December, 2019: When the Republic Found Its Voice Again

It may not be an exaggeration to say that “we the people” have re-assumed their ownership of India.

If there is one trope in human life that one ought never to be cocksure about, it is politics.

Let me, nonetheless, hazard a perception. I am of the view that December, 2019 may have emphatically signalled a return of national politics to the founding principles of India’s freedom struggle and constitutional life.

This end of the year has seen India rise as one to repudiate over-reaching majoritarian hubris that had come to assume that after the “resolution” of the Ayodhya dispute and the reading down of Article 370, the people of India were sufficiently quelled to swallow the crowning act of “othering” Indian Muslims explicitly to a second-class destiny in the life and concerns of the nation.

From Arunachal Pradesh to Chennai, and Assam to Ahmedabad, a spontaneous outrage against this brazen act has made known to the Hindutva rightwing that enough is enough, and that the people of India hold equality and secular citizenship to be non-negotiable.

In thus standing up for their Muslim brethren, Indians of all hues ages, and denominations have delivered a no-nonsense blow to the attempted reconstitution of the republic into a Hindu Rashtra.

Also read: Delhi Goes to Protest: Ground Report From a City Undeterred

As the calendar year ends, a resurrection is promised to the beleaguered land. The exclusionists have come to be excluded in a phenomenal assertion of secular and constitutional will. A failed government has found its comeuppance at the altar of an awakened populace that is no longer willing to be a supine accessory to a propaganda machine that has sought over five years or more to bury its failures on all issues of secular livelihood under an unending avalanche of communal polarisation and the social weaponisation of the slogan of “national security” and uncritical compliance with official versions of patriotism.

In coming forth to own back their two hundred million fellow Muslim citizens, the sovereign people of India, led memorably by youth power both inside and outside our institutions of learning, have renewed the memory of those founding values which informed India’s uniquely inclusive freedom movement and a correspondingly pluralist and egalitarian Constitution.

This has been no lumpen uprising, but one profoundly well-informed and deeply committed to the pre-eminence of humanist values.

Protesters at Jantar Mantar. Photo: Akhil Kumar/The Wire

It may not be an exaggeration to say that “we the people” have re-assumed their ownership of the republic of India.

As stated at the outset, political prognostications in a field as complex and riven as contemporary India cannot but be hazardous, but this much may be said: young Indians have struck a discernible departure from the trusting follies of recent years.

Nor should it be treated as business-as-usual that ringing declarations of refusal of the black Citizenship (Amendment) Act continue to be voiced by governments in the states, and by hitherto mutually opposed political formations who now resolve to come together to resist its implementation; who would have thought that in Kerala, the perennial antagonists, the Congress and the Communist parties, would determine to launch a joint protest on (December 16) to beat back forces whose undemocratic and unconstitutional gumption they now see as the chief antagonist and chief threat to the life of the republic.

Also read: In Clamour Against CAB, the Hint of a Resolute Opposition

Already news also comes of disquiet among the political allies of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and notable scions among these parties have made bold to make public criticisms of their own party positions on the disreputable new Act. Those allies may well come to read in the new mass assertion the folly of their determinations and resolve to make departures in consonance with both the new public mood and with requirements of a lawful, just, and constitutionally valid structure of governance.

And those others, not formally allied with the ruling NDA who made the passing of the nefarious Act possible in parliament may well come to be seen as the guilty men of 2019. Their Faustian bargains will remain etched in the history of the contemporary moment to their disrepute, unless they see their way out of the complicity that has landed national life in turmoil.

But, in the end, it is the governing dispensation that has finally, it would seem, succeeded in rousing the nation against itself where the opposition has failed to do so through these years. That such consequence is often the accompaniment of “vaulting ambition” is a lesson for all to re-learn.

For now, let the sovereign people speak, for in their dour conviction on behalf of the “basic” and constitutionally unalterable features of our composite life alone is the republic ultimately safe; always taking care that peaceful mass mobilisation and protest is not allowed to be hijacked by elements that bake their pernicious bread in the cauldron of violence.

In that context, the strong-arm methods used by the state-apparatus in the national capital on students of the Jamia Millia Islamia university who were exercising their democratic right to association and peaceful protest deserves to be condemned. As per multiple reports, aired at length on the electronic media, even libraries and washrooms were not spared. That the brutal assault was accompanied by despicable communal imprecations suggests how deeply the official politics and culture of recent years has infected India’s policing personnel.

It is to be much doubted that the state’s recourse to such methods can any more quite extinguish the outrage that, from everything one has seen and read, is now far too well-informed to be fibbed off or crushed.

The adage “word to the wise, rod to the fool” applies as much to governments as to people and individuals. It will be interesting to see what turn governance now takes should the mass protests continue and intensify.

It is to be hoped that India’s bureaucracies and media houses will take a cue from the strength of the disaffection and reorient their allegiances to the good of the secular common weal.

Interesting times.

Badri Raina has taught at Delhi University.