Beyond violence and non-violence – K Balagopal

Via Jamal Kidwai

[We are posting this piece by K Balagopal, hoping to continue our reflections on violence and non-violence in political movements. – AN]

The public arena is witness to dispirited discussion of the ineffectiveness of people’s movements, which are at the most able to slow down things, and nothing more. The discussion often turns around violence and non-violence, not as moral alternatives but as strategic options. Those who are sick of sitting on dharna after dharna to no effect are looking with some envy at violent options,
while many who have come out of armed groups find the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) fascinating.

It is good that there is some openness in the matter now, for dogmatic attitudes have done considerable harm. To say that one should not be dogmatic about violence may be morally a little unsettling but it is a defensible position even without adopting a relativistic attitude towards the preciousness of life or a casual attitude towards one’s moral responsibility for injury caused in the course of a struggle. More of that in the right context. But the
discussion will unavoidably be based on assessments  of the effectiveness of the alternatives, and a distant view is likely to colour the reality with hopes and assumptions, even illusions. A realistic assessment of what each strategy has been able to achieve would better inform the debate.

The plain and stark fact is that while all strategies have been effective in curbing some injustice, none has succeeded in forcing the government to take back a single major policy in any sphere. And none has been able to reverse the trends inherent in the structures of society and economy. Yet no serious political movement or social struggle we know of is only for softening oppression or improving relief. The general understanding is that governance of the country – and may be the systemic infrastructure of society – is fundamentally wrong and needs remedying, maybe overturning. Do we know of any
effective strategy for that? I am not talking of political strategies,
but strategies of struggle that will successfully put pressure upon the State and the polity to stop them in their tracks. The struggle may be built around class or caste or any other social combination. It may in the end seek reform or the upturning of the polity. It may operate mainly or in part within the polity or keep out of it altogether. Whichever it is, the common problem is this: the experience of this country is that governments do not stop doing some thing merely because it has been demonstrated to be bad. Or even contrary to constitutional directives and goals. They stop only if going along is made difficult to the point of near impossibility. No democratic dispensation should be thus, but Indian democracy is thus. Short of that, you demonstrate the truth of your critique till you are blue in the face or shout till you are hoarse in the throat, it is all the same.

This is the question that haunts all movements, and none has an answer. All strategies, whether violent or peaceful, have found that they are not without success, if by success is meant stemming of local forces of oppression or the local manifestation of global forces, and improving the situation of its victims at the margin or even more. One does not wish to belittle these achievements, and in any case its beneficiaries are grateful, and belittling makes no difference to them. But any attempt to go beyond that has been faced with an insuperable wall which defines the limits of Indian democracy.

The naxalites – in particular the largest of them, the Maoists – are
generally credited with having used strategies of violent struggle to great effect. That they have had substantial effect on the local social and political structures is beyond doubt. From Telangana to Bihar, local society would not be what it is but for their effect in turning much of it upside down. That they have often acted as a very effective deterrent to knavery and charlatanry of all kinds too is true. But looking back on nearly forty years of the naxalite movement, one is surprised how few are the important policy decisions of the State or tendencies inherent in the logic of unequal development that the

naxalites have been able to stall. In fact, one cannot off-hand think of even one. They themselves may answer that it is because they have not tried. It is true that their strategic thinking does not turn around defeating the State politically but mobilizing against it militarily. Hence inflicting major political defeats or reversing trends of unequal or destructive development is not on their agenda. Yet it is also true that even if they tried they would not know how to go about stalling such decisions or forces. To put it simply, you can hold a gun to a landlord’s head but Special Economic Zones or the Indo-US Nuclear Deal have no head to put a gun to. This degree of simplification of the issue may be criticized as unfair, and one would readily agree that Maoist violence is not just the armed action of individual Robinhoods. Nevertheless, after dressing up this skeleton with sufficient flesh and blood to make it real, you still do not get away from the basic truth of the caricature.

