"Firstly, there is no plot to assassinate the Prime Minister", author and activist Saira Shah Halim said to Republic World when asked about the recent controversial developments surrounding the Maharashtra Police's multi-city crackdown on what are described as either 'Maoist sympathisers' or 'human rights activists, poets, writers and lawyers', depending on which side of the debate you're on.
"It's a conspiracy theory by certain right-wing outfits that need to divert the attention away from core issues like unemployment, policies that have gone haywire like Demonetisation, GST, and also hate crimes", she continued, adding, "this is to make it about what's anti-national and what isn't."
As per Ms Halim, the events of the last week aren't about any investigation by the police, rather they're about quashing dissent under instructions from the state.
"Please investigate. And if there's conclusive clinching evidence concerning some person -- not some fictitious letter that's been written in Times New Roman and found in someone's residence", she implores, but on being rebutted over the inherent contradiction in that statement, i.e. the Police doing seeking to do exactly that but not being allowed to, her counter is two-fold -- that prominent persons have backed the accused, who are also prominent persons, and that the letter is fake. To be precise:
"Noted historians, academics have stood up for these people...Romila Thapar, Amartya Sen. If a prominent activist like Sudha Bharadwaj who has fought for Adivasis, for the Dalits... if she's shown in a shoddy light then anyone who's concerned for the country is again at risk of being branded as an anti-national", and "In today's day, nobody writes 'Red Salute'. Today there can be a letter swept under my door and the police can ring the doorbell at midnight alleging that someone is plotting assassination."
What if she's wrong though? What if there is a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister, as the police has stated? To this she says, "If there is a plot, the PM has enough security to safeguard him from harm. So beef up security but don't go around town spoiling people's reputations based on false allegations."
This isn't the first time 'reputation' came up in her statements. She also mentioned it while referring to the entire affair as a witch-hunt:
"Without evidence you do a crackdown?", she thunders, having already deemed what evidence is out there as concocted. She continues, "On people who have won awards? On lawyers? And you tell people through your media channels that these are traitors and what they're doing is seditious? It can be derogatory. It's a damage on one's reputation and credibility. And the country is going to live with a falsified narrative of how things are panning out."
Of course, Saira Shah Halim isn't the only one to hold such an opinion. An event was held at the press club in Delhi on Thursday where a show of strength was made in support of the accused who are currently under house arrest. At that event, Arundhati Roy and Prashant Bhushan had sat side-by-side with Vadgam MLA Jignesh Mevani, who had been caught on camera before the Bhima Koregaon violence broke out giving a speech calling for a street war on caste issues. Why then shouldn't Arundhati Roy tell him 'You shouldn't be here'? Or is it just that you have to be anti-Modi to be invited?
"Anyone who's advocating violence -- it's wrong and condemnable", Saira Shah Halim says about this, but she goes on to defend Mevani being there, putting it down to his being a political leader. "He's a legally elected MLA. If he's anti-right wing... a lot of civil groups invite political leaders."
Those at the press club that day have used the terms 'fascism' and 'undeclared emergency' to define the current situation, but is it entirely new? One of those detained now was held in custody for seven years under the UPA.
"If Congress has done it, it needs to be pulled up. The Congress doesn't have any great track record in the past. We need to condemn whichever political party that curbs dissent, whether Trinamool Congress or Congress or any party."
But once again, is it about dissent? Isn't it about Maoists? And aren't they about violence? "Anyone who's an armed revolutionary needs to be condemned. But we need to address their issues. Everyone's condemning armed revolutionaries, but now it's become a joke", she says, explaining why it's a 'joke': "If you're going to run the narrative of a country on a book called Urban Naxals (by filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri), people will laugh at you."
"It's time people of the country need to understand what's truth and what's a conspiracy theory", she concludes, even though, at this rate, India's going to have to depend on the Delhi Press Club's inquiry and not the Maharashtra Police's to find out what that truth is.