Nation in siege & flames; Are protests, agitations justified?

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(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)

Currently, nation is threatened by two protest agitations: Jat OBC quota reservation protests; and Student protests in Universities and campuses.

Some others like separate statehoods, particularly in the Northeast, are in dormant state which can go out of control and adversely affecting nations economic interests.

In particular, what happened in the Maruti Suzuki plants of Gurgaon and Manesar should serve as a grim reminder of how protests can spiral out of control. The strike started in 2012 partly because workers got Rs 6,000 a month on an average, which is woefully inadequate to survive in Delhi-Gurgaon environment. After months of negotiations preceded by violent protests, Maruti Suzuki has increased the wages of its employees by Rs 16,800 as an average.

All political parties and leaders like Rahul Ghandy, Arvind Kejriwal (Self Styled Anarchist) and sundry realize that they are playing with “FIRE”.  They are sitting on a ‘tinder box’ which is highly incendiary.

Inciting passions and sentiments of people on sectarian lines and creating/manufacturing crisis situations is quite easy with so many competing claims and counter claims of social inequalities – on caste and communal lines – in a country with many shades of pluralist diversity. Once aroused, incited and excited, it is not easy to douse the flames of distrust and hatred on sectarian lines.

Of course, the fringe elements on both sides – the left and the right – are bound to exploit situations to gnaw away at the idea or spirit of ‘India”.

Let me broadly highlight the violent protest of “Jats” in Haryana agitating for their inclusion on the list of the OBC castes – violently. Over 16 lives have been lost. Over Rs.30, 000 crores of loss to government and private properties has been reported in the media. Who will compensate such losses?  Of course, the agitator’s tax money will only pay. Agitators must realise that they may gain their objective; but at a phenomenal cost to themselves only.

What about the loss of image of Haryana as a stable destination for investors/start ups? Surely, they will think twice before they opt for Haryana as their preferred destination. And, who will suffer? Of course, it will be the “JATS” what with loss of job opportunities.

Today, there are fewer government jobs, which are considered already a “White Elephant” beyond economic sustainability of the nation. There were 19.5 million jobs in the public sector in 1992-93 when India’s population was 839 million. In contrast, there are 1.31 billion Indians now; and the number of jobs in the public sector has shrunk to 17.6 million.

Economic liberalization and reforms aggressively initiated and implemented by Manmohan Singh as the Finance Minister in P V Narasimha Rao’s government is squarely responsible for the dramatic reduction of government jobs and for the right reasons. For example, the government’s share in employment in Gujarat is only 1.18 per cent whereas it is 16 per cent in Kerala.

Two, student protests have broken out in the University of Hyderabad over the suicide of Rohit Vemula over the issue of caste discrimination in the campuses.  Now, the latest JNU ultra left wing students anti India campaign. Even the Vice Chancellor and the Teachers Union are on record supporting the student agitators.

Never too late in the day to recount the primary role of teachers! It is to teach and inculcate the right blend of values and skills vital to take their rightful place for building modern India.  Instead they are indulging in cheap politics and inciting and guiding protests.  If they are keen to indulge in politics, they must quit their jobs and take to streets like ala Arvind Kejriwal – the self styled anarchist be it on the left or right fringe. Surely, teaching community cannot turn the campuses into terrorist and ultra rationalists breeding dens.

Add to them, excessive politicization of campuses. The opposition party leaders led by Rahul Ghandy, Arvind Kejriwal, Sitram Yechury, D Raja etc., have jumped into the fray with glee – opportunistic politics. Whom are they trying to fool having presided over the present state of “poverty in perpetuity” for historically deprived sections of society? Expressing solidarity is the greatest fraud.

Surely, they should allow the campuses to impart education instead of allowing them to become “boxing rings” or “Wrestling Addas” detrimental to student’s future prospects. Unless political parties stop excessive politicization of university campuses, they must realize that they are privy to “breeding snakes” within their own backyards which would certainly bite them in posterity when they fail to fulfill the false hopes and aspirations raised in them.

Next, the OBC quota reservation is going to snowball and envelop the nation into a series of violent protests. Sooner than later, protests that are bound to break out in other states include: Patels’ agitation in Gujarat, which resulted in reportedly 10 deaths in 2015; Gujjar in Rajasthan; Kapus in coastal Andhra Pradesh; Marathas in Maharashtra; Adivasis in Assam;  and so on.

A de novo review of the ‘reservation’ issue is long overdue due to unprecedented and sweeping socio-economic changes in the rural areas.

Comprehensive research findings are available about the diminution of the dominant character of many land owning castes.  Many of the family holdings in the rich agricultural belts have been reduced to 2-3 acres only.  Consequently, their income returns have considerably reduced to barely survival levels. No more, the dominant castes see their future in agriculture because of the crisis in agriculture due to high labor villages and poor returns.

Next, around megapolises, cities and towns, the governments have taken over lands in the name of promoting development.  Also, land owners have either sold their lands to real estate developers or converted them into joint real estate ventures to cash in good returns for investments in other profitable sectors.

Finally, the 2014-15 Economic Survey shows that the wages of rural India were increasing at 3.6 per cent only (when the inflation rate was above 5 per cent), against 20 per cent in 2011.

Even labor availability has become scarce in the rural areas.  Even agricultural labor child who attends the school up to 10th standard or a 12th class drop out refuses to go to work in the fields.