It is not just the abstractness of these issues that makes violence ineffective as an option against them. After all they do have concrete manifestations that can be confronted by violent mobilisation or armed action. But the subtlety of forms of power other than the feudal makes focused confrontation of a violent kind difficult to operationalise. Violence may be good or bad, necessary or
unnecessary, but it is always crude. Intelligent exercise of power, on the other hand, is subtle. So is capitalist rationality, in general. It is sometimes but not always crudely oppressive. It also comes with promises of a better life for the middle classes and employment for the poor. It spreads its operational incidents all over and each of them offers its own rationality. It gives a little and takes a lot but it gives at one place and takes at another. It speaks in a dozen tongues, each offering a limited rationality, while the totality is hidden behind layers or opacity and subterfuge. Its lies require intelligent nailing, and its logistics requires subtle handling to immobilize it. For in the
better kind of agitational strategy the object of popular mobilization is to immobilize the opponent, and that is where violent methods score over peaceful methods. But whom or what do you immobilize to make an SEZ inoperable?

And then there is the law and its machinery of enforcement.
The law of course does not turn the other way when violent mobilization is used against a landlord or a local oppressor. But neither are the stakes as high nor is social disapproval so strong then as when alleged schemes of development or alleged policies of national security are obstructed by violent mobilization. Agitations
disrupt normal life, violent agitations more so. The insecurity and uncertainty this creates can be exploited by the State to either incite the people against the agitators even to the point of getting them lynched or to cover up for the violent methods of suppression it employs. It can even get righteously suppressive. And when the stakes are high social disapproval can be engineered beyond its normal levels. We are all aware of how much hatred the State can
generate against agitations, especially violent ones, if it believes that its vital interests are affected.  And that can be the justification for lawless enforcement of law, the more lawless the more righteous the anger it can whip up in society.

One option then is to throw up one’s hands and say that it is futile to
fight an evil beyond a point while it remains in power. And that the real task is to gain political power and replace the fount of evil. This makes sense from one angle but misses the point from another and begs the question from a third. It misses the point because at one level the question we are posing to ourselves is not about this society or this polity, but about democracy as such and the amenability of governance to correction by popular disapproval. To say that we
need not spend too much time over this because we wish to come to power and then we will not face this problem is no answer. It begs the question from another angle because if you do not know how to mobilize people in effective numbers against evil governance, how are you sure you know how to mobilize them for capture of State power?

Peaceful mobilization has one advantage over violent mobilisation. A larger number of people can participate in it, and it can choose its targets and devise its methods of agitation more subtly. It gives space for dialogue even the while agitation goes on, dialogue not so much with the establishment as with society, and so the vital dimension of critique is alive without suspending the agitation
to clear space for it, and this is essential in any struggle against an opponent who operates in a universe of intelligent rationality. This is one reason why peaceful methods of struggle are not only morally but also politically healthier. But in terms of its effectiveness in reversing policy decisions or structural trends, peaceful methods are even more ineffective than violent methods. Quite plainly, dharnas and street plays and hartals and half-an-hour-at-a-time road blocks and street corner speeches and jathas can go on for ever and ever and neither the State nor the Ambanis lose any thing. This is what often makes activists cynical and gives them that urge to seek an
appointment with the Maoists. When they are so tempted they think the only problem they have had with violence is that it is morally problematic and physically unsafe. It is assumed that it is necessarily more effective. It isn’t, and it has not been.

Can we turn to the law to make governance answerable to popular disapproval other than at election time? Constitutional democracy as we know it in India gives little scope for such a hope but PILs have held a lot of fascination for activists. Much of it is born of out of ignorance of the law as much as the sociology of adjudication. The average intelligent Indian thinks of PIL as the modern equivalent of the bell which the better kind of king is reputed to have strung outside his palace for the desperate citizen to tug at and get an instant
hearing and instant justice. The average intelligent Indian also thinks that all the limitations of judicial power that he or she is otherwise familiar with will vanish when the Courts sit to hear PILs, namely that they become benign despots who can set every wrong right by passing a condign order. Desperation can be the only reason for these illusions. Less excusable is the ignorance of the sociology of adjudication. Judges, taken as a class, are at one with most of the
political and economic tendencies since liberalisation for no more subtle reason than that they belong to the social class that has benefited and will benefit much more from these tendencies. Extremely derisive comments about PILs are made with juvenile exuberance by the Supreme Court these days to send out a signal
that the activist or desperate citizen need not take the trouble to go all the way to New Delhi. Law journals report some divergence of opinion and even snide comments about judicial activism in the Supreme Court, but the divergence is between conservative judicial activism and conservative aversion to it.

