Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee : a debate

June 20, 2013

June 20, 2013

[In order to facilitate an open debate on an issue which is important for the health of the civil liberties movement in India, we are publishing below a statement from KKMDC that we received in response to the earlier article written by P.A. Sebastian. Mr. Sebastian, when contacted for a further response, communicated that he stands by his original article. – Ed]

A Critique of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee

by P. A. Sebastian

The Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee is a challenge to the traditions of the civil liberties and democratic rights movement built on the shoulders of Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia and Jayprakash Narayan.

Co-option has always been a feature of the political activities carried out by dominant powers, who have the ambition of conquering the world. Co-option recruits people from opposition camps and keeps them in their place.

This characteristic of co-option is seen in the Middle East. The people of the Middle East had and still have a number of dictators adopting pro-American policies. Then, the opposition against them started to grow. In the course of time, they started to become old and political liabilities, rather than assets for their cultivators. Egypt and Mubarrak constituted a classical example. However, at some point of time, we were told by the western powers and their media that there was a revolution in Egypt by radical and leftist forces, who acted decisively to replace Mubarrak with a popular regime. The world media refers to these events as the Arab spring and revolution. However, we all know now what happened in Egypt. No change has taken place. There remains a pro-American regime as it ever was, probably, more repressive than in the past. What has happened is co-option of the opposition.

India has been a participant in this global effort. What recently happened in the case of the Pune based Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) was ideologically of a similar kind as the movements in the Middle East.

Some members of KKM wanted to surrender. Surrenders happen wherever there is rebellion and revolution – there is nothing unusual in them. What is unusual, however, is that a group of people in Mumbai calling themselves the “KKM Defence Committee” (KKMDC) facilitated the surrender of these members of KKM. That is, KKMDC facilitated negotiations with the government, negotiations with the Chief Minister himself, arranged the place of surrender, the method of surrender, the place of detention, and how the government will proceed against them. Such actions cannot be called political activity defending the original aims of KKM. Genuine defence committees have not functioned in this manner historically; government agents function in this way to co-opt political opponents. Will the members of the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee ever say that there should have been a defence committee to persuade Bhagat Singh and his comrades to surrender through negotiation? Such activities and statements negate the very existence of revolt and revolution. The KKMDC, as a justification, claims that whatever they have done is to prevent torture. In this context, one must remember life is the ultimate price which revolution pays, in the absence of which, there will be no revolution. Nevertheless, the members of the KKMDC call themselves the defenders of revolt and rebellion.

It may be noted that funded organisations are playing a major role in this phenomenon of co-option at present. For instance, district or state units of some civil liberties organizations are linked to NGOs or funded organisations. Just in one state, eight out of sixteen district units of a well-respected civil liberties organization have been directly recruited and paid by a particular, prominent funded organisation based in Delhi.

The Civil Liberties movement has a long history, both formal and informal. The formal history starts from 1936 with Rabindranath Tagore as the president of the Civil Liberties Union of India. Other members of this movement were well known freedom fighters like Sarojini Naidu, Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia. They had said, in no uncertain terms, that the Civil Liberties Union existed to fight against the government whenever the rights of the people were suppressed, not to crush the opposition however severe their differences might have been. No Civil Libertarian in India ever said that Bhagat Singh should have been hanged even though his methods and ideologies were fundamentally different from the ideologies of Rabindranath Tagore, Sarojini Naidu, Jawaharlal Nehru or Dr. Lohia. The Civil Liberties Union of India ended in 1946 when Nehru became the interim Prime Minister of India. It was claimed that as they were then in power, there was no need for a particular civil liberties organisation.

Later, the Peoples’ Union of Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights (PUCL & DR) was formed during the Emergency. The person who played the most prominent role in its founding was Jayprakash Narayan (JP). It is worth remembering that PUCL & DR were formed underground to fight the undemocratic acts of Indira Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi and their cronies who ruled India. It is known to everybody that JP was never a communist in his political life, nevertheless, the first major issue that the PUCL & DR took up, immediately after the lifting of emergency, was to constitute a judicial enquiry (led by V. M. Tarkunde) to inquire into the large number of “encounter” deaths. The inquiry was based on facts and proved beyond a doubt that all encounters were false, fabricated and stage-managed. Here no reference is made to a good number of CL&DR organisations which were formed in the wake of what is called the Naxalbari movement.

What is happening in Mumbai now in the name of KKMDC is something outside of this Civil Liberties tradition.

It may be noted that KKM was not a front organisation of CPI (Maoist). In spite of that, the CPI (Maoist) played an important role in making the KKM the popular political-cultural organisation it later became. Among the people who played that role were Anuradha Ghandi and other persons of her stature. There may be a few thousand people in Maharashtra alone who can sing, dance and perform as well as or even better than the members of KKM. Nevertheless, nobody knows them; if the members of KKM are known all over India today, it is thanks to their politics influenced by CPI (Maoist).

