Leftover ultras, Insta revolutionaries and the 'handlers': Three species of protesters at the ongoing Shaheen Bagh protest

At the peak of the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement in 2011, RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav made a deeply unpopular comment in Parliament. Even the froth of his jests could not sheathe his startlingly sharp words.

Desh chalta hai toh rowb se chalta hai, pratap se chalta hai. Agitation se nahin chalta hai (The nation is run majestically, not by protests),” he proclaimed. “Ek police ka retired karamchari, do wakil, ek samajhik karyakarta…aur ye teen-char log mil ke sansad ko dictate kiya ja raha hai. Tamasha hai? (A retired police official, two lawyers and a social worker are dictating the country’s Parliament. Is this a burlesque?)”

In hindsight, Lalu was profoundly right. If the nation had allowed the passing of the supposedly anti-corruption Lok Pal Bill at Ramlila Maidan instead of Parliament, a drag race from democracy to anarchy would have begun.

The Shaheen Bagh protests raise similar anxieties. At least the India Against Corruption protesters were clear about their goals: cleaning the system, bringing a Jan Lokpal law. What do the Jamia, JNU, Gateway of India, Carter Road and Shaheen Bagh protesters want? What are they protesting? What alternatives do they offer? One should fear a meticulously organised event with a seemingly vague motive. The real motives and actors in such a drama exist within layers, behind shifty curtains.

One finds broadly three kinds of people — with three motives — behind the Shaheen Bagh protests.

 Leftover ultras, Insta revolutionaries and the handlers: Three species of protesters at the ongoing Shaheen Bagh protest

Anti-CAA protester at Shaheen Bagh. Image for representation only. File Photo

The Instagram Revolutionaries

This is seemingly the most harmless — also the most clueless — lot. But they are the eager shoulders for more sinister forces to fire from.

This is the urban, well-off, English-educated milieu brought up on the great stories of French Revolution and Che Guevara, but it never occurs to them to revolt against their own colonised education. Bastille, Havana, Sparta, Woodstock (although the actual festival happened 40 km away) are stations of their minds, but ask them about Rakhigarhi.

What do they want?

They want radical chic, some accomplishment in the dissent department that their social and professional lives don’t permit.

Top of this chain are India’s new ‘Bollywood intellectuals’. For them, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube are crucial. Social media is the cheapest and most potent playground of publicity today. What might have once been achieved through tedious press conferences, interviews and media office visits, now only requires a camera-blazing visit to a protesting campus.

What are they protesting? They are protesting ‘fascism’.

What kind of fascism? Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah’s fascism.

What is the fascist act? The Citizenship Amendment Act.

Why is fascist about it? It excludes Muslims.

But CAA is for persecuted minorities from Muslim majority nations, right? Yes. Well, CAA is not the problem, but combined with NRC…

But a nationwide NRC has not yet been drafted, has it? You are a fascist and a bigot. Go away.

Leftover Ultras, Merchants of Dissent

The Left has been defeated across democratic, electoral platforms but wields disproportionate cultural power by controlling academia and certain high-profile campuses.

The protest over India’s new citizenship laws is the far-Left’s new battleground. The Congress party – the harbinger of liberalisation – is ironically its greatest ally today.

The CAA protests have also brought together the non-governmental organisation network on which the Modi regime had cracked down for shadowy foreign funding and support to dubious activism.

So, beneficiaries of funding worth crores from say, a Ford Foundation, are seen flashing anti-government placards and inciting students. Ford Foundation has funded groups that demanded release of convicted terrorists to Communist bodies which lament the fall of the Soviet Union. In India, it has been on the security agencies’ radar for funding controversial activist Teesta Setalvad, who is also accused of bungling funds.

What is the political goal?

Far-Left, its funders, and its global faces like Arundhati Roy have fuelled and fronted questionable movements, some of which strike at the heart of India’s sovereignty and development. The goal starts getting clearer from this point: Remove Modi, stymie India’s rising nationalism.

The Invisible Hand of the Handlers

The CAA has nothing to do with Indian Muslims. The National Population Register and the proposed nationwide National Register of Citizens are religion-neutral.

So, who brought rampage mobs on the streets from Murshidabad to Jamia to Meerut to Ahmedabad? Why is the name of the Popular Front of India — an organisation which has conversions as its stated goal and is suspect in a growing number of extremist activities — coming up?

Why are Pakistani ISI social media handles so joyous and active about the protests? Where is the funding for the protests coming from? Why were communal slogans repeatedly raised till public outrage erupted? Those slogans were hastily replaced by the national anthem to give things a secular, national veneer.

What could be the handlers’ goal?

Radicals believe it is their duty to establish Dar-ul-Islam, or the supremacy of the faith, wherever there is Dar-ul-Harb, where the faith is in minority.

It is a clear goal. Made romantically vague and secular by throwing a cordon of young, unsuspecting, well-meaning ‘liberals’. And a topping of glamorous and influential ladies and gents.

It is a gorgeous protest with a cold, sharp shard hidden in it, aimed at the heart of our beloved democracy.

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Updated Date: Jan 14, 2020 13:14:57 IST