The effect of Binayak Sen’s conviction

Yesterday, we saw many faces and forces converging on the streets, whom we missed during many programmes against the operation greenhunt over the past several months.

Binayak Sen’s conviction only reaffirms for those who forgot the simple civic science fact that the judiciary is ultimately part of the State, and it has to complement other organs of the State. This complementarity is sometimes contradictory. Such contradictory complementarity has its own functions, which are not simply ideological. Only through such contradictions the state subsumes its own excesses – resolving the problem of coordination between its various organs. One must not confuse these contradictions as some sort of autonomy, as many rights activists do. The overall tenor that the State acquires at a particular phase of societal development is what informs all its organs, one complementing another, even at many times by countering, so that the normality is established.


A general discomfort about Narayanpatna

1) The federal structure of India’s polity in the neoliberal phase has emerged as a unique mechanism to administer the internalisation and intensification of the general logic of capitalist accumulation at every location – with its great ability to subsume and network all forms of social relations under the command of this logic. The identitarian/territorial separations and exclusions are transformed into a differential inclusion within this logic forming the uneven terrain of the evolving capitalist geography in India. Commercialization and the subsumption of local social relations into this larger logic have recontextualised the social divisions through which the class struggle is refracted locally. So we find identity struggles… yet, they are class struggles!

2) The national club of Indian activists and intellectuals became aware of the movement at Narayanpatna only at the moment of its retreat. Even if they were aware of it, they hardly cared about it. There was nothing like another anti-land acquisition movement against the big “outside” of the corporates, which temporarily (if I may say so) almost seemed to homogenise the ‘affected’ village India against ‘non-Indian’ imperialism and its Indian agencies – a romantic India against the pragmatic world of capitalism (some name this, Bharat vs India) – a dream struggle for oneness with the pristine simplicity which capitalism wants to destroy.

3) However, at the time of its retreat, people inside and outside did try to paint the reality in Narayanpatna according to the images that sell today. But the truth is that Narayanpatna divides people – it represents that politics which emerges out of the divisions that constitute India, not just between the outside and the inside, the rural and the urban, not simply between the upper caste and the lower caste, but between the whole ‘glocal’ network of capital (which unites the global with the local, not just extensively, but intensively too) and the insistence of the indigenous section of the local labour to self-valorise, not to be subsumed by capital and its personified agencies.

4) The Narayanpatna movement was against both the asset-rich and the asset-poor who engaged in that grand network of capital. People were uncomfortable with this movement because it brought forth the fundamentals of the reality – of the deep divisions that constitute rural India. So in Narayanpatna all assumptions about rural movements went topsy-turvy – we saw intra-‘poor’ and community-level conflicts. This movement was against everybody that alienated and sought to alienate the forces of production and reproduction from the “tribals” – their labour, its means and its objects.

Robbers and the State

Ramakrishna Paramhansa once told the following story to a gathering (don’t ask me to be exact!):

A man going through a forest was robbed by three robbers. After robbing him, one proposed to kill him. Another reasoned about the uselessness of killing the person, he proposed to tie him up and leave him in the forest. Ultimately, the robbers bound his hands and feet and left him. After sometime the third robber returned and freed the person saying, “I am very sorry, hope you are not hurt. Come, I will lead you to the highway from where you can go home”. When they came to the road the man expressed his gratitude towards the robber – “You have been very kind to me. Come with me to my house”. The robber, obviously, refused and went away, while the man kept on looking at him charmed by the goodness of the robber and asked god to keep him safe.

This world itself is the forest, where Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are the robbers robbing a man of the Knowledge of Truth (The Real), leaving him enchanted by Maya. Tamas wants to destroy him, Rajas binds him to the world, while Sattva rescues him from the clutches of the other two. Under the protection of Sattva, the man is rescued from anger, passion and other evil effects of Tamas. But then Sattva too is a robber who leaves him further off from the knowledge of Truth – of Moksha and Maya. Ultimately he is left mesmerised by Maya.

Isn’t this story an interpretation of the dialectic of coercion and consent (which is the basis of the State and its apparatuses) – translated in terms of the interplay of Tamas, Rajas and Sattva?