There is no option but to devise ways of stopping the system in its
depredations. Since Indian democracy has not learnt to respect reasoned criticism unless it is armed with the strength to physically prevent the execution of the policies criticized, ways of achieving such strength must be sought by agitational movements. In principle the best method is to mobilize the people likely to be affected in large numbers and physically sit in the path of the State and Capital. But then the people in their concreteness are riven by diversity of interests and insularity of communities, crushed by
poverty and misery, weakened by the disease of opportunism even at the lowest levels which has been the greatest contribution of the Congress party to Indian political culture, enfeebled by attachment to their political patrons, and disillusioned with empty rhetoric and moral corruption of agitations and movements. In particular, they see that activists who were in an earlier generation characterized by sacrifice of personal concerns are no longer the same. To my mind, this is the greatest disservice done by the NGOs, but this culture is now common to a large section of political activists, too. On the other hand, the very effect of politicization has been that the people have lost their innocence and often weigh the costs and benefits of struggle with greater caution than in the past. One cannot blame them, especially when the caution is reinforced by the fact that activists themselves exhibit the same attitude these days. All this combines to make strong mobilisation difficult and tempts honest activists
to look for short cuts, ranging from armed action to PILs. But there are no short cuts.

K Balagopal is a well known democratic rights and civil liberties activist and intellectual on the Left. He is associated with the Human Rights Forum.

17 thoughts on “Beyond violence and non-violence – K Balagopal”

  1. A sage piece–as always expected from Balgopal. He is effectively asking to counter intellegent and strategic rationality with a similar force–beyond legal, militaristic or subjective approaches. So, it is a moral, rights based argument for greater participation and subtler bargaining strategies. The only chink, and Balgopal is alive to it, is that this moral politics of means is ineffective–does not achieve ends in the Indian scenario. Is direct democracy all about patience then?


  2. Dear Prasanta,

    Someone else has made the case for a moral, rights based argument for greater participation and subtler bargaining strategies – and above all, a politics of patience — Arjun Appadurai in his celebratory essays on deep democracy and grassroots globalization in Mumbai around 2000. From more recent accounts, it appears to have achieved some pretty depressing ends!

    From Balagopal’s own practice, one might assume that he is making the argument that you suggest he is making. But at the same time, as you rightly point out, there is no force of conviction in this particular commentary. It seems to me that continuing to pursue what one has pursued for 30 odd years – building a broad radical discourse of rights, claims and democracy is a default option for civil liberties/human rights activists.

    A more open ended and productive line of thought would need to actually press on with three important points Balagopal raises in his inimitable style – 1. Movements may be successful (even if only partially) in local contexts but do not seem to be able to overturn the logic of opression (which one assumes operates in a global context). 2. The SEZ does not have a head to put a gun to. 3. people’s interests are diverse and some of them are met by capitalist/state logics.

    At a minimum these points must force us to ponder over

    1) whether there is now a need to rethink the relationship between the local and the global. For Balagopal this relationship seems to map on to concrete and abstract, but in its more pejorative form it maps on to ‘here’ and ‘over there’.

    2) whether such a rethinking will force us to reckon with new contradictions within the state-capital -social formations entailed in an SEZ, – contradictions that we are missing out completely because of the limits of our own imagination.

    3) whether the class caste locations of the activists themselves are limiting their understanding of how different sections of ‘the people in their concreteness’ are responding to what state-capitalist logics are offering to them.

    Further it is pertinent to ask what is really happening with those sections whose ability to respond is quite limited. They may not even be visible as social groups to us because they remain outside of the rationalities of mobilizations and counter mobilizations.

    In other words, are we ready yet to take an honest look at how fights for ideological sway on different sections are playing out between state-capital on the one hand and activists-NGOs and movements on the other?


  3. Dear Anant,

    I guess no one would disagree about the positives of open-endedness, not least Balgopal, except for the fact that there always remains a gradient between the logic of authority and that of resistance and activism. Some prefer to remain silent on this gradient, some take a more reptilian pragmatic route, and few raise a critical voice. Now if you are suggesting that the activists are hijacking the cause and acting as vanguards for the people who need to decide on their own, we come back to the old question of who speaks for the subalterns and so forth. Needless to say, all movements, small and large, eventually find leaders—representatives even in direct democracy. But I feel the difference finally lies in whether these people are open ended enough and yet appreciate the power gradient and act upon it. It’s a difficult thing to do, especially if one is looking for solutions at the end of the day. You will excuse me if I differ from you about the conviction bit in this particular essay. I feel, as you have put it so well, building up something patiently for the past 30 years, requires an uncluttered kind of a conviction, which Balgopal has been able to achieve. Here is someone who understands the depressing bit and yet will dive headlong into it. All this because one appreciates the very process of going through the grind, instead of gunning for any ready made solution. And yet being acutely aware of the big picture.

