Saluting the Memory of K Balagopal

The untimely death of leading civil libertarian K Balagopal on 8 October 2009 is a great loss to people’s movements for justice and democracy.
Balagopal played a key role in building up a powerful human rights movement in Andhra Pradesh and confront regime after repressive regime in Andhra Pradesh. He was among the first to confront the State on the issue of fake encounter killings – often at risk to his own life.
At a time when both Central and State governments of  every hue are intensifying their offensive on democracy and civil liberties through draconian laws, fake encounters and muzzling of dissent, K Balagopal's memory is a source of strength and inspiration to all those involved in the struggle to defend democracy and resist state repression.
In tribute to K Balagopal, we carry excerpts from the remembrances by some of his colleagues and friends in the civil liberties movement, as well as some excerpts from an article by him that is relevant to current debates over Maoism and state repression.   
Balagopal’s Life and Work
(From ‘Remembering K Balagopal’ by the Human Rights Forum, started by Balagopal and others in Ananthapur in 1998)

...While pursuing a Ph.D he became a member of the editorial committee of a renowned international journal of mathematics.  
He was elected to the post of the General Secretary of APCLC (Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee) in 1985 and carried out that responsibility for 15 years.
He took up the leadership of the organization when the repression on the Naxalite movement had just begun. In the process of exposing fake encounters he visited every nook and corner of the state.  
Even though many civil liberties leaders such as Gopi Rajanna, Dr.Ramanatham, Jaapa Lakshma Reddy and Narra Prabhakar Reddy were killed, he did not lose heart. Instead, he tried to infuse courage among the fellow activists.
He remained unfazed in the face of direct repression too. Arrested under TADA, he spent three months in Warangal prison but always believed that it is quite natural for activists to be arrested or imprisoned. His response to attacks on his person exemplified his democratic temperament. When he was attacked by ABVP activists in 1984, kidnapped by the Khammam police in 1989, fatally attacked in Kottagudem in 1992 and even mauled in the presence of National Human Rights Commission in 1993, he refused to pause even for a day. Speaking to the media after he was released by his kidnappers, he suggested that they should focus more on the repression of the rural youth, rather than on him.
K. Balagopal: A Memory to be cherished
V. Geetha

(As appeared in The Hindu  dated ...)

While agreeing that state violence against its citizens and the impunity with which it was often carried out was the worst possible threat to democracy, he called attention to rights violations in other contexts.
Structured inequality, whether of caste or gender, he argued, was as much a source of these violations. Further, he reasoned, the reactive violence of communist militants as well as the spate of killings that the latter carried out in the name of carrying out a 'class' war often ended in the deaths of vulnerable citizens or minor state functionaries, even as it left intact the real and material structures of state power. He argued too of the importance of democracy, of the rights guaranteed in the Constitution - for these had come about as a result of people's struggles and movements, and rights groups had to learn to defend these hard-won historical legacies.
...This rich medley of ideas have since come to inform his many concerns, and for the past year and more have helped illuminate – for many of us – the continuing anti-people and pro-capitalist stances of the Indian state, the role of pro-state, vigilante groups such as the Salwa Judum in stymieing dissent, as well as the hugely problematic use of violence by the Maoists, especially in contexts where popular mobilization is possible and capable of challenging authority. ...He did not counsel a simplistic pacifism, rather he spoke of the importance of mobilizing people, of creating agitational movements…

 Maoist Movement in Andhra Pradesh
(Excerpts from the article by K Balagopal in EPW, July 22, 2006)
...Unlike the rest of the state where the Naxalites spread through the armed squads, in northern Telangana there was a clear period in the late 1970s and early 1980s of the last century when it was the mass organisations, mainly the agricultural labourers associations and the student and youth fronts, that were the instrument for the spread of Maoism as an ideology and a political practice.
... The policemen in charge of the areas never made secret of the fact that they were not merely “maintaining law and order” as the expression goes. They had the political task of protecting the landlords and the medieval mould of society... The underground Naxalite activists were no doubt armed, but their violence in those days was by and large selective and in any case not much in extent. ... Abolition of ‘begar’ and payment of something close to minimum wages, two, impeccably constitutional tasks, were performed by the Naxalites.
... The upshot was heavy repression on the Naxalite movement, in particular the rural poor who were part of the movement or its social base. Extremes of torture and incarceration in unlawful police custody, destruction of houses and despoliation of drinking water wells and fields, framing of severe criminal cases en masse were the norm. And “encounter” killings began from where they left off the day the internal emergency was lifted. It would again be interesting to speculate what would have been the result if the Maoists had decided not to hit back but concentrate on exposing the anti-poor bias of the government and extend their mass activity to a point that would have given their aspiration for state power a solid mass base. It would no doubt have been painful, but the alternative has not been any less painful.
... The armed squads soon became the focal point of the activity of the Maoists, barring the two short periods when they were allowed freedom to conduct their political activity, both significantly in the immediate aftermath of the Congress Party coming to power after prolonged Telugu Desam rule, leading to credible speculation about some pre-election agreement between the Congress and the Maoists.
...The state ... creates informers and agents for itself from the very masses the insurgency claims to represent. That is not difficult with the money and resources of power available with the state. This is a trap the militants fall into. They kill or otherwise injure those agents and informers and thereby antagonise more of their own mass base, in turn enabling the state to have more agents and informers.
... The people for their part have come to look up to the squads as a substitute for their own struggle for justice. This has, on the one hand, created more enemies – victims of revolutionary arbitrariness – than they need have made, and, on the other, corrupted the masses into receivers of justice rather than fighters for it.
... The strategy of providing armed support to the aspirations of the masses succeeds at the first round without much difficulty, once willing cadre are found, in areas historically subjected to extremes of deprivation and oppression and neglected by governance. But the very success means that a new generation is created, which is freed from the severe disabilities its parents suffered from, and is able to see and seize opportunities in the existing polity and therefore may not be as hospitable to armed struggle as its parents. The state too learns, and makes some efforts to draw the area from out of neglect and into what is usually described as “the mainstream” even as it suppresses the struggle by brute force. The eagerness to join a life-and-death struggle is usually diluted to some extent as a consequence. If, at that stage, instead of toning down the armed component of struggle the radicals proceed to fight the state over the heads of the masses, the masses can withdraw further, and even become resentful.

...Instead the Maoist response to stagnation after the first round has been to transfer attention to a new area amenable to initiation of their kind of politics – and there are many such areas, thanks to the utter neglect of vast regions by governance in the last 50 years, and the current philosophy of governance which is a philosophy of non-governance – and do the same thing again. Other Marxist-Leninist groups have often criticised the Maoists for this hop, skip and jump mode of revolution but they have never taken the criticism seriously, probably regarding their conduct as part of the strategy of guerrilla struggle..... .