite this similarity, there are two reasons why the civil rights groups are more restrained about the Islamic fundamentalists than about the Maoists. The first is the fear that the state may be less indulgent towards them if they lean too far towards the jehadis. The society too, will not be all that permissive.
And the second is that Islamic militancy lacks the romantic appeal of Marxism, which is not dissimilar to the unending charm of the Robin Hood legend. Islamism, with its stark puritanism based on the “opium” of religion and the oppression of women, lacks that appeal for the left-liberals.