UAPA case against journalist & writer N Venugopal is the latest in a series of undemocratic moves by KCR
The strike of employees of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC), which has completed 45 days, is a record of sorts in the trade union history of India, at least in the recent past.
It has debunked many myths created by the Telangana government over the past six years. The strike has proven that there is no need for a great charismatic leader to lead a mass movement against the government.
And the strike in which about 48,000 workers are participating has also demonstrated to the world that Bangaru Telangana (Golden Telangana) was not of pure gold but a coating on a business model the TRS (Telangana Rashtra Samiti) government wants to pursue.
And much to the chagrin of chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR), the High Court of Telangana has repeatedly refused to rule the strike illegal while admitting that the strike is causing inconvenience to crores of people.
There has been no backlash from the people whatsoever against the strike. The RTC employees were denied salaries. Many workers committed suicide. The government is not willing to open the window of negotiations. Still, the strike by impoverished employees is going on.
The cases booked against journalist and writer N Venugopal should be viewed against this backdrop. It is not an isolated instance of targeting somebody connected to the nabbing of an underground Maoist. This is part of a bigger game plan intended to throttle democratic opposition which is bound to gain momentum in the future.
Venu has been a journalist for at least two and half decades has worked in both Telugu and English mainstream media. Now he is the editor of Veekshanam a Telugu magazine devoted to critical economy and politics. He is a writer, public speaker, translator, poet and a staunch advocate of human rights.
Now suddenly his past has become suspect. Following the arrest of N Ravi Sharma and B Anuradha, a couple with a Maoist past, on November 12, Venu has become a target and he was made accused number seven (A7) in the case booked against Ravi Sharma and Anuradha.
What is intriguing is that the police have designated him as a member of Virasam (Revolutionary Writer’s Association) and as absconding, though he is seen around in Hyderabad and on social media platforms.
Like many functionaries of the TRS party and the government, Venu was also a sympathiser of the Maoist movement, which according to the Telangana DGP, is a thing of the past.
DGP Mahender Reddy, exactly one year ago, triumphantly declared that the Maoist movement had been eradicated from the state. So it is clear that the police are trying to dig up Venu’s past and connect it with an imagined Maoist party.
Venu has never been an underground worker of an outlawed organisation. He participated in the Telangana movement and backed the decade long Telangana movement through his writings. He celebrated the achievement of a separate state for Telangana.
And in the same breath, he was one of the many who got disillusioned by the policies being pursued by the TRS government.
While former Maoist sympathisers, writers and poets are busy in discovering gold in KCR's Bangaru Telangana, Venu is the only intellectual who has been campaigning on how Telangana people's agenda has allegedly been subverted by KCR.
Recently he wrote a stinging article in Nava Telangana daily calling upon people to make the RTC strike a success, as its defeat is no less than the defeat of Telangana.
This could have been the trigger for the police to book cases under the draconian UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) and the arrest of former Maoist couple came in handy to implicate him.
Here lies the crux of the issue.
The chief minister KCR, who spearheaded the recent phase of the Telangana movement with his Telangana Rashtra Samiti, had never expected a turbulent state after achieving statehood.
Upon assuming office as chief minister, KCR hoped that Telangana, under his command, would be free of bandhs, agitations, and especially critical intellectuals.
This did not happen. All the attempts made to achieve the ‘Telangana of his dreams’ have fizzled out. He faced the first setback when the High Court restored the popular dharna chowk in Hyderabad which he had banned after achieving statehood.
Despite an unprecedented mandate, he had to shelve several demolition projects in Hyderabad in the face of resistance from people and farmers. The culmination of this defiance is the ongoing RTC strike.
“The cases against Venu and the un-accommodative attitude toward RTC employees have a clear message that there is no room for politics of resistance in the state of Telangana,” says professor Simhadri, a retired academic and president of the Samajwadi Party.
“Telangana is cash-strapped now. So the chief minister KCR wants to mobilise funds by privatising RTC and start a few more ambitious projects which only benefit politicians and corporate companies. This business model is bound to create tension in Telangana society and trigger protests. By booking cases against intellectuals like Venu and ignoring the strike of RTC, KCR is trying to delegitimise the criticism on one hand and agitations on the other,” Simhadri told The Lede.
A similar sentiment has been expressed by Professor Kodandaram, a former Osmania University political science professor and now chief of Telangana Jana Samiti (TJS).
“KCR is under the false notion that when people voted him to power, he should not be questioned by anyone. Since he is working on behalf of majority voters, opposing him is tantamount to being anti-government. This dangerous trend is seen in the booking of the case against Venu and the indifference towards RTC strike,” said Kodandaram to The Lede.
Quoting the affidavit filed by the RTC MD in High Court two days ago which stated that the RTC strike was wrong and going on strike means obstructing the functioning of a democratically elected government, Kodandaram said this is the premise on which KCR wants to ride roughshod over agitations and democratic opposition.
“The people of Telangana won’t remain passive to this type of anti-people policies,” he warned.