    I also understand that many wish to embrace capitalism in its full glory. Fair enough, except for the fact they do often encroach on other sensibilities and possibilities that life may have to offer—just like your busy social actors do. And these other options—not just the social-democratic and the seriously romantic ones, but the civic and the classical too—have been systematically rendered irrelevant. That Balgopal, after a lifetime’s fight, is being pilloried both by his own constituency today and from the state-capital complex alike, is the typical bouquet always reserved for someone interested in time consuming, deep democracy.

    By the way, could you please elaborate a little on the contradiction in SEZ that you refer as point no. 2? And thanks for the Appadurai reference—I have not read that particular book.



  4. Dear Prasanta,

    Appadurai’s essays were published in public culture and environment and urbanization — i think.

    Actually to my knowledge, Balagopal has been pilloried not by his own constituency – I am not sure what you mean by that – but by adherents of ML influenced civil liberties activism that was prevalent until about early 90s. Balagopal began to diverge from this around 1991 after some 12 years of dedicated work and completely broke free of it both ideologically and organizationally between 1995 and 1997. The gauntlet he threw at that time was picked up by those who wanted to continue with tactically using institutions of parliamentary democracy to demonstrate their own hollowness. That is where the pillorying continues to come from – although it is much muted now.

    But a close reading of Balagopal’s writing over the years makes one wonder if the break in 1995 was really due to any major change in convictions or even due to his class position as his critics at that time kept derisively suggesting. There are significant continuities in the evolution of his thinking and by that I do not mean only his personal evolution, but that of a particular generation of intellectual activists that came to in the immediate wake of the Janata experiment and the rise of what one may call peasant capitalist classes. (Some of its best articulations are to be found against the backdrop of the peculiar and short-lived ‘mode of production’ debates in the 70s and 80s).

    I have no difficulty with the proposition that one would have to be strong in conviction to continue along the path that one has chosen. But I do believe that this particular commentary offers a sort of status report rather than any new insights. Compared to the forcefulness with which he made the arguments against the dangers of smuggling in ML ideology into human rights movement and declared that human rights movement cannot be the handmaiden of any other political movement, this essay is cautious, sober and matter of fact in its tone. I am not sure if and where the 1996(7?) essay was published. It was originally delivered at a conference organized by APCLC in Hyderabad. It dealt with the question of violence and counterviolence much more head on. It is water under the bridge now.

    On subalternity etc., I think we are actually in a position now to raise more productive questions than who is the subaltern and who speaks for them and so on. The on the ground experience of middle class activists of the older traditions in recent years has often been that the poor cannot be really trusted anymore. Balagopal puts it much more subtly than that. But the truth is that the poor often use activists instrumentally and tactically and often have a card up their sleeve that they do not reveal.

    They do this because when it comes to the crunch, somehow the vanguard does not have the answers they are looking for, but the vanguard does get them some distance. So for instance, you go and get a stay order against an eviction and create some noise in the press or even provide strong arme support. They join you at the rallies and give you moral support while exploring their own individual and collective options.

    The vanguard can go on exhorting them to fight for their own rights but it knows all the way through that the poor have their own understandings and interpretations of rights and claims and are making their own calculations. How do we deal with this peculiar situation ?
    Most organizations and activists do not really have any clear cut strategy as to how to deal with this reality.

    What can the ‘vanguard’ (to use your expression) do ? Disown the people ? Build an argument that it thinks best represents everyone’s interests knowing full well that it is not reaching even half way ? turn a blind eye to the exclusions and mini strategies that people pursue so that the vanguard can go on being comfortable with its own accounts of itself ? How does it account for those who get marginalized in such mobilizations ?

    These are all issues that Balagopal hints at in the essay without elaborating. But most importantly, he is saying that the path ahead is not clear. And he is right. The path ahead is indeed not clear. We have ghosts of old certainties of state structures in swanky gear – mobile phones, hired quavalises and GPS and laptops. We cannot expose the hollowness of the state while swearing by the constitution of India – a fallacious approach to start with as Balagopal pointed out in 1995, simply because it is only a ghost that we are chasing. We do not seem to have gained anything much by trying to force the state to pursue some kind of halfway decent rationalities either. In place after place such efforts are folding up. What do you expect when the function of lawmaking itself is outsourced ?

