Welcome to Shaheen Bagh: PM Modi inadvertently unites huge mass of Indians

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Published: February 5, 2020 3:30:42 AM

The current regime has no other agenda but to divide Indian from Indian, as viciously as it possibly can. We have to respond peacefully and cleverly, and with a breath of humour

As time passes, the protests will become about much more than CAA/NRC/NPR. (Reuters image)As time passes, the protests will become about much more than CAA/NRC/NPR. (Reuters image)

I went to Shaheen Bagh last weekend and it was extraordinary. There were several hundred of the most conservative people in the country calmly sitting-in, peacefully protesting the increasingly fascist approach of the government and its toadies.

In fact, just a few minutes before we arrived, some crazy had shot off his country-made pistol before being dragged off by the police. Fortunately—and remarkably—this didn’t create any panic, even though it was just 50 or 100 metres away. There was a rotating roster of speakers who were keeping the protestors engaged; some of them pointed out that the “other side” was trying to infiltrate that protest and that everyone should keep their eyes peeled for unlikely outsiders in the crowd. We were certainly outsiders, but I guess it was clear that we were really with them—several women asked us where we were from and when we said, Bombay, they were ever so grateful. The whole experience was lovely.

One of the speakers suggested that women with small children could/should go home; I called out that they should come back tomorrow. But, very few women left; nobody was going anywhere.

It is blindingly obvious that the protests will remain in place and, in all likelihood, escalate across the country—Gandhiji and Ambedkar are everywhere.

As time passes, the protests will become about much more than CAA/NRC/NPR. They are, in fact, really about the freedom for each one of us to be Indian in our own way—to live the way each one chooses, to dress the way she likes, eat what she will, love whoever she selects, worship the way she likes, and, of course, at bottom, to think what she likes.

We need to start articulating these demands, over and above the no CAA/NRC/NPR. The sedition law, for one, needs to be repealed; law and order needs to be made the number one priority, and any state government (or, indeed, the central government) that cannot provide this, needs to be recalled. I understand this requires constitutional change, and, given the BJP’s majority in the Lok Sabha (and its huge funds), it will be difficult, but we really have no choice.

While on this difficult path, we should also push for another constitutional change—replacing the first past the post electoral system (which perpetuates increasing amounts of money in politics) with proportional representation. Germany, which has proportional representation, spends about $2-3 per capita on elections; in contrast, the US, which has a first past the post system, spends upwards of $25 per person. India, which is hugely poorer, also has a first past the post system, and in 2019 spent about $7 billion on elections—that is about $5-6 per person, in a country where more than 200 million people live on less than $2 a day. Clearly, this is another change that is a must.

No doubt, the corporate sector, which is routinely arm-twisted for contributions, electoral bonds and otherwise, should be happy to support this effort. As things have unsurprisingly turned out, the corporate “investment” in the current politics has been producing negative returns. And, given that there is neither focus nor ability at the top, the economy is certain to continue to underperform, and perhaps even weaken from here. While there is still a lot of nervousness in corporate suites—as Faye D’souza so elegantly put it, the “uncles” fear they have too much to lose—cracks are beginning to show, and it is a good time to start influencing people, companies who have been funding the government.

Of course, it isn’t going to be easy. The current regime has no other agenda but to divide Indian from Indian, as viciously as it possibly can. We have to respond peacefully and cleverly, and with a breath of humour.

Each of us needs to do our bit. The first, and critical, job is that each of us has to believe that the protests will sustain and win out. As an elderly man—well, perhaps, he wasn’t much older than me—with a lovely beard at Shaheen Bagh told me, pointing to the protestors, “The best thing Modi has done for India is to unite a huge majority of Indians [against his approach]”.

The second—and, obviously, different people can play this card differently—is to support the protests wherever we see them, to speak about the horrible injustices being pushed by the government, about the debasement of public debate, and, importantly, to bring each of our spheres of influence into play.

The more deeply each of us–you—jump in, the sooner will we see the desirable denouement. For it is a sure thing that we will prevail. After all, look at who is doing the talking—young people, the future of India (and the world) and women, who are finally rising to take their proper role in Indian (and global) politics. Aa jaon Bagh mein!

The author is CEO, Mecklai Financial (Views are personal)

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