Today, 8 October, is the 13th death anniversary of K Balagopal, the fearless human rights activist who criticised not only state atrocities in undivided Andhra Pradesh but also pointed out the problems with Naxalite violence.
Born on 10 June 1952 in Bellary in Karnataka to Kandala Parthanatha Sarma and Nagamani, K Balagopal completed his doctorate in maths and pursued post-doctoral studies at the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), New Delhi.
From maths to law
The economist Jean Drèze, who was a PhD student in ISI when Balagopal was there, wrote in a foreword to a book by the latter: “Balagopal was exceptionally bright and I am sure that he could have had a flourishing career as a professor of mathematics in any of India’s best research institutes. Instead, he returned in 1981 to Warangal, where he had studied earlier. After a brief episode of teaching, he immersed himself in the civil liberties movement there.”
Balagopal, who became the general secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee in 1983, then entered the legal profession in the 90s. He became a human rights lawyer who defended workers, Adivasis, and Dalits.
Faced state torture, condemned violence by Naxalites
He had earlier been imprisoned under the National Security Act in the 1980s and kidnapped and tortured by groups associated with the police, including by an outfit called Prajabandhu. This came long before law enforcement groups in Chhattisgarh formed the Salwa Judum militia, whose atrocities Balagopal later documented.
Despite facing state torture, Balagopal also criticised atrocities by Naxalites and wrote: “The means that we use are not merely instruments to achieve our ends. They in turn cast an influence upon us. They cast an influence upon the whole society.”
He broke with the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee over the issue of violence committed by Naxalites in 1998 and co-founded the Human Rights Forum.
In a tribute titled ‘The Honest Leftist’, Ramachandra Guha wrote: “Balagopal was described (by a younger friend) as ‘the conscience of the collective self known as Andhra society’. However, he was revered outside Andhra Pradesh too — in Kashmir, which he once referred to as the ‘only foreign country I have visited’; … in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and other cities, where his work for human rights was admired by those who sought to emulate him while knowing that they could never match his intellectual originality or his physical and moral courage.”
The works of Balagopal include ‘Leaders beyond media images’ and ‘Probings in the political economy of agrarian classes and conflicts’.
K Balagopal on NTR and his federalism
In the former, commenting on the forces that propelled the rise of NT Rama Rao as chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Balagopal wrote, “There is perhaps no more frequently repeated frivolity than the profound remark that ‘regionalism is a rising force in Indian politics’. … It is resorted to by hack columnists because its status as a popular banality makes serious analysis unnecessary.”
He noted that regionalism does “not carry the stigma” of communalism and casteism” and added: “It happens that communal, casteist and plainly economic forces describe themselves in the ‘regionalist’ idiom, in terms of linguistic aspirations, devolution of power to the states, autonomy of the regions, etc.”
A member of Virasam (Revolutionary Writers’ Association) for many years, Balagopal wrote about NTR: “It is not that the existing lopsided distribution of power between the Centre and the States hurt his democratic sentiments (he has none). … What impels him is the sense— or nonsense — of the burden of historical and mythological tradition that continuously haunts him. In fighting Delhi, he probably sees himself as avenging the defeat of the Kakatiyas at the hands of the Sultan of Delhi Alauddin Khilji in the last years of the 13th century, an event that signifies, in the prevalent mythology of Andhra history enslavement of the Telugu people by Delhi and its Deccan agents.”
But he did give the former Andhra chief minister credit where it was due and noted his opposition to the Army action in Punjab under Indira Gandhi.
“That is the reason why he [NTR] has gone farthest in opposing the Centre among all the parties espousing the cause of federalism. … His was the one electoral party that categorically condemned the army action in Punjab, not as a prudent after-thought as a consequence of the angry reaction of the Sikhs (the kind of electoral prudence that affected most of the Opposition parties, ranging from the Communists to the BJP), but on the very marrow of the Army action,” he wrote.
‘A person like Naidu is equal to anybody in Delhi …’
Writing on NTR’s son-in-law who dethroned him, Balagopal quipped that India was ripe for federeralistion, if only for the fact that leaders in many states have “nothing left to learn — in administration, commerce or criminality — from Delhi”.
“A person like Chandrababu Naidu is equal to anybody in Delhi, whether in running an efficient administration, amassing unlawful wealth, or cutting his opponents’ throats. … Some politicians are credited with some idealism in the initial years of their career, which they outgrow in due course and recall nostalgically on inebriated evenings thereafter. Chandrababu has never been accused of any such weakness,” he wrote.
K Balagopal on PV Narasimha Rao and YSR
Balagopal was equally forthright in his appraisal of the leaders of the Congress, the other main party in undivided Andhra at that time.
Commenting on the portrayal of Narasimha Rao soon after he became prime minister as a learned elder statesman who can create a consensus, Balagopal wrote: “Such is the miracle desperation can work that the image of PV created and publicised in the last few months has little resemblance to what the politically knowledgeable public in Andhra Pradesh knew him to be until he had the prime ministership thrust on him. He was a proverbially indecisive person, afraid to offend even rogues, accommodative of even scoundrels, lacking totally in assertiveness.”
After YS Rajasekhara Reddy defeated Naidu and became the chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh in 2004, Balagopal noted: “His [YSR’s] rise in politics has been accompanied by more bloodshed than that of any other politician in this state.”
“The recent elections may very well have meant many things in terms of popular aspirations, and one has no desire to be cynical on that score. But in the matter of the change of helmsmen, it has merely replaced a man who would find nothing too crooked if it is in his political interest, with one who would find nothing too brutal,” he added.
K Balagopal also wrote on many other issues including reservations and capital punishment. His writings are available on www.balagopal.org.