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Swami Agnivesh is founder convenor of Parliament of Religions (Sarva Dharma Sansad). Email:

The pedigree and pre-history of 'Urban Naxals'

Published Sep 9, 2018, 6:15 am IST
Updated Sep 9, 2018, 6:15 am IST
The latest coinage from the BJP-state propagandist mint is ‘urban Naxals’
Jnanpith award winner Girish Karnad (centre) seen sporting ‘Me Too Urban Naxal’ placard at the Gauri Day rally to mark the first anniversary of her death
 Jnanpith award winner Girish Karnad (centre) seen sporting ‘Me Too Urban Naxal’ placard at the Gauri Day rally to mark the first anniversary of her death

As a rule, terminologies are not invented or concepts concocted without a specific purpose. It is also the case that the success of the exercise lies in keeping the real purpose for inventing them hidden from public knowledge. This is done by strategies of obfuscation, which involve inventing scandalous hypotheses, investing them with a veneer of plausibility. 

 The latest coinage from the BJP-state propagandist mint is ‘urban Naxals’. It made an abrupt and arbitrary appearance in the public lingo, like the term ‘pseudo-secularist’ did, thanks to L. K. Advani. Unlike in the case of private or non-governmental agencies, the state and its arms are not obliged to offer verifiable explanations to justify manufacturing and circulating such terms. The authority of the state is powerful enough to legitimize such inventions.  


Even so, a potent context is helpful. The fanciful idea that some intellectuals and human rights activists are secretly plotting the assassination of the Prime Minister -it has to be a Rajiv Gandhi type plot- is such a context. It is not without precedent. The fire on the Reichstag building on the 27th of February 1933, one month after Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor, is a suggestive parallel.  

The rationale for improvising the concept of urban Naxals lies deep within the desperately orchestrated nationalist agenda of the Shah-Modi dispensation. Nationalism, as it was understood and practised in Europe from the second half of the 19th century involved the stigmatization and exclusion of target communities. When nationalism is defined on the basis of language, race, religion or culture, there will always be a group or several groups, other than the dominant group, that become ‘the other’. German nationalism -based on race- made the Jews the hated ‘other’. Jewish nationalism -based on race and religion- made the rest of the world -the Gentiles- ‘the other’. And so on. 


What is currently in progress in our country is the redefining of Indian nationalism. In opposition to the British Raj, India evolved a unique model of nationalism in which neither religion, nor language, nor culture was the shaping force. Indian nationalism was inclusive and it was oriented to the freedom of all oppressed people. When Pandit Nehru presented the Indian flag for adoption to the Parliament, he described the tricolor as a symbol of the passion for freedom of the oppressed people everywhere in the world. Gandhi and Nehru opposed the formation of the Jewish state -which Modi is proudly courting today- on the ground that religion should never be the basis for forming a nation. 


   It is not an accident, therefore, that every attempt is being made to discredit and stigmatize the Nehruvian legacy today. What is despised is not the economic model alone; but, even more fundamentally, the model of nationalism Nehru strove after. Gandhi was shot for the self-same reason; for didn’t he, after all, go on a hunger strike, demanding that the Rs. 50 crores promised to Pakistan in compensation should be paid and not reneged on? Gandhi did so because for him, as for Gurudev Tagore, the world was one nation, or one nest as the motto Vishwa-Bharati University affirms. “Humanity,” Tagore declared, “is my refuge”. And he dreamt of India entering, as stated so eloquently in the Gitanjali, a heaven of freedom, which is unmarred by ‘narrow domestic walls’ and where the mind is without fear.   


The new Indian nationalism being invented and inflicted upon all of us, based entirely on the European -especially the Hitlerian- model of exclusion -as against the Indian model of inclusion- demands that large segments of our people be rendered alien and dangerous to the presumed patriotic core, which is arbitrarily assumed to comprise the Hindutva camp-followers. The reason for this dishonest interference with history is not far to seek.  

   None of the Hindutva stalwarts had anything to do with the freedom movement. They chose to stay extraneous to the nationalist movement that won us freedom. Veer Sarvarkar pledged loyalty to the British Raj for being let out of the jail in the Andamans. So, as long as the Gandhi-Tagore-Nehru model of Indian nationalism remains valid, the Hindutva agenda cannot gain legitimacy. Hindutva is a project - and this is no secret - keen to handover the baton of nationalism to the Hindu upper caste, especially its Brahmanical core. This project requires that a vast majority of the people of India are excluded under one pretext or another. 


So, if Adivasis struggle for their sustenance and fundamental rights it is a conspiracy against the state. If Dalits -and they won’t be allowed to call themselves Dalits henceforth- demand a few crumbs from the master’s table, they are Maoists and Naxals. Not even raving lunatics can be expected to believe that “intellectuals and the human rights activists” are armed to the teeth fighting a war of subversion against the state. So, they need to be stigmatized as ‘urban Naxals’. What is beyond any doubt is that the term ‘Naxal’ is used in this context not as a precise taxonomical classification of a subversive entity, but as an alienating and stigmatizing label. The intellectuals and human rights activists are ‘Naxals,’ ‘living in cities’, to the new nationalism being evolved. We go after the false scent if we try to figure out the specifics of their offence. The offence, as per the logic of European nationalism, is in who you are. What you do can be invented plausibly, given who you are. You are an intellectual? You are the voice of the oppressed? You advocate the cause of the uprooted and the disenfranchised? Then you are a Naxal. It is just that plain simple. 


But there is a catch here, which the inventors of this clever label don’t seem to understand. In doing this outrageously fanciful thing, they are investing the Naxals with the sort of legitimacy and acceptance they could not have dreamt of. Thousands of respectable and well-meaning people are saying today, “Then I too am an Urban Naxal!” That is the problem in being too clever by half! 

(Swami Agnivesh is a social activist and has been working for the emancipation of bonded labourers)