    That brings me to the SEZ question. This is actualy a point I have made previously somewhere else in relation to Singur and Nandigram. We can find numerous examples from elsewhere but let me stick with that. What really happened in Singur is that farmers had been systematically lying about the crop yields of their lands as well as about their own status as bargadars to save on revenue demands and hold on to land. Thus, land records in the revenue department cooked up by local revenue officials show much of the land as single crop and show some people as owners and bargadars while actual work was being done by someone else. But of course everyone knew that it was multiple crop. But to change the status of land in the records after somany years of systematic fabrication is not easy. So the officials took an easy way out, show it as single crop – consistent with tax records and pay higher compensation than they would normally pay for single crop land.

    Such strange collusions of landowners, non bargadar bargadars, revenue officials and local party workers are getting reworked everywhere in the context of a state that is seriously cash strapped and has to depend mainly on land as equity to be able to conduct its own business. In the short term it is operating on margin moneys from donors to appear to be in good financial health.

    The events that hit headlines from different SEZ sites or even from urban mega infrastructures or new irrigation projects in this sense are not really local in the sense of originating in local practices or even local institutional compulsions. Nor do they arise from any abstract logics of global capital. They arise from the concrete actions of hundreds of people in all kinds of extra local places. They are also shaped by historical trajectories of accumulation strategies at family and caste associational levels which are recombining through electoral alliances.

    What seems to be happening is a long drawn process of gradual insertion of different parts of what goes by the name of the state machinery into bigger and bigger circuits of personal and collective mobilities.

    Different levels of bureaucracy, different levels of party workers and politicians, judiciary, not to mention the ideological and repressive apparatuses of the state — each of them gets inserted into a complex maze of connections in which it is no longer easy for anyone to discern where decisions are being taken and how they are being implemented. This is what it really means to say that the SEZ or the nuclear deal does not have a head to put a gun to.

    But this monster must have its command centers somewhere. There must be systems of circulation that permeate it all over. (For example, the switching of accounting systems at all levels of government from single entry to double entry ledgers has transformed the calculative logics of government institutions across the country in a short span of time. It is because of this that we find that despite the vast differences in concrete details government officials, politicians and investors do speak shared languages and voice shared frustrations and fight each other on specific issues and yet realign. These resultant alliances among different fractions of the state are somewhat keleidoscopic. But it is not impossible to pin down how and why they are occurring both in their concrete detail and in aggregate effects. That is what I meant by the new contradictions entailed in an SEZ. In fact, I would say unless we pin down what these new formations are, we really can only go on talking until we are blue in the face – to borrow Balagopal’s expression.

    Our difficulties in grasping what is happening comes from a variety of sources, not the least important of which is that the logic of this brand of capitalism and state action is to appear as if it doesnt have any singular monocentric calculative rationality. But the more difficult part of the puzzle is that we are often trying to read singular logics and rationalities into the chaos. We do a sort of forcefitting quite by reflex because without a rational and simplified picture we cannot operate or mobilize. But in the process, we also often end up completely missing how things are actually happening.

    It is not that we do not know what actually is happening. But we relegate it to the margins of our consciousness because we think what we are witnessing is just an aberration. But what if, what if the aberrations are really pointing us to systemic transformations? It is unrealistic to expect the Maoists to pursue these transformations strategically.

    To be fair, it has been a consistent complaint from the Maoists that intellectuals have not done their job well. That the Maoists themselves must bear partial responsibility for that failure is a story we need not go into now.