This trend of co-option has dangerous consequences. The emergence of committees like KKMDC are a challenge that the civil liberties and democratic rights movement faces. It therefore needs to be taken up as a challenge and ideologically fought with so that such efforts of co-option are defeated.


Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee replies to defamation by P.A. Sebastian

The Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee (KKMDC) has read with astonishment and horror P.A. Sebastian’s article denouncing the KKMDC and in effect, the Kabir Kala Manch (KKM) itself. As unlike Sebastian, we care about what happens in court and in jail to all the individuals who are being currently branded as Naxalites, we cannot at this juncture reply to many of the points raised by Sebastian. Once the court trials are over we will certainly answer in full as well as explain every step taken by the KKMDC.

For the time being we want to focus on two pieces of defamation that Sebastian ought not to have written and Sanhati ought not to have carried without first ascertaining the facts.

The first defamatory statement is the following:

“KKMDC facilitated negotiations with the government, negotiations with the Chief Minister himself, arranged the place of surrender, the method of surrender, the place of detention, and how the government will proceed against them.”

This statement is false and defamatory. There was no surrender. There were two separate acts of satyagraha for the freedom of expression over a period of one month. The government was given no prior intimation of either satyagraha for the simple reason that had they known, they could easily have arrested the KKM en route and planted false evidence on them. It is for this reason that the entire operation was kept secret till the very last minute.

The first satyagraha took place in full public glare at the State Assembly on April 2 where the media was already present for assembly sessions. Sachin Mali and Sheetal Sathe of the KKM sang protest songs and spoke about their freedom of expression. Only after they were taken away by the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) did Adv. Prakash Ambedkar, Comrade Prakash Reddy and other members of the KKM Defence Committee meet with the Chief Minister. This was done expressly in order to ensure that the possibility of torture was minimized.

The second satyagraha took place a month later at Dr. Ambedkar’s statue near the Mantralaya (State Ministry) where Sagar Gorkhe, Ramesh Gaichor, Jyoti Jagtap and Rupali Jadhav of the KKM sang protest songs and offered themselves up for arrest, again in the presence of Prakash Ambedkar, Prakash Reddy and others from KKMDC and the media. But the ATS failed to arrive. So finally we walked down to the Mantralaya where two KKM members, Sagar and Ramesh, were arrested in the presence of journalists and the Home Minister, R. R. Patil. Again our purpose was to have the media present when R.R. Patil publicly assured everyone that torture would not take place. Is this a “deal”? Not to be tortured is an internationally recognized right, not a special favour. All we ensured is that the government knew that the world was watching.

It will be appreciated that torture of supposed “terrorists” is routine in police custody and only a high profile, public arrest can sometimes prevent it. Under torture the bravest individuals are known to break down and falsely implicate others. It may be recalled that two years ago a member of KKM had been arrested by ATS and so severely tortured that he gave a “confessional” (Section 164 ) statement in front of the magistrate that falsely implicated many. He has subsequently withdrawn this statement and stated that it was obtained under torture.

In the present instance our efforts to prevent the torture of the satyagrahis, and their own principled resoluteness, has ensured that no 164 statements have emerged from any of them.

The second defamatory statement by P.A. Sebastian follows a long diatribe by him on how KKMDC has been “co-opted”:

“It may be noted that funded organisations are playing a major role in this phenomenon of co-option at present. For instance, district or state units of some civil liberties organizations are linked to NGOs or funded organisations. Just in one state, eight out of sixteen district units of a well-respected civil liberties organization have been directly recruited and paid by a particular, prominent funded organisation based in Delhi.”

While Sebastian stops short of stating that KKMDC itself has taken funds from NGOs and funded organizations, he clearly links KKMDC to those who “are playing a major role in this phenomenon of co-option at present”. Which organization or NGO is he alluding to? What is the link between KKMDC and this NGO?

Again the facts are completely otherwise. KKMDC was begun with prize money won by the film “Jai Bhim Comrade” and it is sustained today by personal donations from core members of KKMDC. Some money is also raised through KKM music cds but as yet the production cost of making these cds has not been recuperated. Not a single paisa comes from any NGO. Sebastian must substantiate his allegation or immediately issue a public apology for this harmful piece of innuendo.

We are deeply saddened and shocked by P.A. Sebastian and anyone who may have egged him on to write what he wrote. As stated we cannot at present, for reasons that are sub-judice, get into details of what shocks us. We can summarize it like this. There are some people who call themselves civil libertarians and democratic rights activists who are convinced that no matter what, our present system can never deliver justice. When they see an occasional act by which some form of justice is delivered even in a limited way, it threatens their entire worldview. We belong to another category of civil libertarians. We believe that all systems are imperfect and potentially unjust, and only public vigilance and public intervention can keep the monster of the State, any State for that matter, in check.

