The year ended on a depressing yet hopeful note. The government has shown that it is determined to push its invidious agenda and is convinced that an electoral victory gives it the absolute right to do whatever it wants. And it clearly wants to go after Muslims in every possible way, because that is what the Sangh parivar’s core philosophy has always been. The Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens process is one crucial step in that direction.
This is a really worrying prospect for India.
But hope lies in the manner in which people at large have responded – citizens across the land have risen in anger, registering their protest not only against the CAA-NRC but also because the last five years have led to growing polarisation within Indian society in dangerous ways. The readings of the preamble to the Indian constitution at protest marches is not accidental – citizens know that the fight is to save the set of principles and values that have held the country together for 70 years. The BJP and its overlords want to destroy those values – the citizens want to defend them and preserve them.
This spirit must continue and not dissipate as everyone gets busy and protest fatigue sets in. It is evident that the Sangh parivar will not stop its relentless march towards achieving the Hindu rashtra it has always fantasised about. Ninety years of brainwashing has created a vast army of total believers who have a clear-eyed vision of the society they want to create and the clinical determination to not let anything come in their way.
For them, it is not just gaining victory, it is also the total annihilation of everything they detest – starting with secular, liberal democracy.
The citizens have understood that, but what is more important to know is that this year, bolstered by state power, the Sangh machinery will pursue those goals even more aggressively and ruthlessly. There is a sense of urgency in the parivar, as though time is running out.
The first Narendra Modi government was finding its feet; this one has hit the ground running. In 2019, within the first few months of being elected, the new government announced a change of the 70-year-old constitutional arrangement with Kashmir and locked down an entire state. Then, in December, it got the Citizenship Amendment Bill passed. In between, the Supreme Court allowed for the temple to be built in Ayodhya. Every promise on the BJP’s election manifesto is being met; there is unfinished business, such as the Universal Civil Code, and much more, which will be achieved sooner than later.
How will civil society and the citizens of India resist that? That will be the crucial question, because protests have their place and certainly have rattled the government, but they will not be enough. Street pressure focusses attention on an issue, but does not fundamentally change things. It is obvious that the government is on the back foot now – if it has to rely on weak marches by cadre in support of CAA or get endorsements by the likes of Jaggi Vasudev, it must be pretty desperate. But once the demonstrations stop or slow down, the government will push ahead with renewed force.
A wide spectrum of approaches will therefore have to be followed. Building public opinion, countering propaganda, getting support from powerful public voices, even legal measures – all of these will have to be deployed to meet the challenges ahead. The energy of the protest marches comes from the fact that they are spontaneous and without identifiable leaders – everyone has just joined in. Behind the scenes, however, civic activists and political workers have worked hard to motivate people and also provide cadre.
Now leaders will have to emerge, structures will have to be put in place. It is going to be crunch time for all those who want to fight for the idea of India.
Already there is talk of coordination among civil society organisations, but without political parties, they will be able to do little. The strength of politicians is that they can take the message to their constituents. There is a fond belief, encouraged by civil society activists, that politicians are part of the problem and should be kept out. Jayaprakash Narayan’s ‘total revolution’ and many other such iterations around the world, have propagated that idea. In India, it is easy to mock politicians, and often they are worthy of just that. But they are a vital part of democracy. Without politicians like Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala or indeed Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, who have stood up to the BJP, any fight against the CAA-NRC would have been much weaker.
It would be a mistake to think that battles are won on the street or indeed on social media. Twitter trends can help widen the appeal of the message, but at the ground level, the grunt work needs people. Harnessed properly, political outfits can be a great resource, because at the end of the day, the battle will have to be fought politically. On their part, politicians will have to stand up and be counted – many of them have so far sent out mixed message or shown ambivalence in opposing the BJP and there is no saying which side they will support at crucial junctures.
A combination of well-strategised game plan involving all the key stake holders, combined with citizen power, can certainly be a formidable force in resisting the onslaught of the pernicious CAA-NRC, not to forget the National Population Register exercise, which is imminent.
Mao Tse Tung was supposed to have said:
“A revolution is not a dinner party…it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous.”
This is not a revolution, not by a long shot. But it is a fight, a fight to uphold Indian values and foundational principles. No true, patriotic Indian wants to reduce Muslims – or anyone else – to second-class citizens. People of all faiths have come out on the street, not because they are fighting a ‘Muslim’ cause but they are standing up for India. Not for a long time has this level of all-India fervour been seen.
That is in itself revolutionary. That is the spirit with which the country must enter the new year.