  5. Dear Anant,

    You are correct to make the distinction between currents of Maoism and human rights and Balagopal’s gradual shift towards the latter. But I am aware of quite a few human rights activists and theorists themselves unhappy with this shift in Balagopal (those who factor in serious egalitarianism and/or subjectivity within the rights discourse, for instance), especially because from time to time he blurs the distinction himself—underscores his continuities—as you say. I personally think this owes precisely to the fact that as a man of action, a part of him wishes ardently to question his own intellectualism and looks for some concrete results in material terms. It is in this context I used the word constituency—a larger one I guess. But you know, I am not so sure these new entries are merely status reports too. One important aspect is to return to the issue of violence itself—which is a reason for the post in the place. It is worth noticing from the title itself that he is loathe to valorize non-violence (just like violence) as a mode of politics and yet he is looking for some kind of tangible outcome of radical politics: hence, his sobriety for procedural human rights approach, I guess. His call for patience is angst ridden. That comes most clearly in his disillusion with the procedural aspect of radical legalism, from judiciary’s side particularly. More importantly, I think unlike the way you are putting the issue, Balagopal is quite categorical that he is less interested in polity and more in oppositional democracy and popular mobilization. He particularly uses the phrase ‘popular disapproval’ as a lynchpin of his politics—which is possibly fundamental to his notion of democracy. There is a watchdog sense involved here.

    And yes, no conclusive answers—but again I do not think Balagopal’s is a dejected voice, but searching, looking for a sagacious alternative rather. May be going on exposing these new structures of governmentality as best as one can in multiple ways, sometimes in local, fragmented forms, hoping that leads to a more concerted effort and popular action, not from any moral high ground, realizing and accepting one’s complicity too. May be not speaking for anybody but just sharing in the most basic relational sense and then maneuvering at the everyday level, forming concentric circles of challenge: an old style, living ones premises perhaps. You highlight an interesting aspect of the network on is up against—operating between the local and the global. But the story of economic liberalism has also other tentacles—your own delineation shows the importance of local complicity. But there ought to be a caveat to pure interest-theory from another angle too: simply put, if the whole thing in Nandigram was/is about bargaining and interests from the receivers’ end too, then would they not go the whole hog and get into the game right away, instead of queering their own pitch and now awaiting severely depleted multi-crop land? Would someone go to the market place with firearms or get raped if she wishes to be market-worthy?

    And would it be fair to say that there is always a game of distrust going on among those who participate in a movement or strategic manoeuvre, though I take your point on this seriously? Even if we keep aside ethical issues of moral philosophy, there is this matter of accountability and corruption at the most tangible level of public choice theory too. I am not going to build up any norma by speculating on human tendencies—like a Hobbes/Mandeville/Hayek/Ken Arrow does on one hand or the more cheerful accounts of social inclinations and dynamics of a movement on the other. People use others, but they also form relations and bonds. I will prefer to err on the side of hope.

    And I do apologize for misspelling Balagopal’s name in my previous posts.


  6. Dear Prasanta,

    It strikes me that we are each reading into Balagopal’s essay things that are important to ourselves. The following is mainly meant to make sure that my own angularity is a little more transparent.

    About five years ago, I spent a few months in Hyderabad with a view to understand the import of the city’s restructuring to transformative activist agendas. Balagopal was one of the first people I met and in response to my question as to where he saw the hotspots of resistance to restructuring, he said he did not see resistance at all. He saw widespread resentment.

    I could empathize with that understanding, but as I saw it, resentment actually could operate as resistance. Not as conscious oppositional democracy; but it slowed down the pace of neoliberal reforms, subverted and diverted the direction of reforms and in its own peculiar ways it stalled disposession.

    My intuition was reinforced by what many lower level government officials began to tell me later on. As one of them put it succinctly, the law cannot protect the poor from being disposessed because the forces of disposession in Hyderabad arose from local and extralocal compromises and collusions among a host of actors. Successful stalling of disposession in specific instances therefore could only happen through participating in those compromises and collusions and diverting them to other ends. You gather force and move towards your particularist ends by playing the game – not by disapproving and staying out if it. It struck me that this sort of rationality was not merely seductive as my purist self kept telling me. Like any ideology, it worked through practice. “Kneel down and move your lips in prayer and you will believe.” And as you repeat it, the instrumental rationality will disappear!

    In an interesting variation of this theme, a senior planning official in the city put it thus: we simply cannot have a master plan in this city because the law constrains both the poor and the rich. We keep drafting and redrafting the plan, but it simply cannot go past the assembly and be passed into the law. It is a sort of ‘catch me if you can’ game.

    This has now become the default situation.

