New Delhi, May 6: The Centre today issued a public warning to social workers, artists and authors with whom it suspects Maoists are in touch and threatened them with arrest if they helped the banned rebels in their propaganda.
Human rights activists immediately saw in the warning a precursor to a large-scale countrywide crackdown on civil liberties outfits, writers, lawyers, academics and journalists.
The move is exceptional in that such a public warning through a media note has probably never been made even against fundamentalist outfits.
The press note, issued by the Union home ministry, described the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and its frontal organisations as terrorists whose sole aim is armed overthrow of the Indian state and that they have no place in Indias parliamentary democracy. The note warns the public against assuming that the Maoists are a political outfit and asks them to be treated like terrorists.
The public warning uses the same language that home minister P. Chidambaram used in his speech at Jawaharlal Nehru University on Wednesday night.
The warning was issued because, the note said, it has come to the notice of the government that some Maoist leaders have been directly contacting certain NGOs/intellectuals to propagate their ideology and persuade them to take steps as would provide support to the CPI (Maoist) ideology.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan saw in the warning a highly unusual step that clearly shows the intention of the government to try and browbeat and terrorise human rights activists and other intellectuals who have been questioning the motives and actions of the government in dealing with tribals and dissidents in the guise of an ant-Maoist drive.
In the past two months, the Maoist point of view has found currency in mainstream media. Writer Arundhati Roy penned a long reportage/essay after travelling with Maoist guerrillas in which she said they nurtured a dream of a better country. A petitition was moved in Raipur asking for Roys arrest under Chhattisgarhs public safety act, the law under which doctor Binayak Sen was incarcerated for about two years.
CPI (Maoist) spokesperson Azad gave a long interview to a newspaper and another Maoist leader spoke of how the rebels ambushed the CRPF in Dantewada on April 6, killing 76 troopers.
The media note said that the CPI(Maoist) and its frontal outfits are banned under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967. The intellectuals and the general public were being asked to be extremelyvigilant of the propaganda of CPI(Maoist) and not unwittingly become a victim of such propaganda.
A suspect could be jailed for up to 10 years under the law, it said.
Activist Gautam Navlakha of the Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) said the warning from the government harks back to the years ofthe emergency. In two months, it is going to be 35 years of the Emergency (imposed by Indira Gandhi from 1975-1977) and UPA-II is defacto recreating the conditions of that period, he said.
Instead of exploring more sensible and imaginative policies to deal with the Maoists and the tribals who live in the same zones where huge mining deals have been signed, the government is taking recourse to authoritarian and dictatorial measures, he said.
The home ministry said CPI (Maoist) continues to kill innocent civilians, including tribals, in cold blood and destroy crucial infrastructure like roads, culverts, school buildings, gram panchayatbuildings, etc so as to prevent development from reaching theseunder-developed areas.