CAB, Farm bills – protesting for the wrong reasons, in wrong ways

India is going through an interesting phase in its politics, especially the politics that run the country. BJP is going in strengths with each passing year. Opposition parties are running helter-skelter with very little clue on handling the BJP onslaught. Dec 2020 elections for Hyderabad’s municipal corporation (GHMC) has seen a massive build up of BJP leaders during the campaigning phase. A clear example that this is a party that is looking at next 10 years and planning its dominance right from now.

India needs a strong Opposition to BJP. We cannot afford to be in a situation where BJP falters and there is no one to challenge them. Unfortunately, looking at some of the noteworthy movements that are overtly or covertly supported by the Opposition parties, it is unlikely that they will be able to put up even a major fight. BJP may weaken eventually on its own, but not due to the Opposition.

Citizenship Amendment Bill (2019) and Farm Bills (2020) provided the Opposition parties some ammunition to stop the BJP onslaught. They failed to bring to light the genuine concerns with these laws and made a mockery of themselves by protesting the good things these laws were proposing.

  1. Parliament debates – Debates in Parliament are the most important ones where Opposition parties can make their stance clear on various aspects of a law. CAB and Farm Bills are specific instances where the Opposition parties did not go into the details of the specific sections and clauses but simply insisted on repealing the entire law. Entire nation watched. Demands were made to send the Bills to JPC, some technical objections raised, how is the Government insensitive to <xyz> section of the society etc.
  2. Voting to pass the bills – This is the most baffling aspect of our Opposition parties. They have majority in Rajya Sabha to reject these bills. But still, time and again, they fail to defeat the Government when it comes to voting. Why? The same parties are vocal about the fallacies of these Bills outside the Parliament, but when it comes to voting, they are either absent, walkout, abstain or switch sides in the last minute. Next time you hear any of these Opposition parties supporting such protests, question these parties why they failed stopping these bills.
  3. Redefining “peace” – Protests are often termed peaceful when they actually are not. Bandhs are peaceful ways of protest for the few people who support the cause behind it. Blocking roads, railway tracks, forcing people to stop their daily businesses and holding cities and towns hostage are NOT peaceful protests. And when Opposition parties start supporting such protests (in their zeal to defeat BJP), they are losing support of a large section of population. A population that is impacted by these blockages or simply do not agree with such tactics. Peaceful protests do not impact the daily lives of large number of people who are not part of those protests. Peaceful protests do not block roads and railway tracks and choke towns/cities for weeks and months.
  4. Protesting for wrong reasons – CAB (2019) was about giving citizenship to a section of refugees. There was nothing in the bill which had anything to do with the people who were citizens on India. The only contentious point was exclusion of Muslim refugees from the “fast track” path to citizenship. Now, this exclusion was the basic premise of the bill itself and had been explained both by the current government and previous governments also. Farm bill protests (2020) are no different. Farmers from Punjab blocked railway tracks for couple of months. Then they blocked all major roads near Delhi, again as part of “peaceful” protests. Political parties are craving for attention. Everyone is joining the protest bandwagon simply because there is a mass gathering of people opposing something the Government proposed. Neither the protesters nor the Opposition parties are able to explain why they are protesting. APMC stays. MSP stays. Farmers are already selling to private buyers, that stays..
  5. Fear mongering, brinkmanship – One common strategy adopted in such protests is fear mongering and brinkmanship. Fear mongering is when we start a high decibel campaign with views that are speculative. “You will lose citizenship”, “MSP will be removed”, “APMC will die a slow death”, “Corporates will buy at lower prices”… This fear mongering triggers a series of protests. Students, trade unions, farmer unions, religious groups and ordinary citizens get slowly sucked into the protests . Then we will have protests supporting the protests, protests opposing the protests, massive media campaign on the handling of protests, political rallies talking more about the handling of protests and less on the reasons of protests. This leads to brinkmanship. Incidents of violence. Then protests against violence. Instigations on both sides.

As 2020 ends, we have to introspect and see how we want our future to shape up. BJP has to be countered in many of the wrong things they are doing. Their campaign in Hyderabad GHMC elections was extremely provocative and communal. Economy is getting back to normal but there is a lot to be done. Smart city program of the central government is a non starter. Urban spaces are become junk yards. BJP is unable to come up with a long term strategy to counter Pakistan and China. Primary education, healthcare needs a massive boost but it is not happening.

For Opposition parties and civil society members / organizations, these are the real issues that needs attention. If they keep finding joy in protests that are not based on truth but more on fear mongering (or simply because there is scope to show protests as anti-BJP), they will find people on streets blocking roads, but the majority of ones who are not on streets will disagree with such protests. It is not difficult for people to see and understand the politics of such protests.

Please share your views on this article in the comments section below, or you can tweet me VijayIvaturi@.

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