Two divisive nodes of society have determined the nature of conflict in nation-states: religion and ideology. Differences in both are historically settled only through violence. Countless Jews and Hindus were massacred by hostile rulers. Millions of dissenters have been murdered, jailed or disempowered by vengeful governments. Crores of people of opposing faiths—as opposed to different faiths—have been persecuted, shamed and assaulted by mobs with state protection.
However, the destiny of ideology is to meet mortal dust. The once all-powerful Communism and fierce Fascism failed in Russia, Spain, Italy and France. In China, ideology is driven by the very market force wealth that Marx hated. The future of religion is constant reform: take Martin Luther King’s Protestant breakaway, Raja Ram Mohun Roy’s anti-Sati campaign, Periyar’s and Narayana Guru’s race and caste defiance. Only democracy, however flawed, thrives. And it thrives precisely because of its faults—the angry naiveté of rebels, the implacable fist of the state, the fateful decisions of leaders, the whims of economists and the rhetoric of aggression. The price we pay for democracy is the blood of the young. It is wise to heed their voices because they resound in the hearts and minds of adults.
Governments work in inexplicable ways. The goon attack on JNU had a macabre twist at the end. The Delhi Police, supposedly known for its professionalism, booked student leader Aishe Ghosh—who was shown on incessant TV loops lying on the ground, face and head smothered in blood—in a previous case, which had nothing to do with the assault. Not one masked marauder was arrested in spite of some persons claiming the credit. The explanation that the Left incited the violence by beating up its own leader is a stretch. The message is chilling: dissent and you will face the fury of the mob and the state. Assault, and you will get protection.
The knee-jerk response of governments strong and weak is to punish the objector. But how many students and teachers can they jail? How many film icons can they imprison? How many journalists can they attack? How many writers can be murdered? Some visuals become symbols of history: the faceless man braving the tanks in Tiananmen Square, the sword-bearing rioter in Gujarat and the burning activist in the Mandal agitation. Now, social media power and TV could make the image of bloodied Aishe the face of the CAA protest. It is Youth vs Government. Youth has exuberance, middle-age caution and old age brings reflection. And exuberance can be contagious.
Neither Narendra Modi nor Amit Shah, the two pillars of government, are indecisive compromisers. They act swiftly and forcefully according to their beliefs in what is best for India whether on Kashmir, triple talaq or ejecting illegal immigrants. They don’t talk. They act. Modi today is more than just a leader: Modi is a movement. It is clear that the CAA agitation has gone beyond the merits of the legislation, but when a protest becomes a movement, a new bend appears in the river of change. And democracy is choppy waters.
(The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)