Protestors with the Indian tricolour at Jama Masjid | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
Protesters with the Indian tricolour at Jama Masjid | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
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The protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens have entered a critical moment. Whether they transform India or dissolve into the footnotes of history, will depend on how the movement now expands.

So far, it has been a single-issue movement. It must become multi-issue by spreading to all corners of India, and encompassing all Indians. For it to expand into a larger anti-Narendra Modi government protest, it must include everything from JNU to GDP.

These protests have two main weaknesses. First, it is cast in terms of constitutional rights and secularism, and is not appealing enough to attract broad swathes of Hindu society. Second, the protests lack an organisational backbone. This might have been a source of strength earlier, because it complicated the BJP’s efforts to paint the protests as opposition-manufactured unrest. But this strength can quickly mutate into weakness and imperil its capacity to grow.

In the absence of effective leadership and an army of dedicated workers, these protests risk fizzling out.

Right now, the CAA-NRC protests seem unlikely to affect the popularity of the Narendra Modi government. In fact, as I had argued earlier, they might even lead to more Hindu consolidation behind the BJP.


Also read: Foolish to think Hindus who voted Modi twice will shift due to threat to Muslim citizenship


Designing a successful protest

The only way around both the inherent weaknesses is to enlarge the scope of these protests to include material issues like employment, rural distress and economic slowdown. These are the issues that directly affect the lives of ordinary Hindus.

The protests have generated tremendous energy, especially among the youth. Lakhs of people have poured into the streets across India – in cities, towns and villages. This invaluable energy now needs to be channelised and strategically utilised to build a broader movement.

Around the core issue of the CAA-NRC, other material issues should be attached to recruit powerful groups such as farmers and workers in the movement.

Political scientist Alfred Evans studied civil society protests in Russia under Vladimir Putin to determine what kind of protests were most successful in gaining support. He found that “protest in defence of abstract, general rights to do not appeal to most citizens”. “Russians are more likely to take part in protests by an organized group if it seeks remedies for concrete problems that directly affect them and their families,” Evans found. The “biggest protests” were on “economic issues that affect people’s everyday lives”.


Also read: In 2020, don’t rely on routine rallies and marches. Modi’s India needs new ways to protest


The JP and Morarji Desai way

Of course, all this is easier said than done.

Attaching too many issues, and diluting the core demands, might easily turn away even the people attending the protests now. So, a successful transition from a single-issue protest to a broader anti-government movement would require incredible political skill to achieve. It would require resolving contradictions, building solidarities, and devising a common platform and strategy. All this requires strong leadership and is way beyond the ability of urban activists, so it would necessarily require political parties to step up from being quiet allies and actively wade into leadership roles. Mamata Banerjee and Mayawati have already stayed away from the prospect of forging a large opposition front against the CAA led by the Congress party.

The nationwide protests preceding Indira Gandhi’s Emergency had these two indispensable characteristics that the current protests lack: strong leadership and organisational strength. They are no equivalents of Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) or Morarji Desai, leaders of immense national stature, who transformed student grievances in Gujarat and Bihar into a national movement that seriously challenged the government. Even the likes of Kanhaiya Kumar and Chandrashekhar Azad, the only prominent leaders of these protests, have limited appeal that is often overblown. None of them has won any elections (Kanhaiya lost by more than four lakh votes in his hometown Begusarai).

JP and Morarji Desai succeeded in expanding their movement because they skilfully tapped into latent anger over economic issues: unemployment and inflation. They successfully convinced a broad cross-section of Indians that the removal of Indira Gandhi was the only solution for hunger, poverty and unemployment. The RSS and socialists actively backed these protests, and many of the student protesters were from the ABVP. Workers were effectively mobilised by leaders like George Fernandes, who led a devastating 22-day nationwide Railway strike.


Also read: Modi-Shah’s BJP govt has failed India’s youth and is now stuck fighting them


Time for Congress to shake off dust

The recent Bharat Bandh strike backed by 10 central trade union organisations received a tepid response. Outside of Kerala and Bengal, few would have been even aware of the strike. Even though the Congress-affiliated INTUC was among the participants, Rahul Gandhi merely tweeted his support. A more effective leadership can help coalesce this disparate anger of workers, farmers and students and meld it into a single anti-government movement. With that leadership absent, these occasional outbursts do little to damage the Narendra Modi government.