    It doesnt work for everyone. In fact it doesnt work for the majority. Even those who can play the game are doing so at a high risk – whether it is Ramalinga Raju who finally confessed to a 70000 million rupee fraud or the auto rickshaw driver who goes bankrupt and disappears without a trace, the individual and social costs of this game are tremendous. The difference is really between the implications of the risk. When Raju played the game, he was betting on not just the the lives of 50000 employees but on the future of a city of 10 million. When Raji Reddy the farmer took his chances with cotton he was betting on his life.
    I am reading Balagopal’s stand against this backdrop. To me, his position seems to be this.
    Both violence and non violence have been partially successful in bringing some local relief. But each in its present configurations of power is unable to go beyond that to take head on the real challenge: how to cry a halt to this game of Russian roullet!

    Against this reading, I am concerned mainly with how and to what ends the virtues of patience (which I do appreciate) can be harnessed.

    [I can see some people being upset by this, but as I read this essay in light of his previous commentary on violence in 2007 -I think Himal Mag published it – Balagopal is hinting at a (limited no doubt) parallel between the NGO filing the PIL and the dalam issuing the writ to a contractor. They are both following their own trajectories independent of the people. He is saying that we may be attracted to either of them because of our own sense of urgency (impatience) but we must distinguish between a sense of urgency and its conversion into a compulsion because once that switch happens. the survival of the dalam or the NGO as the case may be becomes the frame that structures relationships, bonds and struggles involving diverse social groups.
    To that extent, he is cautioning against being drawn to either violence or non violence as the answer – because they can both potentially subvert the main question -“how to stop the state and the polity” in its tracks.]

    As for Nandigram, public choice and pure interest etc… I shd. have taken care to point out that my remarks about land records were restricted to Singur. Nandigram was a different ball game altogether. But as a general rule, using people does not rule out formation of bonds and relations. The point is not really about using others instrumentally but about how far people can really travel with each other and towards what destinations. By no means am I suggesting that Tapasi Malik’s death is a milestone of achievement in an elaborate scheme cooked up by her father and brother to become market competent.


  7. Yes, its always a mark of a sophisticated work that it will give rise to multiple and contradictory responses. Thanks for your input. I am sure others have different and important things to say too.


  8. Anant,

    Thank you for a fine-grained response. I didn’t find the Himal article that you allude to, but do want to follow up on your comments on the NGO filing the PIL and the intellectuals rifting from the Maoists (or generically speaking, from any radical action group).

    Bourgeoise cultures (eminently print culture, text-canonising) have informed the dissemination of socialisms as other Biblical ideological apparati. I want to throw in a random thought that the socialisms were probably never in sync with each other (even under the same red/pink/yellow blankets) such that the dashing intellectual and the Maoist breaking with the elite ideological establishment would necessarily conflict. To the effect I would argue that the political economist, the cultural Marxist, the NGO middle-class consciousness-bearer and the extreme Maoist would predictably churn up cultural variants of corrective action in a situation of mass state-sponsored violence. I also to throw in the possibility of decentering the image of the radical command center- are the CPI(M) minister, local muscleman, dalal, Karat all of the same socialist pedigree? Maybe not. Maybe their pedigrees breed myriad command centers within the same ideological apparatus.

    I found this piece from the New Left Review interesting (on print cultures/graphospheres and as the mediators of socalisms as opposed to visual media as the new mediators of ideology):


  9. Ramana, quick response: PIL – Public Interest Litigation. That is, litigation filed in a court of law, by a person or NGO, or any group, on an issue of “public interest”, for example, environment, violation of fundamental rights etc., in which the aggrieved party itself does not have to go to court. In India, as far as I know, this began in the 1980s, post-Emergency.


  10. With the given little interaction with him, for me, he is a person with tones of literature and also always possesses an ounce of integrity in his deeds. We always find people with ideological dogmatism or popularize justifying personnel ends, but Dr.Balgopal was a person with pragmatism, human warmth, empathy with fully loaded with ideology. His travel is endless. His commitment would definitely influence people who strive for humanity and creativity. His death is lose for entire human kind in the third world countries people who work for real people without vested interest. Especially for those who have emotion to change the society. He is a person blended with emotion and utmost human compassion. He had a purpose of live which has been accomplished without any compromises


  11. balagopal , to me a hero in my university days. he wrote very good literary criticism too[ in telugu].
    may be in early 80’s once he spoke on “kolimanTukundi” a novel written by allam rajaiah[ a committed marxist writer]. he wrote some other essays too, but some how he didnt contribute much to the literary criticm later. with his untimely death,we lost an intelectual , a commited human rights activist who could do much to the poor of this country.


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