Our hypocrisy over culture of violent protests has led to Capitol Hill mayhem

Whether at the Capitol Hill in Washington DC, central London, Place de la Republique in Paris, or Chand Bagh in Delhi, there were dark forces at play

Abhijit Majumder January 07, 2021 19:36:22 IST
Our hypocrisy over culture of violent protests has led to Capitol Hill mayhem

Supporters of President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the the US Capitol on Wednesday. AP

The bloody spectacle on Capitol Hill on Wednesday was a long time coming, and in plain sight.

It may have stormed the doors of power of the world’s most powerful democracy now, but the air was getting thickened by tear gas, water cannons and anger for a long time now.

And while Donald Trump and his supporters are squarely to blame for the latest bout of mayhem, a number of governments including India’s have failed to quell street violence with a strong hand.

Both the Left and the Right/nationalists have not just allowed, but honed mobocracy as a paradigm to challenge democracy wherever it suits one’s interest.

In the US, the Left held up wanton violence, arson and looting in the name of George Floyd protests by the likes of Black Lives Matter and Antifa. The conservatives led by Trump, instead of nipping it right at the beginning, built a counter narrative and played on insecurities of their electorate.

As former president Barack Obama wrote about Wednesday’s mob attack: “Their fantasy narrative has spiralled further and further from reality, and it builds upon years of sown resentments. Now we’re seeing the consequences, whipped up into a violent crescendo.”

In India, the Left and Islamists actively fuelled mass-scale rioting, arson and destruction of public property in the name of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests. When ordinary citizens were outraged, they tried to cover it up or play victim.

The ruling BJP was inconsistent in its response. It cracked down on protesters in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi’s Jamia, but allowed bigoted sloganeering and incitement from Shaheen Bagh for days before it snowballed into street violence and then full-fledged riots in which both Hindus and Muslims were killed and crores worth property destroyed.

If the authorities leashed in their instinct to derive long-term political gain, perhaps much of the violence and bloodshed could have been averted.

Protests are the life-blood of a democracy. But this mutant strain of violent street protests is not always spontaneous. Whether at the Capitol Hill in Washington DC, central London, Place de la Republique in Paris, or Chand Bagh in Delhi, there were dark forces at play.

Street violence has become the new currency of grabbing power in a democracy by the unelected or unelectable. Behind the romantic narrative of dissent and insurrection their sympathisers in media and intelligentsia peddle lie meticulous and macabre planning.

What feels appalling when one’s ideological opponents do it suddenly becomes kosher when one’s own unleash. This hypocrisy will push the democratic world further into crisis and darkness. People on both sides of the ideological divide must realise that unless condemnation against any kind of anarchy is unequivocal, forces opposed to democracy will make deeper inroads in our polity and psyche.

Governments need to act, strongly and swiftly, even if it is against one’s own.

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