Even as the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic looms large and prisons are becoming dangerous hotspots of contagion, even as the Supreme Court of India directs prisons to release undertrials and convicts on interim bail, even as the Indian nation grinds to a halt following a lockdown, even as hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are stranded and sheltered in schools, there is one thing that no virus appears to be capable of stopping – the Indian state’s persecution of one of India’s foremost intellectuals, Dr Anand Teltumbde.
Why is Teltumbde considered so dangerous by the ruling neoliberal, Hindutva regime?
When violence first broke out at Bhima Koregaon in 2018, the police investigation concentrated on two Hindutva activists Sambhaji Bhide and Milind Ekbote. However, the rightwing forces of the Sangh parivar quickly released a report finding fault with this line of enquiry. They instead falsely accused the Elgar Parishad – a collective of progressive Ambedkarite organisations and activists that held the annual mass gathering at Bhima Koregaon – of having links with the Maoists.
It is common knowledge that Maoist organisations are banned in India. Why was an Ambedkarite Dalit commemorative event portrayed as a Maoist event? Anyone who has followed the events that have transpired since will clearly understand that such a far-fetched, fraudulent link was made with the sole purpose of targeting Dalits and Ambedkarites, making use of the legal apparatus in its most vicious forms.
Soon, even the word ‘Maoist’ was dropped and for the sake of garnering great publicity and also to build consensus around the arrest of activists from around the country, the ruling dispensation started deploying the term “urban Naxal”.
This unique terminology allowed them to carry out their witch-hunt of intellectuals and activists in the cities; anyone with the remotest Leftist sympathies could be hauled into this urban naxal net if needed. This allowed them to concoct a headline grabbing plot alleging that there was a Left-wing conspiracy to assassinate the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On the basis of this fabricated plot, they have already sent to jail the respected labour lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj, English professor Shoma Sen, advocates Surendra Gadling and Vernon Gonsalves, social activist and researcher Mahesh Raut, journalist Arun Ferreira, editor Sudhir Dhawale, political prisoners’ rights activist Rona Wilson and celebrated octogenarian Telugu poet Varavara Rao.
Two more activists were also named in the chargesheet: Anand Teltumbde and journalist-activist Gautam Navlakha, both of whom have been told to surrender to the National Investigation Agency on Tuesday, April 14.
The nature of the case and the absurdist fabulous plot has also allowed the police to harass anyone anywhere: a professor in Hyderabad (Dr K. Satyanarayana) and a professor in Delhi (Hany Babu) had their homes searched, their computers trawled for information. Sadly, these might not be the last arrests we see.
Why is Anand Teltumbde being targeted in this vicious manner? Why have the powers-that-be decided that he, along with Gautam Navlakha must go to jail even as the Supreme Court wants prisoners to be released so as to contain the novel coronavirus pandemic?
Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Babasaheb Ambedkar, has already pointed out that one of the prime reasons behind this targeting is that Teltumbde is a son-in-law of Babasaheb’s family. The hidden agenda of the BJP-RSS and the cluster of right-wing organisations called the Sangh parivar is to attack the legacy of Babasaheb. Anand Teltumbde neither attended the Bhima Koregaon event, nor was he involved in the organising team, so why is he being singled out for this witch-hunt? This is because of the politics that he articulates, a politics that is anathema to the rightwing, neoliberal regime.
He is one of the followers of Babasaheb who has continuously highlighted the need to fight Hindutva on both the social and economic front. One the one hand, he has laid bare the Brahminical anti-social casteist nature of the Sangh parivar, while on the other he has relentlessly attacked the anti-people economic policies of Neoliberal Hindutva. One of his recent publications is titled Republic of Caste: Thinking Equality in the Time of Neoliberal Hindutva. He upholds Ambedkar’s radical vision of ushering social and economic democracy in India through the annihilation of caste and state socialism.
Teltumbde has pointed out the explicit socialist vision of Babasaheb Ambedkar:
“I should have from that point of view expected the Resolution to state in most explicit terms that in order that there may be social and economic justice in the country, that there would be nationalisation of industry and nationalisation of land, I do not understand how it could be possible for any future Government which believes in doing justice socially, economically and politically, unless its economy is a socialistic economy”(December 17, 1946).
In the same article, he quotes Babasaheb again to emphasise the importance of anti-caste revolution for the success of socialism,
“Men will not join in a revolution for the equalisation of property unless they know that after the revolution is achieved they will be treated equally and that there will be no discrimination of caste and creed. The assurance of a socialist leading the revolution that he does not believe in caste, I am sure, will not suffice. The assurance must be the assurance proceeding from much deeper foundation, namely, the mental attitude of the compatriots towards one another in their spirit of personal equality and fraternity.”
Furthermore, this programme and doctrine of annihilation of caste alongside socialism is articulated by a scholar from a Dalit background – and it is the Dalit-Bahujans who form the majority of India’s de facto working class. This means challenging caste will also present the greatest challenge to untrammelled, exploitative capitalism.
This radical vision of Babasaheb’s anti-caste socialism is directly antithetical to the RSS-BJP’s Neoliberal Hindutva, which wants to thrive on caste, class and gender inequality in society. The targeting of religious minorities is its main weapon to polarise and divide India on communal lines to achieve that regressive end.
Right from its genesis, the RSS has worked as the stooge of British imperialism and upholder of Manuvad. When British colonialism was exploiting Indian resources and Indian people for their own interest, RSS chief M.S. Golwalkar had famously uttered at the peak of Indian freedom struggle, ““Hindus, don’t waste your energy fighting the British. Save your energy to fight our internal enemies that are Muslims, Christians, and Communists.”
It is another matter that patriotic Indians, including Hindus, never listened to anti-national Hindutva and fought British colonialism tooth and nail till the country got independence. In another instance, Golwalkar, praising Manu wrote,
“It is this fact which made the first and greatest law giver of the world – Manu, to lay down in his code, directing all the peoples of the world to come to learn their duties at the holy feet of the “Eldestborn” Brahmans of this land.”
However, much to the Sangh’s discomfort, the constitution of India Article 15, clearly laid out “prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth”.
Teltumbde belongs to that league of Ambedkarites who stands like a progressive intellectual wall against the neoliberal Hindutva of the RSS-BJP. It is important for the anti-people, RSS-guided Central government to breach this progressive intellectual wall for their forward march towards an unequal, regressive society of Hindutva ridden with caste discrimination, class inequality and patriarchal domination. They want to accelerate this time machine which will take us into the dark ages. For this reason, they have concocted a fake story of Maoist instigated violence and save the Hindutva activists who were behind the Bhima Koregaon violence and falsely implicate the Ambedkarite-led Elgar Parishad.
However, the truth will eventually prevail. For this reason, it is important that all patriotic Indians must refute this nefarious attempt of the Sangh, using the Modi-Shah led Central government machinery to discredit progressive and egalitarian Ambedkarite intellectuals like Teltumbde.
His planned arrest on Ambedkar Jayanti is a blot on our nation. We demand his immediate release, and we demand the release of all the activists, thinkers and advocates who have been jailed in the Bhima Koregaon case.
Jignesh Mevani is MLA for Vadgam, Gujarat. Meena Kandaswamy is a poet and writer. Her most recent book is Exquisite Cadavers.