4. THE POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE BHIMA KOREGAON CASE
All those arrested in this case work closely as lawyers or activists with Adivasi or Dalit populations, who are the worst hit by processes of displacement and dispossession. It is therefore also among these populations that the proscribed Maoist organizations work, and therefore also those defended by the armed Maoists. Hindutva ideology claims Dalits and Adivasis as part of the “Hindu majority,” despite their historical oppression and marginalization under Hinduism. The BJP government therefore cannot attack them directly, but instead seeks to cast all those who work for their rights as “Maoist” and “anti-national.” BJP ideologues have coined the term “Urban Naxal” to target academics, journalists, artists seen as sympathetic to the Maoists (or rather, the people and causes the Maoists are fighting for). The Bhima Koregaon case helps to create the sense of a widespread and growing “conspiracy” linking Maoists to urban sympathizers and creating a generalized sense of fear and threat, the conditions of an “emergency.”
The release by the police of “incriminating letters” supposedly found on Wilson’s hard drive to the media in a press conference enabled what has become a common practice in India today: trial by media. The accusations are read out in sensational tones by the anchors, and repeated endlessly with images, and talking heads are then invited into a spurious and tendentiously framed “debate.” This is all the proof the public needs to declare the accused guilty.26
The BK case has also become a model for the government’s modus operandi: the fomenting of violence in which the majority of the victims are members of the marginalized communities, and then the implication of human rights activists from these very same communities in fake cases to show that they provoked the violence. Hundreds of Muslims, youth, students, women’s rights activists who had been active in the protests in December 2019- February 2020 against the anti-Muslim Citizenship Amendment Act have been accused of fomenting the riots in Delhi in February 2020 and arrested under the UAPA.
The increased use of the UAPA to arrest and silence critics, dissenters, and human rights defenders is part of the growing clampdown on civil liberties and democratic rights, as well as civil society, under the BJP. Emblematic of this was the freezing, in September 2020, of Amnesty International India’s bank accounts by the (tax) Enforcement Directorate, bringing most of the work of the organization’s work in India to a grinding halt.
6 https://scroll.in/article/893686/13-letters-leaked-by-pune-police-show-why-it-s-hard-to-believe-claims-about-a-maoist-conspiracy; https://scroll.in/article/892850/from-pune-to-paris-how-a-police-investigation-turned-a-dalit-meeting-into-a-maoist-plot; https://scroll.in/article/914270/bhima-koregaon-supplementary-chargesheet-brings-little-new-information-to-the-case