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Editorial

TOI EDIT -McCarthy Moment?

August 30, 2018 06:01 AM

COURTESY TOI EDIT AUG 30

McCarthy Moment?
Pune police’s countrywide swoop on left wing activists rightly elicits outrage and legal challenge
A lot appears amiss in the Pune police raids on seven activists and arrest of five of them for alleged Maoist links. For a major case leading to a nationwide swoop, the original FIR alleging cognisable offences was not lodged through discernible wrongdoing or intelligence inputs, but a private complaint by a right wing activist. The December 31 Elgar Parishad organised by Left and Dalit groups happened right under the Pune police’s nose. That it could detect no wrongdoing then, until it went on an overdrive after the complaint from a political source does raise doubts.

Not surprisingly, the police action is being seen as excessive in many quarters and has raised enough doubts for the Supreme Court and two high courts to look further into the case. Some of those arrested or raided were citizens of impeccable reputation like human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj and Dalit intellectual Anand Teltumbde. The point that bears repeating even amid the deafening chorus about an “urban naxal” project – to balkanise the country, as a prominent BJP spokesperson suggested without getting into any hows or wherefores – is that democracy permits dissent and activism. As the Supreme Court, urgently hearing the activists’ plea, rightly opined yesterday, “dissent is the safety valve of democracy.”


It is important to make a fundamental distinction here. No democracy permits violent acts against the state or unsanctioned violence against individuals. But one is allowed to speak even in favour of extreme causes and ideologies, like Maoism or Hindutva. Ideas must be fought with better ideas, not through coercion or repression. This is what distinguishes a democracy from an authoritarian state. India won half the battle against Maoism when it adopted a liberal democracy in 1950 and took another giant leap through liberal economic reforms since 1991. Now the Naxal ideology is losing traction even in remote tribal areas. This is hardly the moment to resurrect the figure of the “urban naxal” to target, say, Dalit or tribal or trade union activists.

Yet the fear mongering cannot be ignored because it recalls the McCarthy era in 1950s America, when left wing activists were persecuted. Maharashtra police must follow the evidence rather than go overboard. Summoning the activists for questioning instead of making the arrests a spectacle would have been appropriate. Now it faces searching questions in Supreme Court and high courts after reducing due process to farce.

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