When protest is the pain

It is always in the name of aam aadmi! He is the rallying point, be it for the Government, opposition or activists. But with so much of ears and tears directed at his plight, is he any better? Indeed, the real question is not that, but what hurts him more, the official policies or the ‘protests’ targetting them! I am beginning to believe the common people, who form the bulk of India, would be better off without their political and activist champions! Theirs is a classic case of dangling between a deep gorge below and a snake-laden tree above.

No doubt the State, sanctioned and sanctified by the Constitution for the people, has on the contrary turned their greatest tormentor. But all the forums and tools of protest have been so blunted by abuse that there are really no means left to fight official oppression. The vote, the most potent weapon in the democratic armoury, has been split and scattered by a variety of villains like caste, religion, region and money. Unless voters make bold to shun and shut out familiar politicos and their parties, risking even anarchy albeit temporarily, any change can only be cosmetic. On present sights, polls in India will continue to grant delivarence only to politicos, not the people.

Parli, that gets filled through such a dubious process, is, therefore, a natural non-starter, vis-a-vis, people. It is just a residual slanging arena, a pompous place where the no-holds-barred political skirmishes of the electoral battlefield spill over. It is a microcosm of the deafening din that defines democratic India. If during elections, armies clash all over the open country, post polls, just the chosen Generals fight it out, rather, fist it out, within the circular confines of a privileged premises. If elections blow a five-yearly hole in the treasury, Parli is a daily drain. And all for nothing: Here law is made by default, debates end in ugly stalemates, absentees enjoy absolute majority, the Honourable Chair is at the mercy of not-so-honourble benches, the well of the House is often polluted by screaming muck and the whole place and its proceedings themselves are something you would not want your wards to watch! The people’s reps have absolutely nothing to do with the people they ‘represent’!

Enter protest via strikes and bandhs. Strikes can never lay claim to people’s good despite the attempts by the striking vested interest group to impart public purpose on what are primarily private piques. A strike by bankers or Government staff can warm the hearts of this tiny protesting group but not before breaking the hearts of a disproportionately larger multitude dependent on the former. Bandhs stem from a wider spectrum, prompted and promoted as they are by one or more political parties and sometimes even by ruling regimes. It is funtime on primetime for the well-heeled politico who heroically courts arrest and then waves and poses for the cameras from the footboards of buses. But these are protests the people will happily do without. After suffering clogged roads, stranded trains, closed shops, traffic snarls, loss of daily wages or business earnings, riotous mobs and a ruined day, all outcomes of a protest on his behalf, diesel and FDI are the last things on the mind of the aam aadmi!

There are also the political gimmicks of the various constituents of a ruling arrangement. Conditional support, tactical support, issue-based support, outside support and, of course, threats of withdrawal of such support are all carried out for the sake of the people and people alone, we are told. The Mamatas and Mulayams never tire or retire; their actions are akin to the changing colours of an unchanging chameleon. In a shameless sham of a political scenario, face savers can always be pulled out of the hat. And even if indeed the government falls, you can trust them to be part of whatever the new assortment is! Their politics is totally insulated from FDI, fuel price, inflation, corruption or for that matter, anything remotely connected to people’s welfare.

Agitating activists appear to have run out of steam. Rifts in their ranks apart, I have never been comfortable with their protests on empty stomachs. Biological factors are bound to overrule lofty ideals of the mind, which unfortunately reside in that hungering body. With an intransigent and insensitive regime ready to brazen out public opinion and accountability, activists are only tilting at windmills. Judicial activism can certainly help, but strangely the courts have refrained from suo motu action even in situations that glaringly invite it while taking up cases of lesser import on their own. But, of course, ours is not to judge the Judges.

There is one innocent group that is very effectively holding the world at sword point in defence of ‘their’ faith. But such protest, even while sending many to paradise, will only import hell on earth. So till such time we invent a safer and potent tool of protest, here is an option: Watch Rambo, Rajini or Batman bash up the bad guys! Or do it yourself on a video game console. Of course, FDI or fuel price will remain unmoved. But the aam aadmi can at least sit up and smile, even if only in self-delusory satisfaction!

e-mail the writer at [email protected]

Jawahar T R