Terrorism, Mass Hysteria and Hegemony in India

All incidents in India that have occurred recently, which go by a blanket name terrorist attacks, have been viewed as self-explanatory. A terrorist and his acts don’t need any explanation. A terrorist is like any other professional who is supposed to do what he is trained for. Why does he do that – is not a question to be asked. It is his own “free will” which clashes with others’ free will. Haven’t we been time and again accused of talking about the human rights of the “terrorists” while “ignoring” those of the soldiers and policemen who are “victims” of the terrorist attacks? Their opposite location with respect to the hegemonic centre does not mean anything.

I feel the post-modern capitalist celebration of relativism indicates towards an important aspect of the reconstruction of power, civil society and expression in the age of finance capital. The footlooseness of faceless finance capital characteristic of this age has intensified the process of solid melting into the air to an ever-increasing degree – every click on the keyboard makes, changes and destroys billions of lives every moment. This has led to a multiple crisscrossed entrenchment of every segment in the society trying to hold on to something solid – an identity or something… In the process, every ‘melting’ identity poses its own language which could not be understood beyond the space-time of its posing. This is what we can call a continuous process of subalternization, of manufacturing subalternities that cannot act, but simply react in the hegemonic paradigm. When useful things become commodities, their self-expression (through their own use-value) is incomprehensible in the market, they must express their worth through the hegemonic reactive monetary expression of exchange-value – a general form of value.

Thus, the resolution of “civilizational” conflicts (between various levels of subalternities) is possible in the within-the-system framework only through a generalized cutthroat competition or simply mutual annihilation – the well-armed and defiant robots clashing with each other – “the terrorists”, the security personnel etc. The only language that is mutually understandable is that of the guns and bombs… So the citizenry can’t empathize with the terrorists, they are always aliens. And so are the (counter)terrorists and their ‘innocent’ protégées for “them”. They are reduced to reactive agencies within the hegemonic game-plans. They can only react to each other’s moves.

Today’s terrorism is a desperate cry to make others’ listen to what subjects/terrorists are unable to express and what “others” either refuse to hear or are unable to understand. It is the failure and crisis of self-representation let out in the hegemonic language of coercion and terror. This seems absurd but this is as absurd as the absurdity of the conjuncture.

The whole arrogant security discourse that the media and security mafia in India pose is far more absurd than the defiant terrorist attacks. What can be more absurd than the astheticised victimhood of the “great” India that they sell while being slyly proud whenever a terrorist attack takes place in the country, as that makes them feel to be in the league of the greatest victims of global terrorism – the US, UK and Israel. So now we have our own 9/11. This is the level of discourse in the Indian media in the context of the Mumbai incidents.

The recent unabashed display of an elitist, confessedly, “anti-political” stress on security infrastructure and technology to resolve every conflict and the aim to put away politics on security matters are nothing but an insistent inability and a lack of will to understand conflicts. Nobody is asking for an everyday democratic control over every aspect of social life, rather what is being provoked by the panicky bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie in India is a hysteria in favour of a trans-political security and intelligence machinery – which can easily become a permanent coercive, of course, an efficient, bureaucracy which regulates the social life.

Terrorism in the present shape is not a threat for the system but like its counterpart is an opportunity for the hegemony to create consensus to (counter)terrorise (and subalternise) the alienated voices and stop them from becoming a meaningful and organised threat to the system by transcending their own subalternity. Anyway, as a prominent postmodernist, postcolonialist scholar categorically said, “Who the hell wants to protect subalternity? Only extremely reactionary, dubious anthropologistic museumizers. No activist wants to keep the subaltern in the space of difference… You don’t give the subaltern voice. You work for the bloody subaltern, you work against subalternity.” (“Interview With Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak”, Ariel: A Review of International English Literature (July 1992), 23(3):29-47)

Terrorism and anti-terrorism in India

In India there has been a growing demand from political, media and business elites for stringent ANTI-TERROR legislation. In their pursuit to repress their own fear, they demand fear among the public so that the public doesn’t terrorise the masters. At opportune moments and places, to aid them (one can never tell whether there is conscious mutuality or not) we have ghastly incidences like yesterday’s in Delhi, or earlier this year’s in the BJP run states. Such incidences effectively create a required legitimation for such McCarthyite demands. You need to just watch the tv news channels with their distinguished guests and “ex”s from politics, police-military bureaucracy and new ‘security intellectuals’ who unabashedly demand repressive laws to control their own fear and create fear among the “faceless” “terrorists”.

