Varavara Rao is not just a poet, but primarily a Maoist ideologue! One needs to think and know what makes Rao 'special’ for those who’re running a campaign for his release from prison
Ever since Pune police arrested him from his Hyderabad residence on November 17, 2018, in relation to the Bhima Koregaon violence, Varavara Rao is being identified merely as a ‘renowned poet and activist’ in a large section of media. May be reporters and editors have shied away from calling him a Maoist poet who has in his much-hyped public life over the years has gone on the record to suggest that parliamentary democracy is not suitable for India. In an interview given to Sandesh Prabhudesai for Rediff, Rao without any hesitation claimed, “Naxalbari laid down a path of rejecting parliamentary politics, taking up agrarian armed revolution, and forming the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).” He further stated, “Compared to the 1990s, today’s position is very strong. In fact, in north Telangana and Dandkarnya, it has reached an advanced stage of forming guerrilla zones. We visualise Dandkaranya as a base area for forming a people’s army, with platoons of 200 red guards each. In such a situation, how can you say the fire is dying out?”
Varavara Rao making such seditious claims is not new! He has been jailed in the 1970s. He was pushed behind the gallows by Congress Govt again in the 1980s with Ramnagar Conspiracy Case foisted in 1986. The case went on to break records, and after 17 years of trial, Rao was acquitted in 2003. During UPA-I, he was again inside the prison in 2005. Rao in this way, is a history-sheeter par excellence! Despite this fact that he has been championing the path of violence for decades, Indian State has tolerated him for so long for no good reason. Also, our popular press and institutionalised media call him just a ‘poet’. Even Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and Muammar Gaddafi wrote poetry, but the history of mass murder which they constructed cannot get discounted by their poems.
Release Campaign? Politics and Propaganda
First, the identity of the poet. And then Rao’s age being 80 years is used by his supporters and sympathisers to newspeak about the campaign for his release. This argument is without any rational for at least three reasons. Firstly, someone being a senior citizen does not warrant any access to pardon. According to ‘Prison Statistics India’ (2015) out of 1,34,168 convicts lodged in various jails in India 24,035 (17.9%) convicts were in the age group of 50 years and above. One can assume that this number might have risen in the last 5 years. Now, if COVID-19 scare alarm could be raised for Varvara Rao, then it should be raised for other 25,000 prisoners who can be categorised as ‘elderly’. Why Rao’s ‘comrades-in-arms’ are not demanding the release of every prisoner who is above 50 years if it is only about the COVID scare? Surely, no one cares about 25,000 prisoners because they are not a part of any urban network of intellectuals and activists. Rao, on the contrary, is the jewel in the crown because people like him are used as ‘poster boys’ of Naxalbari and Maoist insurgency.
Secondly, Rao, like other prisoners, rightfully deserves medical attention in prison when he requires. His wife Hemalatha Rao and daughter Pavana has alleged that Rao is being not given medical attention, and they urged authorities to not “kill him in the jail.” This is again Communist-style propaganda in which his arch enemies mastered Nazi Goebbels in the end! Ranjit Mankeshwar, the dean of JJ Hospital, Mumbai, has cleared the air over more than one occasion informing the media and the people that all possible medical attention is being delivered to Rao. Lately, Rao has contracted COVID and it has resulted in some kind of uproar, but the question remains that would that alone be a ground to let a history-sheeter walk free? What makes his case special and different from lakhs of prisoners throughout India? Why should he be alone given some extra attention? The reason again settles to this sole fact that Rao enjoys the backing of a politics in India, which many others don’t. If he could be dubbed as a ‘political prisoner’ to merit some extra attention, the Indian State should also consider the merit of his politics of Naxalism and what kind of threat it is for the Indian democracy.
Lastly, the raison d ‘être of Rao’s significance is defined by why he is, and not by who he is. Speaking in an interview after Thoothukudi firing, Rao said that, “Armed revolution under the leadership of CPI (Maoist) is for New Democratic Revolution laid down by Naxalbari path, ushered into “Janatana Sarkar” in Dandakaranya, provincial revolutionary councils in Saranda or Jharkhand Andhra Orissa Border special guerrilla zone. Such attempts were made in Jangalmahal, Western Ghats, Trijunction and during 1996-1999 in Telangana.” What more shreds of evidence would one need to know why Rao is defended by those who still enjoy a stronghold within the public institutions? Those who’ve defended Varavara Rao should now come out in the open and confess that how far they agree with Rao’s views on Indian democracy, State, Police and Armed Forces, and whether they support his vision for a “Janatana Sarkar”? For how long these people would go on hiding their intentions behind the scar-faced humanity, whether they preach human rights for Rao but justify the killing of police personnel and even tribals if they proved to be informers for the State.
Varavara Rao should not be released at any cost. Like every Indian citizen, he enjoys fundamental rights despite not believing and affirming in our Constitution. He should be provided with the best medical treatment as other prisoners should. However, he should be confined to prison, like so many others for their crimes. His case doesn’t have any other ‘merit’ except he is a ‘Maoist ideologue’!
(The writer is a research scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi)