He was uncompromisingly political. His politics was guided by an equally uncompromising living paradigm of philosophical humanism. This theory and praxis of humanism guided his radical politics.
His journey against the organised and one-dimensional violence unleashed by the State and radical, underground Naxalite politics, towards an imaginative and creative engagement with grassroots politics, human rights, women’s empowerment, gender justice, communal fascism and globalisation, transformed into a higher form of direct, non-violent political and academic engagement. This was a man of qualities engaging with darkness at noon, still looking for collective enlightenment, the insatiable truth of justice. While he criticised social transformation through violence, his move was not a sell-out as branded by the myopic and sectarian, but a qualititative evolution, because it did not compromise with his fundamental concern that animated his values and ideology — his radical and steadfast commitment to the poor and his struggle against the relentless spiral of injustice.
His evolution and ‘paradigm shift’ attracted vitriolic criticism from certain hardline and claustrophic tendencies of radical politics whose methods and strategies he renounced and criticised; but they failed to acknowledge that his evolution was not a departure from his politics, but a departure from their politics, that he did not see their politics can lead to the humanist objectives they espoused. That is why they had great difficulty in condemning him — because, unlike others who left that violent strand of the movement, he did not join the establishment, instead sustained his critique on behalf of the very people whose cause they were advocating.
This set him apart from the other critics of armed radicalism because unlike them he retained his sympathy for their motivation while he repudiated their methods. So there were two levels of differences. He was radical in his commitments but differed from armed radicalism. This, in turn, distinguished him from the white collar critics of armed radicalism who simply denounced the violence without any understanding of the motivations behind radical rural politics. This made him perhaps the only bi-lingual intellectual in India who worked for and wrote on behalf of the rural poor within a complex web of sociological and political underpinnings. In this sense he was a genuinely organic intellectual because his politics was organic to the needs of rural India, not just in Andhra Pradhesh but elsewhere too, since he understood rural society and grassroots struggles the way few contemporary intellectuals do.
His unwavering humanism and personal political trajectory has implications for radical politics both in its aims and its methods, because it brings in the complex question of how radical politics must combat the State and its violence without falling prey to the same pathologies that the State exhibits in the course of wielding its violent power.
Balagopal, as he moved away from his earlier positions, was attempting to formulate an approach to find a way out of this paradox. His untimely demise has, it appears, put an end to that search, unless other radical intellectuals who have seen and participated in revolutionary violence take it up with the same rigour and commitment. Urban, white collar intellectuals, are unable to undertake this task because they have no direct understanding of the provocations that generate revolutionary violence, nor an intimate experience of the consequences of revolutionary violence, not least for those on behalf of whom it is undertaken. Their criticism of revolutionary violence is merely moralistic just as much as the distant support of most urban radicals is more often a form of comfortable romantic luxury.
This issue of Combat Law is a tribute to Dr Balagopal. We have tried to bring together a miniscule part of his vast body of vibrant, pluralislt, refreshingly original intellectual and political work published in EPW and other journals, which reflect the incredible journey of a quintessential revolutionary, from great struggle to greater struggles, from great humanism to greater humanism.
- Harsh Dobhal