Movements Through Time: Visionary Leaders are Likely to Emerge from Anti-CAA Protests
History will take note of the leading role of women, their resistance, commitment and determination in this movement. There is also the realisation that the protests are providing a platform for forging a new kind of unity between Muslims and Dalits.
The ongoing protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the response of the establishment remind us of a famous saying by writer, activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
Any protest that becomes a movement and is also termed 'historic' for one reason or another is generally compared with the popular protests of the past. Likewise, these days parallels are being drawn in favour of or against between the 1974-75 JP Movement and the anti-CAA protests.
According to noted historian Gyan Prakash, social roots of the current demonstrations are stronger than that of the students' revolution over four decades ago. For one social activist, Harsh Mander, the ongoing movement has been "a movement of solidarity" while for another, Medha Patkar, it is "a new freedom movement".
The anti-CAA protests have also been hailed for their Hindu-Muslim unity, pluralism and inclusivity. But, from the other side, these protests are also being seen as anti-government, anti-people for their blockade and, most surprisingly, some are even trying to connect them to the Delhi riots.
The protesters have been compared to the Mughal regime, called "traitors", and so on. So parallels are being drawn either for good or bad reasons.
History will also take note of the leading role of women, their resistance, commitment and determination in this movement. There is also the realisation that the protests are providing a platform for forging a new kind of unity between Muslims and Dalits.
Most prominent has been the redefining the perception of women as a resistance force contrary to the traditional age-old notion about Muslim women.
Let us study the fine prints of the 1973 Gujarat Students’ Movement, the JP Movement and the present anti-CAA movement. No doubt some features are similar, but would it be proper to draw any kind of comparison?
I spoke to some experts to decode the underlying message of these protests and their socio-political impact while trying to measure these events.
According to DM Diwakar professor and head, Division of Economics, and former director, AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna (Bihar), said, “The JP Movement and the protests against CAA and NRC cannot be compared directly. The JP Movement came into its own after the imposition of Emergency when democracy was under threat. But here, the CAA has been done by law.
"The difference is, during the JP Movement when you have the Emergency, the state operators and authorities were active to control and seize the power of the people. Here, in the anti-CAA protests, the state apparatus and the social forces of a particular party are acting to implement those agendas of the state which they are unable to implement through government apparatus.”
Diwakar further argued, “When you look at the JP Movement, the major voice was of the backward classes, Dalits and students. It began over a hostel fee hike and further spread to every state and led to creation of an alternative politics. The anti-CAA protest is not like the emergence of any kind of alternative forum. This movement has left the political parties behind. The protesters are much advanced and ahead than the political parties.
On the political impact, he said, “In the process, I can see new leadership emerging out of these anti-CAA protests. They may not be very good in 2020 or 2024. This visionary group of new blood in politics will be an emerging force in the next-to-next parliamentary elections.
"A new kind of political configuration is emerging from below or the ground is coming up where established political parties are denied and denounced. They have no role in it, yet they are trying to enter into it, but they don’t know how to enter it. The common people are taking the leadership role and redefining the politics of the country. I consider it a stronger case of democratic movement.”
Darbhanga-based Makoor Ahmad Usmani who was also president of the Aligarh Muslim University Students' Union in 2017-18, said, “There is a similarity as well as difference between the Gujarat Students' Movement of 1973 and the present movement against CAA, NPR and NRC. The anti-CAA protests are a fight against the illegal law passed by the present-day government which is a direct threat to the constitution of India. However, the 1973 movement was against the corruption done by the government at the time.”
“It is important that, like in 1973, this movement has also been started by students and then reached every nook and corner of the country. The movement of students was guided by JP at that time. However, this is the first time in India that women of this country are leading a protest from the front. Hence, this is redefining women in the Indian resistance scene and the fight against injustice.
"Comparing the role of the media in both times, we will find that the media which was raising genuine questions against government policy at the time is now going against the protesters by sitting in the lap of the government,” Usmani argued.
However, John Dayal, noted social and human rights activist, said, “We can’t compare the Nav Nirman and JP movements, that eventually led to the Emergency in the 1970s, with the current uprising against the feared religious isolation and disenfranchisement of the Muslim population and other weaker sections through the National Population Register coupled with the National Register of Citizens.
"JP (Jayaprakash Narayan) galvanised the youth, irrespective of religious groupings or even class and caste – a difficult task – on issues of lack of governance, corruption and the other ills that lingered in the Congress regime of Indira Gandhi, struck a chord with the young, especially in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and the Hindi-speaking belt.”
“Indira Gandhi saw this as a conspiracy against her, possibly foreign-assisted in terms of a regime-change exercise as she had picked up grudges with Europe and the US in her socialist, pro-Soviet international doctrine and the domestic arena.
"Although the Left was in a way involved, it joined during the Emergency and later in the rule of the short-lived Janata Party government of Morarji Desai. The current agitation is more limited on the issue and people impacted but has a far deeper meaning in the aborting of basic guarantees of the Constitution,” Dayal said.
(The author is a freelance journalist. Views expressed are personal.)
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