To be clear, single-issue movements can be disastrous for the government. The anti-corruption movement of 2011 was ruinous for the credibility of the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government, but anti-corruption was a more politically potent issue than the NRC-CAA. Unlike the feckless UPA of that time, the Modi government has got a powerful counter-narrative, framed in terms of hard-line nationalism, and a mass leader.

The fact that Sonia Gandhi has signalled a more assertive Congress role in the protests is a welcome sign. “Congress Working Committee must categorically declare that millions of Congress workers will stand shoulder to shoulder with people of India in their struggle for equality, justice and dignity,” Sonia Gandhi said. But this is not remotely sufficient.

The Congress has been repeatedly promising nationwide protests on the economy since November. ‘Promising’ is the keyword here. They now have the opportunity to bandwagon on these protests, and transform them into a serious political challenge for the Modi government. The moment calls for a national leadership like that provided by Mamata Banerjee in Bengal.


Also read: India’s student protests have broken image of national consensus on Modi’s policies


Preventing fatigue

In all likelihood, the Supreme Court won’t say anything significant in its 22 January hearing on the CAA-NRC, and postpone the matter to the next hearing. Kashmir provides a sobering template in this regard.

The Modi government probably will not relent on either the CAA or the NPR. The protests still have momentum now, but setbacks, crackdowns and the setting in of fatigue are powerful headwinds. The protests have almost stopped in Uttar Pradesh. Before long, either a new course of action will have to be forged, or we might witness this newly released energy dissipate.

The author is a research scholar in political science at the University of Delhi. Views are personal.

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47 Comments Share Your Views

47 COMMENTS

  1. Haha, you and your so called peaceful protesters failed to prove whats wrong with caa and nrc now you want to mislead youth and hindus on the basis of unemployment and economy but everyone knows who is best and beast,
    that old time is now gone where you can divide hindus and relax you ass,
    Well I clearly understand want you want to say, the people’s sitting in protests don’t even know what is caa and nrc, they don’t even know npr runs every 10 for counting people’s in india,
    Now you have failed in your ambitions where you wanted to put a daag on Modi’s image but after interacting with people’s myself they all feel that modi should implement caa and nrc as fast as possible.
    And what you will tell about the Pakistan jindabaad slogans in so called peaceful protests, jinna wali azadi, afal hum sharminda and much more.

  2. Your article on ‘CAA’/NRC is totally biased, politically motivated with half truth which will only instigate riots. The truth is that both the law have no ramifications on any Indian citizens irrespective of any religion they follow.
    CAA – is for giving citizenship to all the prosecuted minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh & Afghanistan who have fled these countries & have taken refuge in India & are living here for the last 12rs.
    NRC – Is to identify all the illegal immigrants who have come here from these countries seeking Jobs.
    As an Indian I fully support Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019. As the Citizenship (Amendment) Act seeks to to provide Indian citizenship to the prosecuted non-Muslims ie ( Hindus, Jains, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis ) from the three Islamic countries Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan respectively & who came to India on or before December 31, 2014. Truly speaking ‘CAA’ will provide a huge relief to thousands of persecuted minority families who have been living in an constant atmosphere of fear and a sense of insecurity for years in these Islamic nation & even without a country to be called their own. And here, those opposing the Noble Act must know the reality that during partition when an Islamic republic of Pakistan was formed on an religious ground & during that period the total strength of Hindu Population in Islamic Pakistan was 23 % which has come down gradually to 2% presently, which itself speaks the gruesome truth of the ground reality of the lives of the minorities in this islamic country. And after knowing the ground realities of their fearful lives of the minorities in these Islamic countries, it’s very unfortunate of some parties like Congress, Leftists & TMC which have always been following appeasement vote bank politics are today opposing the noble bill just for the sake of politics. Today after knowing the shocking truth of these prosecuted minorities and their constant fearful lives at these three Islamic countries, the Modi government’s Noble move of bringing CAA to provide protection to such prosecuted minority refugees from three Islamic countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan respectively has been justified on an humanitarian basis as these people have no other country other than India to take asylum & protection.
    * Here the shocking truth that we Indian’s must know of these countries is that there the minority communities are often subjected to Rape, abduction & forceful conversion, as a tools to drive them out.
    * Abduction of young girls from minority communities, indiscriminate rape, and conversion under threats are very rampant in Pakistan as well as Bangladesh and these countries have been following such shameful acts for persecution of minorities to drive them out of the country. Often times the Islamic fundamentalists rape minority women including underage girls in front of their families as a consequence of continuing to live in a Muslim country, as they claim it. Many of the kidnapped girls have never been returned or rescued, nor the ruling Government over there has shown no inclination to take action against these heinous crimes either. Most of the kidnapped women have been forcibly converted. In spite of innumerable instances of kidnap and rape, the law enforcement has turned a blind eye on the issue and utterly fails to do anything to discourage the practice.
    * As of today the minorities residing in these countries are unable to cope with unending violence, flee from the country. All these are made easy for the fact that rape carries severe social stigma in Bangladeshi society and culture, where half of the population is also illiterate, whose value system is shaped by the religious practices and popular beliefs and not by secular laws or international standards.
    So when rapes occur the whole family fall victim to it as the rape victims themselves become social outcasts along with their families. In those instances the victims’ families have no choice but to abandon their ancestral home in order to protect their honor and dignity or to escape the social wraths.
    * Many a times, the families even abandon their own children—the rape victims—because they do not want the pain and the stigma of rape lingering on their lives and they move away, As such, the victims become completely helpless and are left to fend for themselves. These victims then are pushed to the brink of life. Some commit suicide, while others embrace their fates and turned to their transgressors by converting to Islam.
    Either way, the entire families get uprooted. And there is no end to this time tested tactic. So on an humanitarian basis we need to support CAA which will be a great relief for these prosecuted poor downtrodden families who left their homes fearing their lives & have taken refuge in India long back & have been living in India hoping one day they will be given citizenship to live a life with dignity & without fear.
    Today by his noble actions & deeds common man’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not only become a ray of hope & aspirations for 125 crore Indians but to all the prosecuted minority communities from across the border.
    Jaihind! Jaibharat!

