Getting NotInMyName Wrong Is a Mug's Game
NEW DELHI: There’s a sucker born every minute. The Hindutva hordes and their ideological priesthood, which have come pointing out in (indirect) defence of the lynch mobs running riot in the name of cow slaughter, know this only too well. They feed gullible liberals with arguments to discredit and berate people’s protests, such as NotInMyName, against the predatory acts of the gau raksha lynch mobs.
These liberals, especially the right-wing types opposed to lynching who fancy themselves as the better – and, superior -- right, then purvey these arguments. They find themselves quoted in foreign, especially American media like The New York Times by Ellen Barry and feel quite chuffed about it.
Until they find that the crudest of right wing ideologues, propagandists and pamphleteers are using the same arguments for the same reason: to appear liberal, sensible, intellectual, fair-minded and, above all actuated by thought (not feelings and emotions) unlike the protestors – conveniently labeled as liberal and/or liberal-left – who are disparate, rag-tag groups acting on impulse, moved by their heart and not their head.
In doing so, what the ‘liberal right’ – as, for example, Shivam Vij, deputy editor of Huffpost India, may be described by some – does not recognise is that their arguments are no different from that of the rabid Sanghi sophists, such as the Trotskyite-turned-knickerheads, who defend the mobs and their political patrons and all their atrocities, crimes and criminality beginning with Gujarat in 2002 and the demolition of the Babri Masjid to the periodic riots, hate politics and the lynchings unleashed by mobs that take state power for granted.
Vij is a good example of a well-meaning observer and critic opposed to majoritarian mobocracy, who -- in striving to be “different” for the sake of striking a different note -- sets himself against the NotInMyName protests only to find himself, willy-nilly, on the side of those defending the indefensible depredations.
He wrote two articles – “Why Indian Liberals Are Falling Into The Hindutva Trap Again With 'Not In My Name' March (by) Thinking with the heart” on June 28; and, “Why The ‘Not In My Name’ Protests Did More Harm Than Good (with a) A false sense of victory” on June 30.
The headings of the articles capture the essence of what he says, which he reinforces with a lot of the by-now familiar whataboutery and whynotery. He belittles the protests, celebrates the futility and failure of the attempts by the liberals to take on Hindutva and defeat it; and argues that this objective cannot be achieved, for Hindutva can be defeated only by changing the keywords of the political discourse: that is move from cows, meat and Muslims to violence against Dalits, farmers’ agitations and the distress caused by demonetisation and GST.
To follow Vij’s line of argument, one may well ask him why he has not mentioned – as issues to be taken up for protesting -- the economic burden of corporate loot that the people have to bear, the bad debts banks are saddled with thanks to the government-business nexus, the racism against the people of Northeast, the atrocities in the Northeast, the situation in Kashmir etc etc.
It may sound clever, but belittling an issue that has captured public attention and imagination across cities (and even countries), and citing other issues which are equally important though not in focus at a particular juncture is actually a tried and tested tactic to puncture common concerns from acquiring more force and more sustainable form.
In what he thinks is a knock-out punch line, Vij says: “If our liberals were able to think with their brains rather than their hearts, they would have been marching today for farmers, not Muslims. Or perhaps both, thus trying to build solidarities.”
This reminds me of certain Trotskyite factions during the Emergency. They fancied themselves as the only critics (of the Emergency) who had a cerebral grasp of the issues involved. They were forever engaged in interminable, intensive and obsessive debates of what was wrong with many of those who were resisting the Emergency and fighting it in their own small and big ways. They tore into “lesser minds” for their failure to understand with terminological precision the Emergency and its many ramifications. They emphasised the importance of understanding it in all its dimensions and the dangers it represented.
One faction intellectuallised at length on “commodity fetishism” that characterised the economy under Indira Gandhi and deliberated for days on how this needed to be understood for arriving at a praxis. All this while people were being jailed, hounded, tortured and terrorised, democracy was shut down and millions had joined hands and bonded across ideological divides for the common cause of overthrowing the Emergency regime.
This “cerebral” lot kept pointing how ineffectual the activists were; how effete the disparate and dispersed the leadership of the anti-Emergency activism was; how disorganised they were and how more “brain” was needed to fight the Emergency.
I don’t know if Vij is intellectual heir to this tradition, but the arguments he is trotting out against the protests are of a piece with the Emergency’s “very thinking” idle class, which wallowed in masterly inactivity except for their sneering “cerebral” cynicism and took comfort in shibboleths and nostrums not remotely relevant to the clear and present danger.
When people are out in the streets protesting on an issue which has brought them together from their diverse and far-removed areas of activity and concern, it has to be welcomed. No protest is too small or insignificant. No one issue is limiting. Mobilisation may begin with one or a few issues and then expand to embrace more issues, more sections affected by those issues and then gather numbers, force for impact and momentum.
Every act of protest, every step towards resistance against majoritarian tyranny reinforced by the ruling elite which controls the levers of the state apparatus is an act of awareness, social consciousness and courage. It is also an act of assertion of one’s rights, a fearless declaration of one’s position, an act of faith in India’s constitutional values and a public rejection of sectarian and divisive prejudices and hatred fomented by backward political forces and their thugs to destroy all that holds together India’s diversity and democracy.
Courage lies not in nitpicking and criticising the weak for their act of protest and resistance being inadequate or ineffectual. True courage of conviction lies in stepping forward to join the protests and strengthening the gathering tide of resistance. It is easy to sit back and say that this will not lead anywhere. It takes effort to contribute what can take it at least a bit further in the direction where it should go.
Regardless of whether the NotInMyName nation-wide protests turn out to be the proverbial spark that lit the prairie fire, for now, it is more appropriate to remember that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
(Author’s Note: I would also like to be quoted by Ellen Barry, who is doing a great job with her reports in the NYT.)
(Shastri Ramachandaran is a senior journalist)