Intimidation as governance

By: Padmaja Shaw


It is two years, nine months and 21 days since Mr Chidambaram made the announcement on the process for the formation of Telangana State. Many young people have died, many have served prison time and some are still facing the threat of cases.

Osmania University campus has been turned since then into an open-air prison with all exits blocked by barbed wire, Vajra vehicles and rapid action force troops. Though the forces stay off campus (thanks to a High Court order), by controlling all points of entry and exit to the university, they keep students under constant surveillance. The students are not allowed out of campus on any bandh day.

This condition was imposed by the State on September 30 also even as it allowed the rally at the Necklace Road. By this, the State is disenfranchising students and taking away their democratic right to protest. The state is basically saying: if it is to protest, the students have no right to step out of the campus. If they wish to demand separate Telangana State, they have no right to step out of the campus.

The excuse is that students will indulge in random violence if allowed to take out a procession from the campus. This deliberately creates the public perception of the Osmania students as criminal gangs.

When close to two lakh people from all over Telangana were on the streets converging on Necklace Road, would another hundred or so students have posed such a threat of violence? The tone for violence was set by the muscle- flexing of the security forces present around the campus almost four days in the run-up to the event.

Some ‘lumpen’ elements enter people’s movements and cause violence and disruption. The State must have mechanisms to tackle it through intelligence, by holding the leadership responsible, and punishing the perpetrators if violent incidents occur. But often, the real perpetrators may be known and let off because of their powerful political links, while punishing the weak to hold them up as examples.

There are several dozens of student organizations on the campus who do their own demonstrations and events around campus. So far, the worst weapons they have sported are a straw effigy (that is ritually burnt) and perhaps some loud sloganeering. Each time a group of students assembles; the security establishment goes into a tizzy and shuts down all entry and exit points to the campus, irrespective of the identity of the persons!

This has caused untold hardship to those who live and work on the campus and those who use the campus road. In addition, bus services have been suspended for over a year now. In the absence of public transport, students and employees are forced to walk long distances just to reach main access roads outside the campus.

The security forces have been around the campus on and off almost throughout the year and a half, clamping down on campus activity. In the previous round of the agitation a number of students were booked under several cases.

During the massive “Garjana” rally held on Osmania campus on 3 January 2011 under the supervision of the court, nearly 150,000 students from all over Telangana attended peacefully and dispersed without any untoward incidents.

It is strange that even after that there is an attempt to treat the Osmania campus like a violent trouble spot. One serious consequence of securitising the entire democratic process in this way is to create a very repressive environment. Such repressive environment creates its own dynamics of power.

Informal and extra-constitutional power centres will emerge, and use the conditions of fear and uncertainty to play power politics. In an authoritarian environment every one is in fear as power is exercised arbitrarily.

It takes diehard courage to face such authoritarianism that respects no human values in its blind pursuit of self-interest. Vested interests in perpetuating the repression will develop as those with power have the freedom to define what is ok and not ok irrespective of the well-defined institutional practices.

Democratic debate is essential for all of us to claim our rightful place in society. State power is being methodically used to erode faith in democracy among the youth. Prolonged repression in the name of ‘law and order’ can only lead to a sense of disillusionment with the democratic process.

Hooliganism is partly a manifestation of such erosion of faith. The 30th September march to the Necklace Road has opened another phase of the long struggle for Telangana. Once again the familiar cycle of arrests and intimidation is on. Television channels were showing the pitched battles of wit being fought by students against the police, in their desperate attempt to join the rally.

An interesting sound bite from the Congress MP, Mr Lagadapati Rajagopal, was shown on HMTV. The MP called for the closure of the ‘university’ and dispersing students into other universities because they have indulged in violence (perhaps, his reference was to the burning of some media vans near the rally venue).

This comment reveals the mindset of the government. Firstly, it lays all vandalism in the course of the agitation at the door of Osmania University (in this case, they were not allowed to get out of the campus and it is not known who burnt the vans). Secondly, it considers it a crime to participate in a political movement.

The world over, university students are in the forefront of political movements. Critical thinking that a university education imparts is used to question the status quo and bring in change.

What needs to be guarded against, however, is the tendency to misuse the newly acquired sense of power to undermine the system to get away with non-participation in academic activities. This, not political participation, will seriously damage the reputation of the university.

The State itself has a perverted vision of democracy. Sometimes it sees all student participation in political process as unnecessary interference (mostly because it does not want the discerning educated people to look closely at the mega capital that is siphoning off people’s resources). At other times, political parties use students as tools in their political games.

The State also has the tendency to label democratic participation as political extremism to justify its repression. By driving genuine secular democratic aspirations underground, the State is strengthening authoritarian mafia who will sooner or later threaten the entire system.

The Telangana issue is a 56-year-old problem. Successive governments have failed to resolve it and have allowed it to fester. The State can no longer get away with offering intimidation in place of governance. [Courtesy: The Hans India]

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