  3. If swathes of Hindu cannot be attracted to protect fundamental rights because they don’t see it valuable – then we will fight without such Hindus. I feel sorry for them if they don’t value their own freedom & rights, since these will be questioned for all.

      • Go Nuts i mean Organic
        That is also a good one. Now go on JNU campus , eat the free biryani and destroy public property.
        As award you will be elected on student body , the most important election in the world

  4. Protests may disappear from the news but they will not stop because it is an existancial question for many. And that is the reason victory is possible : existance of many versus ideology of few – the lines ae clearly drawn. now pick your side.

  5. This is a dumb country, poor and living in poor conditions. Modi is their leader with similar intelligence. Almost all of his followers use over confidence to hide their low self esteem. Look, me a cgaiwala has become a PM. Confession of his poor background is hidden by his pride in overcoming obstacles, Next 5 years will show low self esteem or overconfidence hurts the nation. I suspect it will be over confidence not backed by facts..

    • Modi’s problem is not that he was a chai-wallah: in fact there is no independent proof that he ever was, and most probably he never was – he simply helped out in his father’s shop. Modi’s problem is that TODAY he is anti-poor. keep your provocative anti-India rant to yourself. except for ingnorant racists, no one thinks like that!

  6. A very good article. First of all protesters must elect an all India leader. At present it could be only Ms Mamta Bannerji. Secondly , hatred against Muslims has reached very high levels. Therefore Muslims must chalk out an agenda of reforms. Leaders like Arif Mohammad Khan should be embraced and followed. Let all Muslim leaders be females for the time being.

  7. The more the so called secular parties protest against Modi in the guise of liberalism, the more they will push the Hindus into Modi’s lap. Muslims had their countries and still they are not happy. they want to move to India now. Why were the country divided then in the name of religion?

  8. Thanks for letting the cat out of the bag. It was never about “saving” constitution or NRC or CAA. The target has been clarified only and only as getting rid of Modi’s govt which has been elected with a thumping majority just 6 months back. People like you have no use for democracy, constitution and respecting mandate since all of this simply stands in the way of your obsession which is to get rid of Modi any which way possible.

  9. All opposing political party has one goal to remove Modi and install dynasty. No one wants to offer alternative leadership or solution as they are having selfish motives. Modi as a person has nothing to loose but it will be loss of Indians in long term.
    India never was and will be Hindu rashtra, as it’s not a religion. However people practicing Hinduism are diverse and accept all good th August from anywhere, however under the garb of free speech and democracy Hindus have suffered most.
    Show me one Islamic country doing better than India though they have plenty oil money?
    Islamic terrorism is real and hurting liberals over world so they chose conservative government world over where democracy and free voting allowed.
    Why Islam followers don’t reform themselves? Only recently Saudi allowed women to drive, and most keep women hiding or oppressed.

