Inventing The Enemy

By Patricia Mukhim  
+ Pic

Wendy Goldman’s “Inventing the Enemy” describes how, during Stalin’s rule, terror was unleashed by the regime on anyone suspected of being disloyal to the state. In her book, Goldman reconstructs how individuals and activists were caught in a web of accusation and counter- accusation, concealment and betrayal, belief and doubt. The lines between victims and perpetrators became completely blurred, not just because of the well- documented practice of self-protection - denouncing others before you were denounced yourself - but because the Bolshevik Revolution and the rapid and dramatic social changes brought about by Stalinist industrialisation left no one with a “pure” Bolshevik (or Stalinist) pedigree.

Even those loyal to the cause of Stalinism had family and political ties to individuals and groups singled out for repression and elimination by the Terror Machine of the time. This left everyone vulnerable. Goldman tells the story of that grim era of fear and paranoia and pushes us to imagine how we might have behaved had we lived in those times. Party leaders strongly encouraged ordinary citizens and party members to “unmask the hidden enemy”. Out of fear of repression or because people were brainwashed, they responded by reporting to the secret police and local authorities. The secret police picked up all those who were of “doubtful” integrity vis-à-vis the state, and terrorised them further.

This book reveals the dilemmas people confronted in their struggles to survive. Anyone who studies the security situation in the North-East will not miss the contours of the conflict or how each phase is projected by security forces. With the reduction in armed conflict in Assam (all prominent militant groups are engaged in talks with representatives of the government of India), things are supposed to be quiet on this front. But is that happening? Not from the recent spate of arrests of so-called Maoists or people having links with them. It appears that the state or its security wing is all set to reinvent the “enemy”.

There are many reasons for this. Armed conflicts create their own constituencies of vested interests. There is unaccounted money to be spent in unearthing information or “containing” terror.

The sudden upsurge in arrests of so-called Maoists in Upper Assam makes you wonder how they have suddenly emerged on the scene and what defines a Maoist. Are all anti-dam activists also Maoists? Is dissent against certain paradigms of development equivalent to Maoism? Are protests against mal-governance also facets of Maoism? These questions need answers before we allow the state to label everyone a Maoist. The arrest of a young, spirited Adivasi woman and her personal associates on the plea that she has Maoist links is a state- invented alibi for terror. If you are an underdog fighting for your rights, chances are that the state will quash that voice sooner than later. And when the state has identified an “enemy” and that enemy is usually not those who continuously pilfer the state exchequer or sell off the state’s assets for a song or are in league with extortionists or even with insurgents, but the voiceless, then God alone can save you. Look at what happened to Binayak Sen. If Dr Sen is out of jail today, and on bail, it is because he has a strong support group across the world. What support do poor, voiceless peasants have to fight the state?

I am all for tackling the forces of sedition, not because they disrupt the even tenor of life for our pompous rulers but because terrorism/militancy or its different avatars create a dissonance in governance.

For a long time governments have rested on the alibi that governance suffers on account of adverse law and order situations. Much debate has gone into whether development comes first or vice-versa. This is an unresolved dilemma. But I would like to believe that there is never any excuse for halting development because that, precisely, is the reason for unrest.

However, our paranoid security establishment has other views. So used are they to seeing ghosts everywhere that they are likely to shoot at their own shadows. I am also not inclined to throw my lot in with the anti-development, anti-World Bank, anti-ADB bogey.

Demonising development is fine but what are the alternatives for the poor? If we are anti-dam (mega dams in particular) it is because of the huge environmental costs that these constructions extract; the displacement of populations in the areas to be dammed; the downstream repercussions and the amorphous relief and rehabilitation packages that do not reach those who deserve the money to create alternative lives and livelihoods. It is on these issues that the arguments must rest. The state – as an entity to which citizens have signed a social contract with, to protect their lives and livelihoods – ought to be seen as an enlightened provider of the rule of law and other public goods and services. But is the state playing that role today?

Recent reports published by the United Nations Development Programme say that the quality of life among the Scheduled Castes and Tribes of India has gone further down the development indices. This obviously means that the much-vaunted Millennium Development Goals set by the UN as an aspirational end to be achieved by 2015 will remain a distant dream. This is not to say that life for the poor citizens who do not fall in the scheduled category is better. The poor are poor anyway because of the lack of resources for their growth and uplift. But when the poor revolt, why are they conveniently termed Maoists?

It is also a coincidence that the bulk of natural resources is parked in SC/ST/Dalit habitats. These are the areas worst exploited for timber, coal, iron ore, gas, limestone, etc. And how much do the people in those areas get in lieu of their resources? Peanuts. What is the environmental cost they have to pay? Poisoned rivers, loss of biodiversity and other cascading effects. This means loss of natural eco-system, and with that several health disorders and other impacts.

The impacts are visible in the climate change patterns and the change in cropping patterns as well. All these are insecurities that stare people in the face.

Human security implies not just military security, which the state is obsessed with. It means a holistic sense of security for the human person ranging from access to education, health care, livelihood, basic needs, clean drinking water and clean air to breathe.

Needless to say, much of the above are not within the reach of the majority of the poor. Many find voices in solidarity groups. But the state fails to recognise the symptoms of its failure and prefers to stick its head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich. The state takes the easy way out and punishes all those who point out at its failures. Some, like Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi (third consecutive term), have assumed the role of dictator, believing they ought to crush all voices of dissent. The people of Assam may be divided on their opinion about dissent and its different expressions.

The elite would prefer life to proceed at an uninterrupted pace because they have everything going for them. But the poor are impatient. And unless the poor upset the current paradigm of development, they are unlikely to get anything out of the state.

However, doing so means paying a heavy price. Many are likely to rot in jail because they do not have the money to pay lawyers to bail them out. So is that going to crush the voices of the teeming disadvantaged groups?

Revolutions are necessary to bring change. We ought to learn a lesson or two from the Arab uprisings. After all history is the greatest teacher.

The writer is editor, The Shillong Times,
and can be contacted at

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 January 2012 on page no. 11

We hope you liked this report/article. The Milli Gazette is a free and independent readers-supported media organisation. To support it, please contribute generously. Click here or email us at

blog comments powered by Disqus