We have in the past few days witnessed the rise of Narendra Modi and the consequent crisis in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). True to his style, Mr. Modi begins framing his national agenda by conjuring imagined threats — casting the first stone at those who have been vocal on their stand on the Gujarat genocide in 2002. The timing of his attack on Harsh Mander is of course not without significance — the massive armed strike by the Maoists, the death of Congress leaders, the BJP government, and Mr. Mander’s association with the National Advisory Council (NAC). The Maoist attack created widespread alarm and shock — but also a reflection by many on the direction of mainstream politics and the real dangers that lurk “in the shadows of the state” spawned by the very ruthlessness of mainstream politics today. In this troubling climate of shock and equivocation, Mr. Modi is at his best.

But what do we have on the other side? The question of the place of violence in politics is a large one, not restricted to the Maoists. It is also a fact that structural violence is so deeply embedded in everyday life and so thoroughly normalised in our psyche, that we scarcely see it as violence, so that any retaliation appears grossly disproportionate when in fact it might not be.

As people engaged in a debate on public issues, and engaged in the political task of building and sustaining a democracy — howsoever fragile at times — our critique must be trenchant no doubt, but also independent, not tying itself to the power of the state nor allowing itself to get pushed into a defensive mode.

It is true that Mr. Mander has critiqued the Maoist movement in the past. And that is in the spirit of informed debate. But the article in The Hindu (Op-Ed, “Alternative to the politics of hatred,” June 26, 2013) is worrying because Mr. Mander feels compelled into distancing himself from the Maoists, admitting unwitting connections, and condemning them — almost in the nature of a confession. The point is not whether we know the Maoists or not, or whether we support them or not. The point is whether we will be able to continue engaging with them critically, without fear — either of a reaction from them, from the state, or from those who seek to settle other political scores through ridiculous accusations like this.

And then the final point. It is not a crime to know Maoists or Maoist sympathisers — knowing them does not mean you are participating in their politics, just as being in the NAC does not mean you condone every act of government. Further, having to justify that you do not know the political background of the person seeking employment might herald a dangerous trend that veers towards the condonation of targeted “verification,” a euphemism for surveillance, that will surely be the death of the precious right to personal liberty under the Constitution.

Let us not forget that the texture of politics is enriched by being connected and critical — vehemently critical too. I have witnessed this and experienced the awe it inspires.

(Kalpana Kannabiran, a sociologist and legal researcher, is director, Council for Social Development, Hyderabad.)

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