'Urban Naxals' and right wing politics

Human rights advocate Sudha Bharadwaj (L) after she was arrested by the Pune police in connection with the Bhima Koregaon violence, in Faridabad on Tuesday, Aug 28, 2018. (PTI Photo)

The Twitterverse on Wednesday extended its support to five activists, who were arrested from across the country in relation to the Bhima Koregaon violence. This and the reported Maoist plot to assassinate PM Modi has once again pitted right-wing and left-wing supporters against each other.

In response to a tweet by filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri who made the term 'Urban Naxal' popular which was later used by the right-wing intellectuals, media and even the police, people extended their support with the hashtag #MeTooUrbanNaxal.

"I want some bright young people to make a list of all those who are defending #UrbanNaxals Let’s see where it leads. If you want to volunteer with commitment, pl DM me. @squintneon would you like to take the lead?" tweeted Agnihotri on Tuesday night.

Altnews founder Pratik Sinha in response to Agnihotri tweeted "Hey @vivekagnihotri, I volunteer to be on your list. Let's tag @vivekagnihotri with the hashtag #MeTooUrbanNaxal and help him build his list. We should all help this man in his noble endeavour."

Following the call, many tweeted with the hashtag #MeTooUrbanNaxal which began trending across India.

Urban Naxal

The presence of Maoists in urban areas in India was reported widely between 2005 and 2010. The term 'urban Naxal' is believed to have come into existence during that time. However, it became popular after the right-wing started to use it against many intellectuals and activists. 

In an essay that appeared in the right-wing magazine Swarajya in May 2017 by Vivek Agnihotri defines Urban Naxals as "the ‘invisible enemies’ of India, some of them have either been caught or are under the police radar for working for the movement and spreading insurgency against the Indian state. One common thread amongst all of them is that they are all urban intellectuals, influencers or activists of importance." He later wrote a book titled 'Urban Naxals' about the making of his movie, 'Budha In A Traffic Jam'

Republic TV also invited criticism for using the term on their banners when the first arrest of activists occurred in July this year. 

The term was widely used by the right-wing on social media to criticise dissenters. Journalists Rajdeep Sardesai, Shekhar Gupta, Siddharth Varadarajan and Barkha Dutt, activists like Prashant Bhushan and Sanjay Hegde, filmmaker Rakesh Sharma, actor Prakash Raj, feminists like Nandini Sundar and mainstream left parties who always get related to 'JNU' after the January 2016 incident are some names from their list of 'Urban Naxals'.

It is also time to recall that when Gauri Lankesh was murdered in Bengaluru, one right-wing activist had called her a 'Naxal sympathiser'.

On January 30, 2018, Agnihotri, while sharing a photo of Prakash Raj with activists Jignesh Mevani, Teesta Setalvad, Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid, Shehla Rashid and others tweeted "The only manifesto of this official #UrbanNaxal gang is to catch hold of anyone who criticises Modi because attack on Modi means attack on Hindus."

In another tweet on the same day, criticising an Indian Express story which said the Padma awards carried "unknown faces," he wrote, "To the liberals and this corrupt media you are not a known face until you become an #UrbanNaxal or a terrorist like Kanhaiya, Burhan Wani or Jignesh."

Earlier this week, right-wing organisations had organised seminars across many Delhi University colleges. One such seminar, titled "Urban Naxalism, the invisible enemy" at Hansraj College on August 24 was attended by AVBP national leaders where Agnihotri was the main speaker. 

A student from the college who wish to stay anonymous said that the speakers said Mao, Karl Marx and Hitler are mass killers and mother of Rohit Vemula, who killed himself at Hyderabad University receives Maoist funding. They also wanted to isolate Kerala.

According to a report in The Indian Express, one speaker said: "We have to come together to eliminate them completely... They are remaining only in Kerala, media and JNU."

He also said that students weren't allowed to ask questions or take videos during the event. "They were felicitated by the college administration which denies permission for holding any routine discussion and program to college students," wrote a student Kawalpreet Kaur on Facebook.

With 2019 Lok Sabha elections just 9 months away, the right-wing narrative aligning Congress, the Left and other Opposition parties along with Naxals which the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared as the "biggest internal security challenge" may make them more defensive.

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