Had you anticipated your arrest?
Yes. The democratic space had been shrinking from 2004 onwards, and it only got worse. I was expecting the state to turn the screws on me someday.
Do you believe the work you did in Vidarbha would go unchallenged?
As long as my social work involves distributing fruits and medicines to tribals or the oppressed, the state is happy. But when I talk to them about why they remain poor, how they can change their situation, the state gets uncomfortable. It’s a neo-liberal, NGO-oriented kind of work that the state wants from civil society. Things got worse after Operation Green Hunt.
How exactly would you describe your work?
I was a social activist since college. I continued that. My work was to organise people in Mumbai and Maharashtra. You see, ideology has the capacity to mobilise people into action. Mumbai-based ideologues are active in their writing, but not really active on the ground. In Gadchiroli, it’s the other way round. Mine is not the only arrest on ideological grounds. These arrests are a signal to others.
You do identify with Maoist ideology, though…
I don’t consider myself an ideologue, but yes, I am a Left activist with a deep belief in people’s movements. I am heartened by the Arab Spring, by the Jaitapur anti-nuclear protests, the anti-posco stir and so on. Any people’s movement will go through phases, it’s wrong to categorise them on the basis of whether they are armed or not, violent or non-violent.
Wouldn’t your beliefs make you a Naxalite?
I don’t think the state gives you the liberty to ask this question or me the liberty to answer it.
The state says you were chief of the communication and propaganda wing of the CPI (Maoist), Maharashtra Rajya Committee…
I don’t have the liberty to answer this. But I conducted a 27-day hunger strike while in jail over issues there. By that token, I should be called a Gandhian.
Will you resume your ideology-based social work?
I am taking time to adjust because I find it’s a whole new world out here. I feel a bit like Rip Van Winkle. I was lucky to have had the support of my family and a section of civil society, but there are other political prisoners like me in there. It’s a major issue and I intend to work on it