Probably matters of coincidence – in the morning of the tragic day we read about “the UPA government speaking in different voices over the need for enacting tough anti-terror laws by the States”. The government’s National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan openly favours the Gujarat government’s proposal for a state law against “terrorism”. And there was a considerable coverage on the opposition party’s three-day conclave which was entitled “Terrorism to be the BJP’s major poll plank”. The party leader Rajnath Singh said that “only after Advani becomes Prime Minister will there be a decisive initiative”. And in the evening there are blasts throughout Delhi. What a day-case for anti-terrorism.

If you are conscious of the material organisation of newspapers and media reporting, you will find this pattern repeated daily.

US Supreme Court Justice Brandeis while disagreeing with the Court’s analysis in upholding a conviction for aiding the Communist Party in Whitney v. California (1927) (though concurring with the disposition of the case on technical grounds), made the most brilliant case possible within a liberal democratic framework against fascistic ideologico-legal regimentation:

Those who won our independence… knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies; and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, they eschewed silence coerced by law — the argument of force in its worst form. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed.

Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burned women.

“Fear breeds repression”

Meredith Fuchs, general counsel to the National Security Archive in the US, made a simple, but significant point: “The Rosenberg case illustrates the excesses that can occur when we’re afraid.”

“In the 1950s, we were afraid of communism; today, we’re afraid of terrorism. We don’t want to make the same mistakes we made 50 years ago.”

This is an important lesson for us too…

“an alibi”

Whoever has written today’s ET editorial on communal tensions in Orissa has rightly pointed out the McCarthyite tactics of the repressive state:

The allegation against the Maoists gives the BJD-BJP government an alibi to step up its ongoing, and under-reported, project of repressing various grassroots movements in tribal areas in the name of containing Maoism“.

NHRC has its own style

Should we be surprised by the National Human Rights Commission’s submission to the Supreme Court regarding Salwa Judum’s atrocities leaked by the Economic Times? The official human rights body “found that many of the allegations [against Salwa Judum] were based on rumours and hearsay, and devoid of facts. Again, many of the villagers whose names figured in the column comprising victims of Salwa Judum or the security forces were actually found to have been killed by Naxalites. FIRs had been registered in most of these cases and the state government had also doled out compensation to relatives of those killed. NHRC teams also discovered many of the villagers whose names figured in the list were actually Naxalites who had been killed in encounters with the security forces. A few other villagers were found to have died of natural causes, while yet another group of villagers whose names figured in the list of dead were actually found to be alive” (2). NHRC’s arguments here are quite clear and very logical –

if Salwa Judum or the security forces killed somebody, (s)he must be a naxalite; if (s)he was not a naxalite, then it’s obvious that (s)he was killed by the naxalites.

McCarthyism in India

Being the only “policeman” who “has ever risen to so much influence in India”, Indian National Security Adviser MK Narayanan seldom minces words in revealing the designs of the Indian State for “national security”. He recently pronounced the focus of the state’s strategy against leftist militancy in the country. In an interview to The Straits Times, he clearly emphasised that it is the intellectual appeal of the Maoists that is letting down the Indian state in its fight against the Maoists. “…[W]e haven’t been able to break their intellectual appeal that they seem to still have”.

Narayanan further adds that “large numbers of the intellectual elite and civil liberties bodies provide a backup to the movement in terms of agitprop and other activities”. The fact that the Maoists “are still able to get support of intellectual classes is disturbing. Unless we can divorce the two … [defeating the Maoists] is not that easy”.

When asked if the Maoists are getting outside support, he said, “we have not seen any kind of infusion of arms or ammunition”. However it is the “educated elite…that gives them a connection to the outside world”. Evidently, it is that “connection” which needs to be broken.

In order to sever this “connection”, the Indian state must find intellectual scapegoats (like the Americans had the Rosenbergs and others) to terrorise the “educated elite”. Hence, we have Binayak Sen, Ajay TG… And the list is daily growing.