• Officialspeak? Urban Naxal, tukde-tukde gang, badla: India’s new ‘vindictive’ lexicon

    Ananda Maitreya

    January 6, 2020

    CAA [Citizenship Amendment Act] is not for any citizen of this country. There has been misinformation about NRC [National Register of Citizens] . Congress and its allies, living in cities, urban naxals, are spreading rumour" —  Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently in his speech. It's time to teach Delhi's tukde-tukde gang a lesson — Home Minister Amit Shah in an address recently.


    In India, there is an increasing disdain being expressed for the urban progressives – especially from those considered to be on India’s political “right.” This disdain and contempt has been captured and expressed through a variety of descriptors and monikers, all of them mocking.


    These gained vast popularity via social media, maybe even in consonance with some global circulation of such sentiments, such as the more widely used “libtards.” Others were unique to Indian context and have been in use for a while, such as “sickular,” used to describe those who profess secularism, which in the Indian context eschews overt religious stands and frowns on religious assertions.


    Still others gained currency by and by, as various forms of protests manifested themselves against various actions of the right-wing BJP government. Significant among these rising rapidly in popularity have been the terms “Tukde Tukde gang,” and “Urban Naxals,” often employed for the same or maybe an overlapping set of people.


    The label “Tukde Tukde gang,” which literally means the “Pieces Pieces gang,” is a term that was first used to describe a set of students at India’s leading left-leaning university, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, who reportedly chanted slogans to the effect that “India will be split into pieces.”

      

    As a newspaper report puts it, “‘Tukde-tukde’ implies breaking or cutting something into small fragments. The Sangh parivar [a family of organizations of which the BJP is a part] stigmatises liberals and Leftists as the ‘tukde-tukde gang’, drawing on an allegation that JNU students had chanted slogans about dividing India into fragments at a campus protest in February 2016 that led to a sedition case against several students.”


    However, the term has acquired wider connotations. It is now used for anyone who is seen indulging in actions inimical to Indian national interests. The use by the Indian home minister recently, as he thundered against the protesters against India’s controversial and exclusionary citizenship laws, is of a piece with several other BJP functionaries utilizing it as a rod to pummel their opposition and detractors with.


    The employment of the term by the home minister, though not entirely unexpected, lends a sinister edge to the term, especially since he advocated retribution against those the term supposedly describes. That it demeans a political office and discourse is probably hardly worth mentioning since the conduct by that office has never displayed any signs of civilized niceties. But now the gloves are off.


    Similarly, the chief minister of UP, Yogi Adityanath also sounded like a street tough when he called for "badla (revenge)" against the anti-CAA protesters. Not one know for his delicate or sensitive manner, Adityanath still manages to reach new lows each time he lets his otherwise forcibly cultivated veneer slip.


    An even more damning term, employed even by the prime minister Narendra Modi recently, is “Urban Naxal.” The second part of this term, “Naxal,” refers to one who is a supposed follower of a movement (and an ideology) in India called Naxalism. As a term “Naxalism” marked the name of a place in eastern India, Naxalbari, which in the 1960s was the site of a peasant and indigenous uprising (with the support of members of a local Communist party) and subsequent violent, repressive police response.


    Soon, Naxalism spread to many parts of India as a form of “people’s war,” spearheaded by many who were associated with India’s Communist parties. It had, in its proliferation through other parts of India, transformed into what became referred to as the “Maoist insurgency.” This was formally centered around the ideology and actions of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) [CPI(Maoist)].


    The CPI (Maoist) was banned by the Indian government as a terrorist organization in 2009. They have continued to operate “underground,” mostly in indigenous areas in central India. Today the movement is either called just the Maoist movement or the Maoist-Naxalite movement. 

    One of the sources of the term 'Urban Naxal' is from the efforts of a Bollywood film producer called Vivek Agnihotri

    One of the sources of the term “Urban Naxal,” is from the efforts of a Bollywood film producer called Vivek Agnihotri. He is behind a film called "Buddha in a Traffic Jam", which he finished in 2016, and later wrote a book in 2018 on the making of the film, titled, “Urban Naxals: The Making of Buddha in a Traffic Jam.”


    In the book Agnihotri describes how, when stuck on a highway on account of some public protest and desultorily thinking about the various issues confronting the nation, his mind fixes on the problems of the indigenous and their supposed benefactors, the “Naxals” (the Maoist-Naxalite).


    His research into the world of the Maoists-Naxalites leads him to the idea of “front organizations” [FOs] in urban areas, which “are the offshoots of the parent Maoist party…[and] carry out a two-pronged communication attack—propaganda and disinformation.”


    It is through these FOs that, as Agnihotri tells us, “The city becomes the money source, shelter for cadre as transit points, source of weaponry and legal protection, medical aid, media attention, and intelligentsia network.”


    Further, these FOs, according to Agnihotri’s conclusions, foster the nexus between the “underground” Naxals and the urban, overground Naxals through a gamut of members of the urban civil society.


    Thus, the “Urban Naxals” came to be defined as a network of urban intelligentsia out to sabotage the workings of a supposedly democratically elected government.


    This self-definition and coining of the new label enabled the tarring a whole swathe of the civil society with the same brush of “intellectual terrorism,” and anti-nationalism. It has led to whole scale demonization and even arrests of various civil society members, such as trade union leaders, poets, prisoners’ rights activists and academics working on the intersection of caste, class and gender.


    With the prime minister of the country too using it casually and carelessly to blame the few who have stood up to the various abuses by the state, the space for dissent seems shriveling rapidly in India. It affords impunity to public authorities from browbeating, intimidating and implicating anyone, especially intellectuals, who they view with suspicion just for having stood up for causes that they feel go against their agenda and convictions.


    This is not unlike how Donald Trump used the term “The Squad,” to describe and dismiss the challenges posed by the four recently elected Congresswomen. It also has a resonance to another term the prime minister Modi is supposed to have coined – the “Khan Market gang” – to describe a set of people who frequented an upscale marketplace in New Delhi (Khan Market) and its neighborhood in which were located several venues for intellectual discussions.


    That label now seems almost benign compared to the more comprehensive, incriminating, and baneful term, “Urban Naxals,” which carries the might of a self-righteous and vindictive state behind it.


    Such usage of language also exposes these two senior position-holders in the government as little better than street-toughs who are not above hurling abusive epithets and issuing bloodthirsty calls for retribution and vengeance. Language matters — and those holding responsible offices have to be congnizant of employing their words in careful fashion. 

    One only has to read someone like Dr BR Ambedkar to understand how anger over historical injustice can be channeled via dignified yet unequivocal language. Gandhi's famous characterization of Katherine Mayo's book, Mother India, as the "report of a drain inspector sent out with the one purpose of opening and examining the drains of the country," while probably a little unfair, still strikes one for its restrained criticism.

    None of that from the current political leadership, one has to conclude. The accusations are crude, and the terms used in character-assasinations are base and crass.

    India is currently seeing a range and breadth of protests against the citizenship laws and other proposed actions to determine legal citizenship which is quite unprecedented in recent times. The young and old, political newbies and the hitherto apolitical are all joining in various forms of protests across the country, in towns and cities big and small. 
     
    There has been increasing state crackdowns and repression as the state grapples to put a lid on the ferment. The question is, how many supposed Urban Naxals and those of the Tukde Tukde gang can the government accuse and suppress?


    Delhi-based writer and student of social movements, has been involved in struggles of the marginalized people, including Dalits and Adivasis

    First published in Counterview.

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