A few things that Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said today, tells us clearly what is wrong with the approach of the Indian government to the recent public protests in Delhi against the gangrape of a 23-year-old woman.
If we meet students today, tomorrow we may have to meet Maoists
First and foremost, how can the home minister of the world's largest democracy say something as casual as this. At one go he has associated the students and the general public protesting in Delhi to Maoists who kill people day in and day out. The liberal historian and writer Ramachandra Guha told me in a recent interview that Naxalism is one of the biggest threats facing the country right now. Shinde wants us to believe that the protests in Delhi are as big a threat as Naxalism? How crazy can that be?
The second point that comes out here is that if the government does not come out and meet the Maoists (or Naxals, as they are more popularly called) who else will? But Shinde seems to be so comfortable in his bungalow in Lutyens' Delhi that for him Naxalism might even be something that exists in a foreign country that is not India.
Or how else do you explain his statement, “When 100 Adivasis are killed in Gadchiroli, should the government go there?” Yes minister, the government should go there. If people of this country are being killed the government has to make every effort to stop it.
They are throwing stones at the police
This was Shinde's explanation on why the police started lathi-charging and tear-gassing the citizens of this nation who had gathered to protest. As a Delhi Police Commissioner put it “hooligans have taken over this protest".
But as usual there are two sides to the story. As Shuddhabrata Sengupta writes in a column: “The violence began not when protesters threw stones, but when the police started attacking people. Stones were thrown in retaliation. The television cameras that recorded what happened show us the exact chronology. The police were clearly under orders not to let people up Raisina Hill. Why? What is so sacred about Raisina Hill? Why can a group of unarmed, peaceful young people not walk to the gates of the President’s palace?”
Shinde wants us to believe that the force was used to protect the Rashtrapati Bhavan which is built on top Raisina Hill.
Let me just deviate a little here. A few years back George Bush visited London. This was the time when War on Terror was at its peak. Bush had to meet Tony Blair at his 10 Downing Street residence-cum-office. While the meeting of Bush and Blair was on, Britishers protesting against the war and the indiscriminate bombing of Iraq, were allowed to pass through 10 Downing Street, shouting their version of “Bush-Blair hai hai!”.
Why can't that happen in India? Is Pranab Mukherjee's security risk greater than that of the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Great Britain put together?
Assuming that the protesters threw the first stone, did that mean that male policemen should have been allowed to go around mercilessly beating up women and senior citizens? The police behaved along expected lines, having long been a hand-maiden of the government. As Gurucharan Das told me in an interview earlier this year, “After Indira Gandhi the police became a hand-maiden of the executive. The police lost its independence.”
Also why was there no effort made to engage with the protesters while they were there? Other than some statements being made by the junior home minister, whom no one had heard about till a few days back, almost nothing credible came from the Union government.
In his address to the nation today, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is heard saying 'theek hai' at the end of his speech. Did the Prime Minister really believe in what he was saying or was it just an act that he was putting on? Like a scene from a movie at the end of which the director says cut, and the actor asks “theek hai? Ya ek bar aur karte hain? (Was it good enough? Or shall we do it once more?)”
When Soniaji herself had met protesters, they should have been happy
This statement of Shinde is the world view of a member of the Congress party whose be-all and end-all in life is to get a darshan from the lady herself. The allegiance of a Congressman like Shinde is to the Gandhi family and not to the nation and public which elects them to seats of power.
As Tavleen Singh writes in her new book Durbar, “Years later, the ultimate subscriber to the idea of democratic feudalism, Mani Shankar Aiyar, admitted in a television interview with Karan Thapar that the party was not just proud of its dynasty but knew that it was the 'adhesive' that held things together.” As a Facebook/Twitter joke going around puts it “What Sachin Tendulkar's retirement from ODIs tells us is that everything comes to an end, except the Gandhi dynasty.”
Getting back to the point, what does meeting of the protesters with Sonia Gandhi have to do with the issue at all? And if protesters feel like continuing their protest even after meeting Mrs Gandhi what does it tell us? It tells us that the assurances even from the lady who runs this country by 'remote control' weren't convincing enough for the protesters to stop protesting.
When political parties protest, call bandhs, damage public property, burn buses and try to shut down the country, the police conveniently look the other way, but when angry women in Delhi want to protest against insecurity it becomes a security threat to the President? And they (the police) respond by lathi-charging, pushing the media out of the scene and shutting down metro stations. The politicians of this country keep reminding us time and again that we are the world's largest democracy. If we are the world's largest democracy then why are we shutting down metro stations?
“Varchasva” is a word in Hindi which best describes the situation at hand. The closest English translation of the word is “absolute power”. And absolute power makes people behave in the way the government of India led by Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh is currently behaving.
Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at email@example.com
Updated Date: Dec 24, 2012 16:21 PM