  10. “All this requires strong leadership and is way beyond the ability of urban activists, so it would necessarily require political parties to step up from being quiet allies and actively wade into leadership roles. ”

    You lost me and my sympathies there. Thanks a lot for bringing in India’s self-serving, void-of-vision political parties into what should ideally be a “people’s movement” We hae to see how to build “people power” and not “tired-politicians-power.”

  11. NRC was a big mess in Assam. CAA and NRC combined will only create bigger mess . The time and expenses incurred will shave off a few points from our GDP like demonetisation. Modi-Shah would be better advised to concentrate on Growth mainly to increase Jobs.

    Modi-Shah should realise that economic stagnation will hit BJP more then anything else. If the duo still want to go ahead then it would be better to carry the opposition with them so that a Demonetisation or GST mess will not happen again.

  12. Besides a handful of students affiliated to Communists and Congress, there is hardly any other support for anti CAA protests. If Modi haters are adding one to oppose Modi, two are awakening to commit support to Modi. CAA protest is slowly converting into a fight between Hindu dharma and Islamic Satans who live in 18th century.

    • True, a fight between Hindu dharma and Islamic Satans DOES belong to the 18th century and has no place in todays world. Hindu-muslim-sikh-isaii and all others have to live together in peace and fight the climate-change togehter else we’ll all perish.

      • Also teach that to neighbouring countries who are totally Islamized. Muslims have bred to over 20 crores in India. Do read stats of other countries when we were divided. Or do you have your head buried in sand forever. And it’s not just India, the world over, you name it, a country where they can exist peacefully. Not even in Islamic nations. Hindus are not fighting by the way. We are not attacking Pakistan, we are only defending ourselves against a terrorist nation.

  13. A congress worker has written the article.. He wants to ruin the country. Idiotic article. Left who have lost every thing globally are taking help of such so called leftist writers…

  14. CAA is certainly not against Muslims though it is favoring non-Muslims and hence, there is nothing in it for Muslims to oppose it. If at all, those opposing it should have welcomed this amendment but also pressed for inclusion of persecuted Muslims. That would have carried political credibility. NRC is not yet announced but there is a fear that it will end up in disenfranchising Muslims who are factually citizens of India. For others, it would be an exercise of arbitrariness and harassment. Such fear is highly speculative and is used to stir up rabid opposition. SC is unlikely to declare CAA as unconstitutional and hence, once this judgment comes, the opposition is bound to fizzle out. JP movement was entirely different as it was against corruption, inflation and authoritarianism. Neither corruption nor inflation issue will stick against Modi government. About authoritarianism, it is a matter of political perception where perhaps perception of arrogance is more likely to stick. None of this is likely dent Modi government popularity. So over all, CAA NRC issue is likely to fizzle out completely just like Rafale issue.

    • Not speculative at all – we know what happened in Assam. We know detention centers are being built. We also know from who and from which episode in history the current rulers draw inspiration. Issue is not likely to fizzle out because people are prepared to face police beatings rather than a lifetime in a detention center where stripped of citizenship, one will have less rights than in an ordinary jail. so dream on!

      • Assam is a different issue altogether and the NRC exercise there is SC directed and SC monitored. All India NRC would be a government of India exercise. The fact remains that the country needs to know who are its citizens, legal residents and illegal migrants. The next question is how to deal with illegal migrants- by giving them a residency permit etc. So it is possible that government may come out with a self declaration cum amnesty scheme for illegal migrants and treat all the remaining as citizens by a simple affidavit. Once this is done, then in case of doubtful persons, ask them to prove their citizenship with proper legal support. This can not be objected as anti minority or discriminatory against anyone. Hence, until NRC process is decided, any conjecture about it is highly speculative.

        • If you really believe in this version – bless you – you are innocent and may you dream in peace! The truth is that first, the agenda of the government is to disfranchise a vast swath of the population, mainly muslims and tribals, with women as collateral damage. These second class citizens will be incarcerated indefinitely and presumably provide American prison style free labour to sustain the economy. Second, even in your rosy version is valid, imagine the chaos we will go through first. Try booking a train ticket at the station, try getting a new ration-card or a new gas connection without resorting to “janpehchan-wallah”. To unleash the fiendishly slow, notoriously corrupt and incompetent lower bureaucracy on innocent citizens is neither fair nor clever.

          • Try fear mongering on someone else.
            Your holier than thou attitude doesnt help either.

