Issues

Faiz Ahmad Faiz & and the Urban Naxal label

In a manner of speaking — Stop the witch-hunt

Nisaar mein teri galyon pe ai watan ke jahaan

Chali hai rasm ke koi na sar utha ke chale

Jo koi chaahne wala twaaf ko nikle

to sar jhuka ke chale, jism-o-jaan bacha ke chale

— Faiz Ahmad Faiz

 (I will lay down my life for your streets,

Motherland, where the orders are that no one walks with a raised head.

If a lover stirs out to take a round of the beloved’s home

He must walk with a bowed head for the safety of his life and limb.)

In the wet, drizzly Saturday morning of September 1, I got up with an uncertain, unarticulated feeling of unfreedom, as if hemmed in from all sides by a strong, invisible wall. In the fuzzy moments soon after getting up (the fuzzy moments have lengthened as I have entered my 70th year) I try to figure out this sense of dread.

Within a couple of minutes I put my finger on it. For the last few days I had been reading my favourite newspaper, The Indian Express, too closely, more closely than is good for my sanity, I discover.  

Quite a few stories suggest the shrinking of public square, the visible smothering of dissent by the organs of State (from Centre to states), the free use of police and intelligence agencies to silence criticism and evaluation of how we are governed.

One remembers what Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote in their Federalist Papers, which later became a major organising principle in the US Constitution: People in a democracy surrender some of their freedom to the State (which can restrain the lawless and prevent harm to the law-abiding citizenry by watching the lawless, putting them in jail, or even hanging them, if the threat to common people, or the size of the harm already done is too large).

However, having done that the US Constitution obliges the State to restrain itself. In India, it seems, the State has assumed too much power by shoving aside constitutional bodies, norms and obligations, and is now hacking away merrily at democracy’s roots. The Indian State has not followed the Constitutional obligation of restraining itself. It has not honoured the bargain.

As we all know, Madison went on to become US President and followed the rajdharma of a restrained State that allowed freedom to flourish. PM Modi will do well to remember it and restrain the State, allowing dissent to flourish, without which, as the honourable Supreme Court has observed, the system would burst like a ventless pressure cooker.

The State has no business unleashing a witch-hunt against eminent citizens speaking for a just, democratic and equitable order by inventing transparently false labels like “Urban Naxals.” Such labels would not stick. By the way, have we regressed to the stage Faiz described decades ago?

Listen to the rant of foul-mouthed, ill-mannered, State-sponsored “spiritualists” like Sakhshi Maharaj and Sadhvi Prachi, committing defamation against Muslims publicly as the Police look the other way, and you will note that the State is not fair, and preventing social strife is farthest from its mind. It is working on a different agenda: crush dissent and ignore the lawlessness of its own favourites.  

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