Don’t Our Leaders Like Mamata Banerjee Enjoy the Right to Protest?


Don’t Our Leaders Like Mamata Banerjee Enjoy the Right to Protest?

Illustration: Namaah Namaah


In September 2016, the Communist Party of India and its morbidly aged leadership, in an effort to decipher why they were lagging so far behind the times and trends of the modern century (and losing heaps of votes because of it), ran into a bizarre obstacle that threatened to slice the party into two warring factions.

The primarily old, upper-caste, male leadership of the party spent many nights scratching their heads, wondering if the BJP ran a government that was predominantly ““fascist” ”or one that was ““authoritarian””. This was important, as it would dictate how the party would choose to fight their next elections, as both terms implied separate academic approaches to a poisonous political situation.

In a time of open lynchings, conscious and concerted institutional erosion, fake encounters, immense propaganda, and general terror, the CPI(M)’s inability to zero in on appropriate nomenclature would strike many as deliriously funny. The world is on fire, but the men on top can’t decide if the people are dying from a blaze or an inferno.

The liberals of the country want the current party to be ousted from their throne, however improbable it may seem. They seem to share a sense of hopeful optimism that once that is done, the country will have been saved. We’d have been pulled out of this hellish quagmire and gently led into a land of juicy beef and boundless tranquility, and all because we exercised our democratic right to vote better. (As I write this, the new Congress government in Madhya Pradesh has slapped NSA charges against three individuals for cow slaughter.)

There exists a conscious effort from a lot of us ““Urban Naxal” types ”to project ourselves as a more polite and genteel alternative to the loud, lying, brash bravado of the likes of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. This is not a bad thing in itself – it’s a reminder of a less difficult time, when Jawaharlal Nehru could waltz around throwing often incomprehensible jargon at a country with a staggeringly low literacy rate. More importantly though, it is a reminder that the Constitution is on the side of those who uphold it, and the liberal elite, to their credit, certainly do so more than many of those warming the seats of Parliament.

The world is on fire, but the men on top can’t decide if the people are dying from a blaze or an inferno.

However, if we as a citizenry have accepted that we are living in times that are radically different from any other – where our courts are being compromised, our investigative agencies being expertly puppeteered, where random individuals constantly walk up to you and enquire about the quality of your ““josh” –” – if we accept that we are on the verge of something drastic and dramatic that would most certainly swing the fortunes of India towards the gutter, then we must also accept that to fight this extraordinary circumstance, we must also employ different methods to oppose it.

On January 3 2018, thousands of Dalits across the state of Maharashtra held hostage the busiest intersections of various cities to demand justice for the violence at Bhima-Koregaon on January 1. A lot of the liberal elite, however, while definitely expressing their solidarity with the struggle, felt a slight itch about the traffic situation that the protest caused. A ““disruption of everyday life”” as some termed it. The leaders of the protest responded saying, “Y“our media doesn’t cover Dalit atrocities, so how else do we get your attention?””

Yesterday, Mamata Banerjee ended her dharna against the BJP. She sat for three days, throwing a loud tantrum about how the Constitution was not safe in the BJP’s hands and that we all must come together to fight the danger that is fast creeping in on us, one propaganda film at a time. Amidst all of this, she somehow also managed to block Yogi Adityanath’s entry into the state.

Of course, we must see this firmly in the context of her announcement as a PM candidate for this year’s election. Politics is indeed a spectacle, and Mamata Banerjee has successfully managed to hog airtime, leaving poor Vijay Mallya’s extradition procedure unobserved by prime-time television cameras. But some of the arguments used against Banerjee are that a sitting CM, with the power to bring about change, shouldn’t be protesting – that somehow, her protest is proof that she has abandoned hope in the Constitution’s ability to rectify the situation.

Lalu Yadav took a moral stance to halt the progress of a crew that literally left a trail of destruction wherever it went.

Mamata Banerjee was protesting the misrule of the Centre, an entity which she as Chief Minister is beholden to, and as a disgruntled employee, she has every right to sit on protest and ask “what’s up?” And to delve into the nitty-gritty of which of her party members were caught in the Saradha Scam and how her party was affected by it is irrelevant in an equation where two of those caught were gloriously inducted into the party that sent the CBI to West Bengal three days ago.

Her tactics of course reminded one of Arvind Kejriwal’s efforts in Delhi soon after he became the chief minister, but I think a more relevant comparison would be our firebrand master of quips and former Minister of Railways, Lalu Prasad Yadav.

As LK Advani drove his history-making yatra across north India in 1990, a trip that would end at Ayodhya on December 6, and irreversibly change the structure of the country, Lalu decided he had seen enough of Advani’s antics and barred him from entering Bihar, where he was the CM at the time. The same questions were asked then – was it Constitutional? Was he denying Advani and his kar sevaks their right to free movement and free speech? It didn’t matter. Lalu Yadav took a moral stance to halt the progress of a crew that literally left a trail of destruction wherever it went. Babri Masjid, of course, was torn down nonetheless.

The CBI being sent to West Bengal was “P“olitics”, with a capital P”. Mamata Banerjee sitting in to protest the CBI’s preposterous lack of independence was also P“olitics”. It’s up to us to wonder which one is morally more suited to our interests – the tearing down of independent institutions like the CBI, or a traffic jam somewhere in Kolkata.

Protests are arbitrary and their consequences are arbitrary.

“The strike is the most revolutionary impulse,” Rosa Luxemburg is believed to have said. To strike or to protest isn’t an expression of having lost faith in the the Constitution’s ability to rectify situations, it’s a plea to make sure that it is being respected. Questioning ““due processes” ”during the LoSHA and #MeToo campaigns were central to grabbing the world’s attention – and both movements stemmed from a disappointment in the paths which these processes take – but neither asked for them to be scrapped all together.

One may question the moral high ground on which Banerjee has suddenly placed herself, considering her own intolerance towards dissent and basic questioning in her own state, but to take her down only because she chose to protest is both misguided and naive.

As for claims that she has dismantled peaceful protesting as a tool for change, that remains to be seen in a country where Twitter heads are summoned by the Centre who paid heed to a “silent protest” held by right-wing nutjobs hurt that an algorithm takes down their racist content from social media feeds, while farmers from Tamil Nadu, who have literally eaten dead rats to gain the attention of our government, remain unheard and continue to protest.

Protests are arbitrary and their consequences are arbitrary. It is only a whole, solid, proletariat revolution that can truly shake the foundations of a government. Once they decide if its a fascist or an authoritarian one, of course.