            The question is about illegal aliens and Muslims in India have already being assured of no negative effect

            Tomorrow you will suggest no ticket checking since it will be inconvenient for people to show tickets, so as solution let everyone travel who cares if they are ticketless

  15. The general tactic of Shah-Modi has been endlessly compared to those of early Fascists, and rightly so. However, a huge difference between the response of Germany then and India now is the left-center unity. In early Nazi Germany, Hitler’s goons beat-up communists and they were the once who were sent first to concentration camps. Meanwhile, the socialists were as scare of a communist revolution as they were of Hitler and offered no protest. India is different – Indian leftists are much more centered. So today Gandhian Socialists and Democratic Communists are able to make common ground. This unity must not break – that is essential.

    • Anti- Modi roaring by Muslims is not new and if Muslims didn’t change their attitude one day India will be Hindu Rashtra.

  16. Difficult to believe that CAA alone is agitating Indians so much. Even coupled with the prospect of a pan Indian NRC, and according primacy to the fears and concerns of the Muslim community, what is happening has taken many, starting with the government, by surprise. It seems to me that there is a lot of inchoate anger, with economic distress at its core. To some extent, that has been reflected in recent state election verdicts. The inadequacies of the Congress at the moment are legion. However, they are not cast in stone, nor should the incumbent draw comfort from them beyond a point. See the mood on the streets of Calcutta – does that suggest Dilip Ghosh or Mukul Roy will be the next CM of Bengal. Better to get a grip before the bride runs away.

  17. Many liberal Indians like myself give Sonia a thumbs down. She she get out of politics and let Congress democratise itself. She has no business to be there after two humiliating defeats.

    • If you are a congressi, campaign from inside. if you are not, pick another opposition party to support and build on it. It is the business of the congress members how they want their leaders – not of outsiders.

      • Kopi, by the same logic it’s not your business to give anyone advice either. Only a Sonia dalla would use self serving logic like that.

        • Kopi is telling the truth, he is not advising anybody. Isn’t it true that, “It is the business of the congress members how they want their leaders – not of outsiders”? Where is “self serving logic” in this?

        • why is it serving Sonia if I say that to get rid of her and her family, Congressis have to work from inside? typically logically-challenged bhakt!

  18. Your articles are politically motivated and not impartial. You must follow fair and honest journalism and not side with any party or group. But your articles don’t talk in fair manner. This article is clearly trying to keep the unrest going and suggesting different ways to keep the flame burning. At least I don’t agree with ur instigating version. If that is the way to write on current affairs then better don’t send me any of ur articles. Pl remove me from ur notifications. I don’t need it.

  19. Author who is a research scholar in “political science”(Duh!!) at the University of Delhi should concentrate on his studies

    • This guy another chap living lalalala land. He thinks people are fools, this is 2019 not 1975. We all know the Islamist nature of this anti-CAA drama.

    • do you even understand what it means to be a “research scholar”? Writing is definitely in the job description of any kind of scholar!

      • Seriously who does ground level research in India. Everybody just pens down their opinions according to their own political beliefs and affiliations. Reality be damned.

    • Even sharjil emam is against Modi since he elected as prime minister in 2014, I have seen many anti modi and anti india articles on internet like this back dated 2014,

      We all need to understand it’s a long running game they want india to become islamic state like Pakistan and other countries,

      I have done a reasearch on all this anti hindu riots and my honest answer is this is a planned game with some radical Islamic connection, if you look deeper into this matter you will get to know that Pakistan is leaving hell life after modi came, china is under control terrorist organisation like अलकायदा and others are now treated as we wanted,

      Kisi ne sahi kha hai modi se sirf do tarike ke logo ki phatti hai, ek jinki jali hui hai dusre jinki kati hui hai,

    • Even sharjil emam is against Modi since he elected as prime minister in 2014, I have seen many anti modi and anti india articles on internet like this back dated 2014,

      We all need to understand it’s a long running game they want india to become islamic state like Pakistan and other countries,

      I have done a reasearch on all this anti hindu riots and my honest answer is this is a planned game with some radical Islamic connection, if you look deeper into this matter you will get to know that Pakistan is living hell life after modi came, china is under control terrorist organisation like अलकायदा and others are now treated as we wanted,

      Kisi ne sahi kha hai modi se sirf do tarike ke logo ki phatti hai, ek jinki jali hui hai dusre jinki kati hui hai,

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