For most Indians and observers of India’s political and economic scene, the violence in Bengaluru against the proposed changes to the rules governing the withdrawal of the workers’ provident fund was not at all surprising. Our sensibilities have been dulled if not altogether numbed by the repeated carnage arising out of otherwise legitimate protests, demonstrations and agitations in India turning violent. Political or other, large or small, minor or serious disagreements quite regularly end in violence on the roads and in neighbourhoods. The society is held hostage. The governments rather quickly give in to the demands pursued by violence. Because political violence almost always gets its way in India it has become a tool of choice for all ruffians wanting to be ‘some bodies’ in the politics of the country. Leading political violence along communal, religious, regional or linguistic cleavages has become a shortcut to easy prominence in modern India.
In the process, a very essential and basic democratic principle seems not to have taken much root in India and is rarely mentioned by the politicians or journalists: that governments make laws and one can try to influence them by demonstrating and speaking out; but a duly elected government not listening or not changing its mind is no justification or licence for anyone to go on a violent rampage to kill, maim, burn or rape. Democracy can’t and mustn’t allow violence to extort concessions. That is why it offers elections as a way to change governments and peaceful protests as a way of influencing change between elections.
The sad truth is that in the land of Mahatma Gandhi who gave the world the tool of Satyagraha, non violence is no longer truth and truth is no longer God.
Take for instance the Patels of Gujarat. Under their firebrand leader Hardik Patel they have been creating political trouble for the Gujarat government and chaos and violence for ordinary people–all in the name for their demand for reservations for the Patels. The government is talking to the Patels. The reports indicate it will concede many of the Patels’ demands. Most politicians care not about the future of the country or the state, only the victory in the next election.
Now the Gujjars whose campaign for reservations for themselves had also engendered some violence are joining the fray in Gujarat and inviting the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to participate in the Gujjar campaign in support of the Patels. Many politicians are not afraid to fish in the troubled waters of the communal/reservation demands. One hopes that Nitish sees this for what it is: agitations to not build a stronger India but to create little fiefdoms for various communal agitators — in this case Hardik Patel — who see in these narrow, myopic and parochial campaigns an opportunity to ‘shine’ and become ‘leaders’.
The other more recent carnage that comes to mind is the Jat reservations agitation of Haryana. Initially the government was reluctant to take them seriously and rightly so. Some of the agitating Jats turned brutes; terror reigned in Haryana. Men and women were killed. Women were raped. Buildings and vehicles were set ablaze. Most human and vehicular movement in the state was brought to a standstill. In the name of reservations Haryana came under the siege of terror. The government gave in to the Jat demands largely ‘advanced’ by terror.
The partition of the erstwhile Andhra at the hands of the previous UPA regime was pure pandering for favours and votes in giving into traffic jams, chaos, violence and threats. Ask anyone other than the politicians and their cronies if the former Andhraites are any better off than before in education, health, jobs or in the lack of corruption and you would know the division of Andhra was a political gimmick that didn’t pay any dividends to the people in Andhra except to the additional ‘hero’– the additional chief minister and his new cronies. Yet the country and the state now have to pay for all of them. This is what happens when opportunistic and unprincipled politicians pander to narrow parochial ethnic, religious or linguistic interests rather than the common or public good.
The garment workers’ violence against the new Provident Fund rules in Bangaluru is just the latest in the tragically long line of violent agitations and agitators seeking and tasting victory. The government in its wisdom had made the rules. Everyone on all sides dillydallied waiting for the deadline. The government didn’t change its mind. Workers took to the streets stopping dead in its tracks anything that moved, burning a police station and its vehicles, creating maximum chaos, fires and violence for all and in particular for the government to see. The government, as we have seen in scores of other cases all across India, capitulated under fear and threat of more violence. The violence and its perpetrators won hands down thus emboldening other advocates of known and yet unknown causes to follow the barbaric and bloody route to success.
It is not about the justness of the causes in any of the cases cited above or scores of old or more recent examples of the bloody dramas being enacted on the soil of India; nor is it about the justness or the merits of the garment or other workers’ grievances re the new Provident Fund rules. It is about how the governments and politicians have allowed and assisted the politics to degenerate and descend into a sorry abyss where the only question one cares to ask is: what is in it for me or my group whose leader I am, or I am hoping to become?
In Gandhi’s India nonviolence reigned supreme. Even against the horror of the Jallianwala massacre Gandh’s India stood determined and peaceful in its pursuit of freedom. Ironically the principle to follow to win in freed India in any agitation is: organise, promise peaceful agitation, if unsuccessful create terror and violence, the government gives in and You Win.
Though the vocabulary and the idiom of politics is always in a state of flux in a vibrant democracy such as India’s, the consensus on the basic decency necessarily inherent in such a vocabulary is largely absent in India; and these so-called leaders or ’emerging leaders’ have very little or no ethical, moral or civilisational self discipline to ensure the tools including the vocabulary they employ in advancing their causes bring people together rather than dividing them.
The inability of the governments at the center or in the states to stop pandering and start standing up to the unreasonable and violently pursued demands of the agitators will ensure the extortive agitations and campaigns that eventually turn violent to achieve ‘success’ are not about to end anytime soon.
The politicians who give in to extortion by violence in the public arena are the real enemies of India. Unless stopped by the resurgence of an ethical and honest India, these opportunistic, unprincipled, standing for nothing and falling for anything politicians will forever smother the idea of a prosperous, harmonious and peaceful India.
Indians must demand better and different from the current and aspiring politicians and political parties in the states or at the center.
No more violent words. No more violent acts and no more giving in to violence in politics.
Make Indian politics a violence-free zone.