While denying that it supports the cause of Maoist rebels, Ekta Parishad founder PV Rajagopal tells Prakhar Jain that the NGO works to protect the land and water rights of the poor
The police have directly accused Ekta Parishad of being a Maoist front organisation. Do you accept the charges?
I take these charges very seriously because such accusations have been made by the Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh governments many times and we had written to them telling them to provide evidence so that we could correct or dismantle our organisation. I have made many suggestions to various governments, including the Government of India, the President of India and the home minister, saying that it is a non-violent organisation working on Gandhian lines. We would be happy to work with the government to contain violence in conflict areas. I started my career working in Chambal area with Jayaprakash Narayan to end violence and encourage non-violence. I’ve trained a lot of young people and sent them to Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. In the beginning, the states used to accuse us with these allegations just because the RSS used to work in the same areas as us, and Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are ruled by the BJP government. Therefore, they were able to level allegations that we are supporting the Naxals.
Are you trying to say that the victimisation of your organisation is happening specifically in BJP-ruled states?
It started like that. But when these states started sending such reports to the Centre, they also started repeating these statements. It feels bad and insulting when a person, who trains people around the world on non-violent forms of struggle, is described as the head of a Maoist front organisation. I’ve written to the DGPs of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh asking them to take action if they have any evidence against me. If you keep on accusing and demoralising my people, the strength of the poor suffers. In 2007, when 25,000 people marched to Delhi, the entire world, including the police, said that they haven’t ever seen such a huge non-violent agitation. It is a conspiracy to frame us as Naxal supporters so that issues of water, forests, land, poverty and migration can be ignored. It is a ploy to destroy all those voices who oppose the current way of development.
The tourist visa strictly prohibits any participation in socio-political activities by foreigners. How come, Ekta Parishad, which has been organising rural trips for foreigners for a long time, took them to Naxal stronghold areas?
The year-long yatra will cover 80,000 km. I am visiting many places, especially where there is conflict and violence. I want to understand that what all can be done to contain conflict. I invited my foreign friends to visit Jamui, Nawada and Gaya because it is the Karmabhoomi of Jayaprakash Narayan and Vinoba Bhave. In Jamui, we took them to Dhirendra da’s Shrambharti Ashram and then we went to Jayaprakashji’s Shekhodeora Ashram in Nawada where they were detained by the police.
Now, in the course of the yatra, many people come with their complaints as I am working on land and water rights. The French have got nothing to do with what I do and who all I meet. I wanted them to understand the problems of land and how it can be resolved through non-violent means. I wanted them to meet people, who follow Gandhi and Jayaprakash, and are taking the reforms forward. I don’t think that any visa violation can happen just by visiting Gandhi ashrams. When the police asked me to remove them (the French) from the stage, I happily asked them to leave. Had the police really been concerned about them, they could have easily told us not to bring these people in these areas due to security concerns. I would have turned them back without asking questions. But this negative publicity to save their face, and to say that these people belong to a Naxal front organisation, saddens me. That is why I have been on a fast for the past four days.
The police have said that the local cops were not informed about their stay in Nawada and Jamui. Is it true?
We provided the police with a copy of their passports and visas as soon as the French reached the place. There was no resistance from our side so there was no need for confrontation.
Has something been given in writing to anybody?
Only visa violation has been mentioned as a reason for deportation. No Maoist link has been mentioned. It’s a tale spun by the police to defend themselves and save their face. The French have written just below the police statement that they haven’t violated any visa rule but are ready to go back. They have also said that they have not made speeches or provoked anyone, and said they were just moving along with Rajagopal. I believe that is the real reason for their deportation. Both the Centre and the state government are involved in it as water, forests and land have become commodities for trade. No one wants the poor to have it and we are the people who are fighting for their rights.