The two big Ds of politics, Democracy and Dissent, are the inseparable twins in the family of humanity. Their survival in civilized society often depends on consanguine conduct even if it means mutual confrontation. Since ideological conflicts energise the healthy democratic process, an unhealthy confrontation between the establishment and contrarians is inevitable.
Currently, India is experiencing an ominous contest between the ruling party and the combined Opposition. As the Modi government moves aggressively to implement its manifesto fully, it is being accused of curbing dissent and disagreement. Its decision to abolish Article 370 and completely shut down genuine protest in J&K came under heavy criticism from the Supreme Court. The Centre had disconnected telephones, banned internet and SM, invoked the Public Safety Act and Section 144.
Taking note of pleas filled by various journalists and political leaders, a three-member bench, comprising Justices NV Ramanna, Surya Kant and BR Gavai, said in a significant verdict that “we declare that the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom to practice any profession or carry out a trade, business or occupation over the medium of internet enjoys Constitutional Protection under Article 19(1) (a) and Article 19(10 (G).” The message is clear: using social media as a vehicle for expressing opinion is now a fundamental right.
The Citizen (Amendment) Act is not just a binary conflict between saffron ideology and its foes. The street battles in many cities reflect the collapse of communication between citizens, who chose the BJP government and pro-Opposition voters. Unfortunately, the establishment perceives all criticism as motivated and unpatriotic. Parties, which were rejected by the people, see every action of the government as vindictive and an attempt to impose a dictatorial architecture of governance.
The colour and the content of combat currently reveals that the old elitist social order is yet to come to terms with the Modi cult and what it represents. Affluent urban India and its institutions brand him an outsider to the glossy ecosystem, which protects and promotes the idea of class affinity irrespective of ideology. They circle the wagons at any attempt to disempower them. Modi, in his zeal to create a new social order, has been politically and socially incorrect. His attire and taste for good things haven’t changed the illiberals’ opinion about him—he is still the person who has taken away their inherited right to rule minds and institutions. Modi has demolished their myth of might and invincibility by using every institution of political power and state craft at his disposal.
For the past few weeks, innumerable campuses have become war zones. Social activists, parties and the creative crowd charge Modi and his government with constitutional violations. They decry that he is imposing Hindutva and dividing India. Protests have taken a violent and communal turn in many places, leading the police to use excessive force against arson and vandalism.
Cops are accused of shielding criminals enjoying BJP patronage. The localised uprisings form a well planed strategy to paint Modi as a symbol of arrogance and intolerance. Inaction and indifference of law enforcement agencies have only strengthened the perception. No doubt, varsities are eternal laboratories for incubating rebellion against the system. Students de-stress themselves of their academic burdens through occasional sloganeering and holding processions championing social, economic and other causes. But rarely are they vandals and arsonists. With over 1000 universities, 45000 colleges and four million plus students, rambunctious agitations in highly politicised varsities wouldn’t be termed a mass revolt against government policies.
Yet the impression that the government was disinclined to take decisive action against those who used might to silence the contrarians has gained ground. Historically, the use of force and state machinery against objectors, who question power, has proved fatal. Indira Gandhi was snubbed by Indians for imprisoning opponents and her party’s justification that some restrictions on personal liberty were essential to protect the Constitution. Students and youth-led by an ageing Jayaprakash Narayan turned the entire nation into a platform for saving democracy.
In India, student agitations inescapably turn into a battle between law enforcement agencies and the student community because of the infiltration of either bad elements or political bad-lords. It has been discovered that persons, who had nothing to with academics, were the major forces behind confrontation in Aligarh Muslim University, Jawaharlal University and other institutions. In JNU, the anti-fee hike protests morphed into an anti- CAA agitation. Lathi wielding thugs, who were caught on CCTV assaulting each other, breaking into hostels and destroying the network servers, were acknowledged both as champions of dissent and protectors of Indian Constitution by their respective blocs. Unfortunately, from being conscience activists who challenge lawmakers and question the rulers, students are becoming law breakers.
This is not the first time in India that both dissenters and conformists are swearing by the same Constitution. Protesters carrying the national flag and raising slogans in favour of the Constitution were a common sight. Since the BJP claimed that only Muslims were incensed over the CAA, all minority leaders began competing with each other to hoist the Tricolour as high as possible. Leaders, from Mamata Banerjee to (Asaddudin) Owaisi, swore by the Constitution. But instead of engaging in dialogue and debate, the BJP is equally offensive by painting them as Pak sympathisers.
Ironically, a Congress leader quoted Theodore Roosevelt as saying, “To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public”—obviously he had Emergency amnesia. Here, he was referring to the silence of senior BJP leaders and the media, which has lost its credibility. India survives as democracy because of its diversity. Any attempt to damage it by force is bound to boomerang. As Albert Einstein said; “Blind faith in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”
In a crisis, it is not enough for a government to act. It has also to be seen to act. Another tryst with destiny is in the offing for the leader with a massive mandate and magnanimous heart. His status will only become monumental by encouraging dissent and not by demonising it.
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