New Delhi: On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi coined a new term – andolanjivi – to describe people who apparently “cannot live without protests”. Replying to the motion of thanks on the president’s address in the Rajya Sabha, he also described them as ‘parasites’.
The Modi government’s second term has faced pan-India protests opposing controversial policy decisions such as the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the three farm laws. While these protests grew organically into a movement, the government has tried to project them as a ‘ploy’ fuelled by the opposition parties or the so-called “anti-nationals”.
He was perhaps referring to these groups, when he said, “This community [of andolanjivis] can be spotted wherever there is a protest, be it agitation by lawyers, students or labourers, sometimes at the forefront and sometimes from behind. They cannot live without protests. We have to identify such people and protect the nation from them.”
These comments maligning largely peaceful protests and protesters are in stark contrast to the prime minister’s exhortation in 1974, when as a youngster in his 20s, Modi took part in Gujarat’s Navnirman Andolan.
As Raghu Karnad pointed out in his piece for The Wire, Modi’s personal website dedicates a page to the movement, which is described as Modi’s “first encounter with mass protest and led to a significant broadening of his worldview on social issues.” The page adds:
“It also propelled Narendra to the first post of his political career, General Secretary of the Lok Sangharsh Samiti in Gujarat in 1975.”
The movement began in December 1973, when students at the LD Engineering College in Ahmedabad protested against grievances such as canteen charges. When the police used force against them, protests spread to other campuses by early 1974, leading to “state-wide strikes, arson and looting, all targeting the state government”.
A message to the youth written by Modi at the time was later published in a book titled Sangharsh ma Gujarat (Gujarat in a period of trial). In that message, Modi urges the youth to take to the streets and ‘not let democracy die’.
The message, translated into English by Ahmedabad Mirror, provides valuable advice to the protesters of today, but also represents the drastic swing in the prime minister’s opinion of protests.
“Children of Bharat Mata, think in what direction the country is being pushed into today. If you don’t act today, take a moment to ponder the consequences you will have to face tomorrow. You are the harbinger of India’s future. Because today’s young are tomorrow’s leaders. Who will take up the responsibility making this nation rise and shine? The answer is clear. The responsibility is yours,” Modi’s message begins.
He says the country “has been rendered silent by cheaters and fraudsters” and says “poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, immorality, corruption, and oppression” will be a cross for the youth to bear in future.
“The way Democracy is being destroyed in the country today to pave the way for dictatorship, you will be the herd of sheep that will be walked, heads down,” he says, in what could well be a reference to the clampdown on dissent and freedom of expression that the Centre has embarked upon since 2014.
“If you don’t make adequate sacrifices today in this second movement of Independence, who will the history judge harshly? You. Whose names will appear in the list of cowards that historians will compile? Yours… How should the history of this country be written? With ink and pen? Or with the blood pouring out from the hearts of the youth? You will decide,” he adds.
“Once [this movement] had taken hold in Bihar, it was joined by a new leader – the freedom fighter Jayaprakash Narayan, or JP, whom students invited back to the public stage to lead them.”
This was the beginning of a movement against the Indira Gandhi movement. As the movement became increasingly popular, the then-prime minister imposed Emergency on June 25, 1975.
Karnad’s piece, written in June 2018, also argues that while the BJP and right-wing groups push the narrative that Modi has “encountered more protest, provocations and … ‘subversion’ than the Congress ever did”, the truth is the opposite.
“Just try to imagine students rioting in the streets, for months at a stretch, to bring down BJP governments, a Union minister being assassinated, and then a judge dismissing Modi from parliament, and banning him from the following election. Those were the provocations that brought about the Emergency. They may not have justified it. But the fact is, in the past four years, no protests outside of Kashmir have come close to the scale of disruption that Indira confronted for years prior to Emergency. The activism in JNU or at Jantar Mantar is a musical flash-mob in comparison.”