Wednesday, August 15, 2012

When protest becomes endemic

The President of India has been generous in doling out advice to the people. Protest, he says, but do not let protest become endemic or you are flirting with chaos. Perhaps the rulers could have been advised too -----to heed the voices being raised in protest, or else deal with chaos.It is not as if the protesters are a lumpen element,  best ignored, strategically speaking. The most vociferous protests are being made by the very constituency that has gained the most from India's so called growth story -----the middle class. Something must be very wrong indeed for those to protest who have seen their incomes rise and shopping malls spring up and more fast food chains and travel abroad. Do the rulers not sense that? Or are they too busy plotting the next victory against the protesters to understand that?

One doesn't see farmers protesting -----they are simply and conveniently killing themselves. One doesn't see dispossessed tribals protesting ----they are being quelled with State power.One doesn't see the millions of BPL families protesting ---- perhaps they have been struck dumb by the Planning Commission's shenanigans. If all these silent millions were also to demand that they be heard, what advice would the President give them? Perhaps the Presidential address would then include another paragraph. As it now reads, the Presidential address appears to be aimed only at the middle class ----- nowhere does it talk the language that the under privileged would understand, unless one counts Jawaharlal Nehru,Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi as champions of the poor, and therefore, names that the under privileged would recognise.

Would they also be advised, as the middle class has, that they must not "destroy" institutions, and especially the Parliament, which we are told, lives by its "own calendar and rhythm " ? Would they also be rather pedantically informed that in a democracy, there is always judgement day, an "election"? 

Are our institutions, including the Parliament, under threat of being destroyed ? Yes. They are under threat because they have given up even the pretense of performing the functions that they were designed to, not because anguished citizens  are protesting against their inefficiency, indifference and corruption.  When institutions grow as dysfunctional as they have in India, their very existence becomes threatened. If now citizens are asking questions, demanding performance, pressing for accountability, there is still hope for the resurgence of our democratic institutions, provided citizens' voices are not muffled, as it appears would be the Establishment's wont.

The President draws attention to "tolerance of contrary views" as an essential component of the "democratic temper" but stops short of advising those in power to have greater respect for "contrary views". Perhaps  "judgement day" viz., election, is the only occasion when the rulers are expected to hear the citizens for whose welfare  they ostensibly occupy high offices and lofty mansions and travel the world. Between one election and the next, the ordinary Indian must keep his mouth shut, scrounge around for food when prices rocket,  look for employment that does not exist, applaud infrastructure that does not work, and turn to the opiates of Bollywood and cricket when corruption makes life unbearable.

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