If through our efforts people like the KKM eventually come out of prison and sing again without in any way compromising their song, we will have won a small victory. If people like Sebastian then swallow their pride of knowing best what the “right” or “most revolutionary” line is, and start to listen, a new democratic revolution will truly have begun. One that does not insist that the children of the poor and most oppressed be sacrificed while the children of the radical elite go to the best available college.


Anand Patwardhan, Simantini Dhuru, Prakash Reddy and Vivek Sundara
for the Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee


A response from West Bengal

by Ranjit Sur

The startling similarity of the activities of KKMDC with the events that happened in West Bengal in the name of the peace talks, has provoked me to express this reaction. The activities of KKMDC as mentioned by Sri Sebastian seems a follow up of the activities of West Bengal “interlocutors” or “ mediators”.

You all know that just after coming to power in the year 2011 Ms Mamata Banerjee, the new Chief Minister of West Bengal, formed a Committee of Interlocutors or mediators to initiate “peace talks” with CPI (Maoist). The government committee was headed by a prominent civil right activist while several other known “activists” were its members. The very surprising aspect of the whole process was that these civil libertines represented the Government in the “talk” initiative, thus breaking with the long history of peace talks where they represented the side of the movement (the Maoists in this case). On 7th July 2011, this committee of six interlocutors, after discussions with the Chief Minister, signed an agreement with the Government of West Bengal proclaiming themselves as representatives of Civil Society.

There was a clause in the 7th July agreement which offered a Surrender Package for the Maoists. Have you ever heard any such agreement where civil rights activists sign surrender package for the rebels ? But it started from West Bengal. And the acitivites of KKMDC seems the same as what “interlocutors” did here in West Bengal.

In another clause of the agreement that these “civil libertians” had signed, it was said that the Joint Forces will be withdrawn from Jungle Mahal only when that region will be completely free from arms and complete peace returns in Jungle Mahal, which implied that the forces would never be withdrawn. This allowed the Government to flout its pre-election promise of withdrawing Joint Forces after assuming power. Even today, the forces continue to reign there.

A third point in the agreement was that the government was free to “take steps” against those who will oppose “developments”.

Sri Sebastian rightly called the activities of KKMDC as an effort by the government to co-opt political opponents and he warned the activists about this danger in the midst of civil rights movement. He correctly urged us to fight this ideologically. I only wish to remind everyone that we should also not forget the events in West Bengal, otherwise we will do the same mistake again and again.


5 Responses to “Kabir Kala Manch Defence Committee : a debate”

  1. Kavita Krishnan Says:
    June 20th, 2013 at 12:22

    To my mind, it is a remarkable achievement of the KKM Defence Committee, to have successfully foiled the usual procedure of the police to torture and extract confessions from the KKM activists. This is a landmark achievement, one that we should seek to emulate in similar cases in future. Does this critique, if taken to its logical conclusion, suggest that KKM should have proved its revolutionary credentials and its debt to CPI(Maoist) (as the last line in Mr Sebastian’s piece indicates) only by succumbing to torture and false confessions?

    And I find the line about the debt to CPI(Maoist) in extremely bad spirit, amounting to accusing KKM of disloyalty and renegacy! Yes, of course, revolutionary Left politics may – and should – lend its support to cultural activism that it sees as progressive. But the cultural activists in question surely have their own ideological autonomy and integrity? We do not know what the ideological/political position of the KKM is, and whether they see themselves as ideologically Maoist, politically CPI(Maoist), Ambedkarite, or all or none or any combination of the above. Neither should that concern us now. Today the moot question for the movement for civil liberties is – are they worthy of being convicted as conspirators in violent actions against the State? If the answer is No, it has to be proven in a court of law – and that requires a nuanced political and legal battle. If KKM activists – who are surely fighters for democracy, not ‘co-opted’ elements who have surrendered their integrity – have chosen the route taken by the KKMDC, then should we not all respect their own decision? Even if some may disagree with it, surely the ethics of people’s movements demand that we voice these differences after – not during – the decisive phase of that movement?

    The line taken in this critique sounds, unfortunately, less like a defence of the principles of the civil liberties movement and more like the voice of the CPI(Maoist), branding the KKM as renegades and the Defence Committee as agents of the State. At a time when we all – regardless of our political affiliations – are at the receiving end of a war and witch-hunt, nothing can be more unfortunate.

    Any reservations or concerns about the tactics adopted by the KKMDC and KKM activists, could have been expressed in a different tone and manner, and not by way of this public attack. Should we, in the course of such crucial movements, give space to such outright sweeping denunciations and name-calling now, when the struggle is actually on? Can we be sure that this kind of critique made in this public manner, will not provide fodder to the State?