But most of the rural students of dominant castes after scoring 90 to 95% marks find it difficult to remunerative jobs. Everyone wants jobs in government sector according to the Labor Bureau – even a messenger’s job provides assured security. Recently, the Seventh Pay Commission recommended an increase of the minimum monthly salary from Rs 7,000 to Rs 18,000.

If the erstwhile dominant castes want to be counted as OBCs to benefit from job reservation, they are not to be blamed. If they accede to the demand of dominant castes, it would certainly alienate those already in the OBC list, who have significant ‘Vote Bank” value. Thus, all political parties are caught in a bind.

Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis has referred the Marathas’s demand for reservation to the Supreme Court. Some others claim that caste should not be the only criterion for positive discrimination. Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje passed two legislations in September 2015, the Rajasthan Economically Backward Classes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions in the State and of Appointments and Posts in Services under the State) Bill, 2015, and the Rajasthan Special Backward Classes (Reservation of Seats in Educational Institutions in the State and of Appointments and Posts in Services under the State) Bill, 2015, with this intent. The main beneficiary of the second bill will be the Gujjar. The BJP government of Haryana may well follow the same strategy since it has decided to bring a bill to grant OBC status to Jats in the next session of the state assembly.

But such bills sends wrong signals against the BJP on it’s to reframe the reservation policy and reform it to favor the dominant castes – anti poor, Dalit and minorities. How can such a change be termed as anti-poor since poor are there is every caste and community.  It cannot also be viewed as anti-Dalit as their quotas are fixed on population percentage basis and there are no cuts in their quotas.

Finally, the judiciary remains insensitive to the sweeping changes in the society and rigidly adheres not to allow quotas to exceed the 49 per cent limit.

To top it all, media is only adding fuel to fire.

The President in his address to the joint session of the Parliament has appealed to the MPs to debate and conduct the parliament session for productive purpose. Will it have an impact or not, time alone can prove it. The political leaders are bound to revert to their cantankerous and adversarial postures sooner than later – hear from one ear to allow sane advice to fly away from the other ear.

Considering the vicious adversarial politics on grand display and the Congress Party hell bent upon further embarrassing the ruling regime would not let go the opportunity to indulge in “destructive politics’ as the path to their resurgence, if ever possible in posterity.

What political parties need to understand is that India is at the cross roads of “Make or Break” crisis situation.  If the present opportunity is lost, India as a nation can forget to recover lost ground in posterity. I dare challenge all the so called pseudo intellectuals on such a forecast, particularly those justifying such protests in the name of democracy – freedom of speech and tolerance to dissent.

The budget session of the Indian parliament may be the right time to debate the figures suggested in the amendment mentioned above — except that the government may not feel like displeasing India Inc. and those who are now supposed to make in India because of the rise in labor costs in China.

It is high time that intellectuals must concentrate on preventing and pre-empting the viral spread of violent protests as a result reach of social media such as Face book and Twitter. A simple rumor can spread exciting passions and violence all over the nation. After all, the contagion effects may inspire others to revive peaceful protests, which are dormant today, into violent forms.

As a result of online and TV coverage of Rohit Vemula’s suicide in the University of Hyderabad and the politicization that followed by the two visits of Rahul Ghandy to express solidarity with the students and the bereaved family members, the student protest movement – also given the anti Dalit status – has certainly gained national visibility.

Rahul Ghandy followed by Arvind Kejriwal, Sitaram Yechury, and D. Raja among others have encouraged student protesters to raise the bar of expectations.  Now, the groups have rallied at “Jantar Mantar” – the protest platform at Delhi – to raise the banner of revolt against the ruling party.

All politicians are blatant liars. Take a look at what Rahul Ghandy statement that Rohit was murdered due to flawed ruling regime policies. Rohit has not blamed anyone in particular for committing suicide. So, why politicize and excite passions, distrust and hatred?

Who is responsible for the current crisis situation? Even a fool will blame the 50 year Congress Party rule for the current caste centric inferno in making.

Socio-economic inequality based on caste considerations is the biggest fraud enacted by political parties and leaders, which needs a de novo review due to changed circumstances.

Sectarian polarization is taking place quite rapidly in various parts of the nation.  Whereas it might have taken a long to achieve mass mobilization, today it is quite easy to do so by exploiting the social media network. For example, Hardik Patel used the social media to rally the “Pattidars” in Gujarat to rattle the BJP government.

Digital media and social networks such as Face book and Twitter enable protest movements to be coordinated nationally. For example, student protests have taken place simultaneously in different university and college campuses – Jahdavpur University, UoH, IIT Chennai etc.

In sum, the current trend can be described in terms of wave dynamics, with fluctuation between periods of high and low intensity. The current frequency and intensity of protests are extraordinarily high but not yet unprecedented. Furthermore, advances in modern communication technologies and especially the global reach of social networks have led to the nationalization and digitalization of protest movements.

In sum, there are lessons to be learnt from the protests that are taking place all over India. One, protest movements have their own logic and grammar. They can gain momentum if not pro actively pre-empted.  Two, any political attempts to topple elected governments in democracy can set dangerous precedents.  Such movements may have succeeded in an autocratic or dynasty centric country.  But, its chances of success in a vibrant democracy such as India appear slim. Finally, the current intensity of protest and resistance must be taken seriously. Policy responses to protest movements should be adapted to the specific conditions of the digital age. Hence, it is important to pro-actively counter protest trends with great deliberation.

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