Protests don't work unless the polls do

Source :SIFY
Last Updated: Mon, Feb 17th, 2020, 14:59:53hrs
Protests don't work unless the polls do
As if the scenes of bloodied students from Jamia Millia Islamia and police action in Uttar Pradesh were not enough, we now have cowards in masks entering a campus as reputed for its fiery student body as Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Media reports said students had alerted the police to the arrival of the goons hours before the police actually turned up. They broke into hostels and attacked professors, exercising arguably more viciousness against the women. Little angers the bigot more than a woman with an opinion, and JNU would seem to have more than its fair share.

It ought not to surprise us that goons were sent into campus.

Extremists stop at nothing to prove their supremacy, particularly when they feel disempowered. The protests across the country, whose attendance appears to belie the election results, have made news globally. Amit Shah and Narendra Modi have found themselves consistently on the backfoot for the first time since they came to power. Traditionally, the supporters of kings and kingmakers tend to allow their egos to bruise even more easily than the latter and avenge themselves for perceived slights with even more brutality than the latter.

Those who seek to stand up to power can take heart from the fact that they have so upset the bigots.

But, while the protests made a statement, no statement changed the course of history unless its promises could be implemented. And that usually needs a change in the seat of power.

In a world where traditional conquests are a thing of the past, and countries don’t come together to bring down dictatorships unless they rule in oil-rich lands, the only way the seat of power will host a different sitter is for the elections to yield a different result from the last two.

The mistake many liberals make is to assert that the Congress is a better option. The Congress is a better option for Muslims, but it would not be an exaggeration to say anything is a better option for Muslims than the BJP.

However, the Congress and BJP are rather more alike than most liberals would like to believe. The Congress too singled out a religion for persecution – only, it was a much smaller minority than the one the BJP chooses to single out; so small, in fact, that the BJP would like to think it can be absorbed into Hinduism.

Operation Blue Star and the consequent assassination of Indira Gandhi, which triggered anti-Sikh riots, are seen as the main evidence of Congress bigotry.

However, the reign of terror the Centre exercised in Punjab in the late 1980s and 1990s is not very different from the ugliest events in Kashmir and the northeast. Militants and suspected militants, often young men and even teenage boys, disappeared regularly after being picked up by the police; prominent militants were often tortured to death, and on the occasion they were not given anonymous burials, the last photographs of their bodies told of horrific mutilation.

Muslims have not had a field time of it under Congress rule either – ask the women who were affected by the ironically-named Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986.

The need of the hour is not simply for one corrupt party to replace another, but for new leaders to emerge and grow.

There have been enough voices calling out the ugliness of the police and government action. Protests must go beyond sharing images of placards and retweeting videos by media celebrities who would be foolish not to capitalise on the opportunity to go viral.

The problem with protests is that they rarely carry original ideas. They are a minor disturbance to those in power and a major disturbance to commuters among the common man, but a show of numbers has historically proven to be ineffective unless it showed in the polls. Conscientious objection didn’t matter during the First World War; it led to a death sentence in Nazi Germany.

In Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party proved to be a viable alternative, spearheaded by Arvind Kejriwal, who emerged as a leader during the Anna Hazare-led protests.

Mass mobilisation works in times of sudden crises – a bulk of the relief work during the tsunami and floods in Tamil Nadu was organised by civilians – but it is not enough to overcome sustained stifling of voices and resistance.

At some point, those who are resisting the seat of power need to dethrone the occupants of that seat.

And for all the pats on our backs and sharing of posts, our presence at protests is far less important than our presence at poll booths in 2024.

More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:

Nobel for economist, tailspin for economy 

Why the Diaspora has so much love to give

Hindi debate: We are all obsessed with homogeneity

We are choking the earth

When Kamal Haasan endorsed harassment

The Dalai Lama and the death of humour

The delusionary Indian intellectual

India's culture of worship has to end

Nandini is the author of Invisible Men: Inside India's Transmasculine Networks (2018) and Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage (2013). She tweets @k_nandini. Her website is: