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Modi era has birthed its own Azadi songs — ‘Bella Ciao, Wapas Jao’ to ‘Kaagaz Nahi Dikhayenge’

With a protest every winter, Varun Grover’s poem and Poojan Sahil’s song have become this generation’s Faiz poem ‘Hum Dekhenge’.

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The years 2020 and 2021 have been bookended with two protest songs — Poojan Sahil’s “Bella Ciao, Farm Laws Wapas Jao” at the farmers’ protests in Tikri and Singhu, and Varun Grover’s “Kaagaz Nahi Dikhayenge” at the Shaheen Bagh anti-CAA-NRC sit-in. These anthems are acting as powerful unwritten literature of anti-Narendra Modi government protests just like Dub Sharma’s “Azadi” remix after the 2016 Jawaharlal Nehru episode.

German playwright Bertolt Brecht had written:

In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will be singing.
About the dark times.

Literature has become receipts of protests. And though many might think these two dissent anthems don’t have literary value, they have helped in the virality of ideas in the digital age. The pandemic put Bella Ciao on everyone’s lips, the farmers’ protest is making sure we remember why.

Also read: Bella Ciao to farm laws wapas jao — Anti-Fascist anthem goes Punjabi to mark farmers’ stir

Land of dissent in songs and drama

India has always been a land of drama and songs. In Indian myths, the fights against the mighty and powerful have always been showcased through drama and preserved in songs. Even during the freedom struggle, revolutionaries such as Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad took the help of natak to deliver their message to wider audiences. M.K. Gandhi resorted to the bhajan “Vaishnav Jan To”.

When Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote Anandamath in the context of Sanyasi rebellion, it was full of poems, of which “Vande Mataram” became extremely popular and still is. It was first sung by Rabindranath Tagore. We are so fond of songs and drama that Prithviraj Raso written by Chand Bardai has replaced the history of Prithviraj Chauhan in popular notion.

After Independence, the Congress government saw many protests through songs, films and poems. The Left-leaning street dramas and songs were dedicated to the downtrodden and victims of the regime. Communist playwright and director, Safdar Hashmi, and his contemporaries wrote some beautiful verses in this era. During Indira Gandhi’s tumultuous rule in the 1970s, Hashmi produced the drama, Kursi, Kursi, Kursi.

In our neighbouring country, the songs of Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Habib Jalib, and Iqbal Bano spoke for the people. The same protest poetry has been used in India too because emotions don’t care about borders and are universal.

Songs, tunes, and words always travel.

Also read: Modi’s India unhappy with protesters singing Faiz’s Hum Dekhenge. Zia’s Pakistan was too

Modi govt and songs of resistance 

The most powerful government of the last three decades, the Modi government has faced major setbacks over its policies in 2019-2020. No matter the clampdown or arrests, the people were determined to raise their voice — from the anti-CAA-NRC protests to the three new farm laws. The BJP has a robust IT cell that acts like a well-trained force to go after opposing voices on social media. But poems and songs are ideas — and ideas always slip out, especially if they come with a catchy tune.

So we have “Kaagaz Nahi Dikhayenge” and “Bella Ciao, Farm Laws Wapas Jao”.

During the anti-CAA-NRC protests, Bollywood lyricist and comedian Varun Grover came up with “Kaagaz Nahi Dikhayenge” against the requirement of papers to prove citizenship. The youth of today is a meme-citizen, who conveys her emotions in a few words, simply yet catchily. So, Grover’s poem became viral in no time. It became a chant at gatherings and merchandise-material for T-shirts. Then there was Amir Aziz’s “Sab Yaad Rakha Jayega”, which quickly spread through Instagram and Facebook. It was written after the attacks on JNU, Jamia Millia Islamia, and Aligarh Muslim University. The poem was even recited by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters.

Even then JNU student Kanhaiya Kumar’s 2016 Azadi speech was remixed and sewn into raps (Gully Boy). For its simple wording and powerful message, it may irk the administration, but the public connects to it very well. Even when he became a CPI leader, people would request Kanhaiya at his rallies, “Bhaiya, ek baar Azadi wala ho jaaye”.

Also read: ‘Go Niazi go’ to ‘Go Nawaz go’ – Pakistan protests are like a rock concert with songs, DJs

Similarly, the farmers’ movement since November 2020 led to one inconclusive meeting after another with the Modi government. The farmers of Haryana and Punjab stayed put, even in one of the harshest winters. Artist Poojan Sahil breathed new desi life into the popular Italian anti-fascist song “Bella Ciao” and rendered it to the protest happening now. The songs give a vision, a clarity to these voices.

“Bella Ciao” would be sung by women farmers and weeders in Italy to protest against their harsh working conditions in the 1800s. When Germany invaded Italy in the 1940s, it became a strong anti-Nazi anthem.

Recently, during the pandemic and lockdown, it became a hit again. Italians sang it from their balconies, and even Shah Rukh Khan did his own Hindi version of it.

In its second tenure, the Modi government has become even more powerful and extremely popular, the protests against the government have also become inventive. With the unpopular policies of the government, there are more and more popular songs.

Every generation gets a new “Hum Dekhenge”. Or, in the digital age, a remixed one.

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  1. Don’t know what the author trying to say. If few group of people starts singing means against Modi? Author should come out of Twitter and facebook slogans. For these Idiotic articles, don’t expect subscription.

  2. The policoes aren’t unpopular, they are just not popular among a relatively small sections having vested interests in the sttaus quo and they make a lot of noise. There is a silent majority who are not on the streets in support of the policies as it might lead to clashes. They will just wanit for the next election to show their support and again certain section will be suprised by his win.

  3. go on singing songs and modi will do his work…Commies can do only sing and dance and be happy about it…btw more than 90% of the country don’t gives a damn about these so called azadi songs…so don’t exaggerate it.

  4. Obviously, you don’t know Modi and Amit .
    At least look at their track record. 370, CAA..
    Unfortunately, the COVID came and government attention got diverted otherwise people would have seen the action. All patriotic Hindustani will show his papers willingly and for balance their forefathers have got their country.

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