  2. Ashwini Mishra Says:
    June 26th, 2013 at 19:08

    Nobody knows me here, except a few. I am a protest rapper and as such do often express radical views in my music, much like Kabir Kala Manch. I am frankly disgusted by the idea that any break in rank from the party line elicits a statement like this: “if the members of KKM are known all over India today, it is thanks to their politics influenced by CPI (Maoist)”.

    If these are the so-called keepers of the revolution, maybe cultural activists need to look elsewhere. This sounds more like the nervous machinations of authority figures than the ideas of true revolutionaries. But then again, I am young and certainly no revolutionary. I speak from class privilege. But then again so does the author of this article. But reading this makes me wonder who is trying to co-opt whom here.

    Ashwini Mishra a.k.a A-List

  3. simpreet Says:
    July 5th, 2013 at 02:30

    The article written by PA Sebastian is unfortunate for the fact that many of us know him as well as members of KKMDC and fortunately Sebastian as well as members of KKMDC know each other better for decades.
    While Sebastian is right in having a difference of opinion, but he is not only being that, he is being hegemonic also. Be is sounding more like Bush, you are with us or otherwise against us.
    Im not a part of KKMDC but knowing the members of it, whom Sebastian himself very well, one thing can be said that they can have done anything but to say have been co-opted by the state or the system would be an insult to their decades of work which we all are familiar with. If some one has a difference of opinion, which will always be, does not mean one should start name calling. Hope better sense prevails to us all.

  4. Arun Ferreira Says:
    July 29th, 2013 at 23:10

    The principal point in Sebastian’s article on co-option, stressing this growing trend and the challenge it poses to the civil liberties and democratic rights movement, seems to be being sidestepped in most of the reactions.
    Activists who are underground and wish to come open, normally have the options of either applying for anticipatory bail in cases where they are named, or of presenting themselves before trial courts if they have been charge-sheeted and declared absconders. In the case of the members of KKM, these options, which were concretely placed before the KKMDC, were rejected in preference to the route of surrender before and talks with the Chief Minister/Home Minister. This choice, which obviously carries greater scope for co-option than court presentation, is today being presented as the route of choice to avoid torture and is even being hailed (by Kavita Krishnan) as a landmark achievement worthy of emulation. But anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the practice of torture in our country would find it difficult to digest the logic that expects those presiding over the lawless torture machinery of the state with the highest custodial deaths to be more trustworthy than the courts in preventing torture and upholding rule of law. I agree that ‘only public vigilance and public intervention can keep the monster of the State, any State for that matter, in check’ but it is difficult to accept that the surrender “satyagraha” method is superior to court production (with similar media publicizing) to obtain greater public vigilance and intervention. And Anand, as well as the others who have joined him in the reply, cannot afford to ignore the obvious co-optation opportunities the ministerial route offers the “monster” state. It is all well to hope that ‘people like the KKM eventually come out of prison and sing again without in any way compromising their song’. But doesn’t a compromising surrender/satyagraha before ministers make it all the more difficult to keep from compromising song?
    The other torture related argument, that the ministerial route prevented section 164 CrPC statements, stands on the tenous comparison with the earlier 164 “confession” by another co-accused. A 164 confession before a Judicial Magistrate does not normally have the simple connection to torture that the confession before a police officer (allowed under various special laws) has. Other factors such as lack of proper legal advice most often play the more crucial role. Further, it does not stand to reason to compare the 164 statement of that said accused, who was suddenly picked up in the first wave of arrests, with the absence of 164 statements by persons who had two years to weigh their options and present themselves in a planned manner. Thus it would be quite misleading for any method of surrender/satyagraha to claim credit for the latter.
    The debate so far has been highly personalized and strayed from the core issue of co-option. Though some of the personal observations could do with some clarification, it would be perhaps better to keep these aside and focus on the trends and challenges that concern us all.

    August 11th, 2013 at 15:36

    The article of Mr. sebastian is an act of agent-provocateur. The reactionary force meticulously implants the agent provocateurs in the rank and file of leftists revolutionaries. These agents are pretending themselves as more radical even than the Maoists by uttering ultra left fire eating phrases. Their sole purpose is to disrupt the process of forming an anti-imperialist broad based mass front whose driving force must have to be the communist revolutionaries. The armed resistance struggle led by CPI (Maoist) is now eighteen years old, but still there is no sign of any initiative of forming this anti-imperialist front and the people like Mr. Sebastian and Ranjit Sur are hell-bent not to form any such type of front.

    If anyone dares to challenge me I am ready to furnish the proof of existence of the agent provocateurs in the rank of left revolutionaries.

    CPI(Maoist) General Secretary Ganapatiji once said the protracted armed struggle may continue even for fifty years. If we fail to identify these agent provocateurs present in the revolutionary rank and file, then far from fifty years, we can never complete the democratic revolution even after five hundred years.

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