Sunday, November 15, 2009

Battle of elephants and grass

‘It is the grass that suffers when elephants battle’, so runs a German proverb. Most often, a battle between elephants turned out to be a long drawn one. They often fight for days. Underneath their heavy and rampaging feet, it is the grass that is suffering silently. Bull elephants battle for victory over rivals, to impose their supremacy and maintain a hierarchy in a herd. They care little for the tiny grass suffering underneath their feet. Two bull elephants would battle until one is vanquished completely or the supremacy of one is established undoubtedly. Here, one can draw a striking analogy with the protracted stand-off being witnessed in this part of democratic India for the last four months or so.
Any casual observer would find it perfectly applicable to put the two opposing parties, powerful in their own capacities, in the positions of two battling elephants and for that matter, the people, more particularly, the students in the position of the suffering grass. Just as battling elephants are oblivious to the concomitant and collateral damages done to their surroundings, the two opposing forces of post July 23 episode seem equally irresponsible and totally callous to the negative impacts of the protracted stand-off.
What is surprisingly shocking is the absence of any sincere initiative from the side of the government elected under democratic principles to end the impasse. The government has shown little concern for the fate of hundreds of thousands of students now deprived of education for the last four months. This is quite discernible from the abrupt breakdown of dialogue between the two opposing sides soon after the opening round of talk. How the helpless students have been pushed to the position of the proverbial ‘grass’ has become a matter of serious concern for the mass though not for the government. That is why, the issue of class boycott has overshadowed the issue of justice vis-a-vis the Khwairamband twin killing. With the basic point of debate now focusing on class boycott, the government has adeptly extricated itself from the position of being the target of the people’s movement, and successfully deflected the current of the movement to the parties who targeted the government till the question of class boycott became an over-arching issue.
Acting with a cocktail of shrewdness and arrogance, the government has succeeded in diverting public attention from the core issue of human rights violation (read right to life) to right to education. Human right defenders, civil organisations and student bodies now fighting for right to life need to undertake a serious re-thinking as the question of class boycott has taken precedence over the question of justice.
Just as it calls for introspection on the course of mass movement directed by the civil organisations, it would be of immense academic interest to study the tactics and methods developed and perfected by the government in the last few years after the July Movement of 2004 (launched against Armed Forces Special Powers Act following the brutal rape and murder of Th Manorama).
Military/police force against civil movements
A comprehensive strategy adopted by the government in the last few years is engaging maximum police force against civil movements. Conveniently throwing aside their responsibility and accountability to the people as expected from a government elected under the constitution of India, the state is utilising its police force to the maximum, misusing provisions of the National Security Act at the slightest sign of any protest movement. For civil movements like protest rallies, bandhs, demonstrations, burning effigies etc, etc, the government has quick response in the forms of curfew, NSA and brute force of its military/police. The government has demonstrated on more than one occasion the effectiveness of this trident of Curfew, NSA and Police Force in suppressing civil movements.
Unlike numerous civil protest movements of the past, the movement launched after Tehelka’s exposure of the July 23 Khwairamband killing has a new dimension in the form of indefinite class boycott. If the continued abstinence of students from schools/colleges is any indication, the government’s usual strategy of Curfew, NSA and Police Force have turned out toothless in tackling the issue of class boycott. Though it is unable to neutralise the class boycott agitation, the government is quite successful in fragmenting the civil society and pitching different organisations against themselves over the issue of class boycott, by ignoring the plight of helpless students and maintaining stoic silence all along.
The people are witness to how their own movement was crushed by the government using its trusted trident of Curfew, NSA and Police Force months back. Apparently, class boycott remains the only simmering continuation of the people’s eruption in the aftermath of July 23 killings. With its trident of Curfew, NSA and Police Force not working against class boycott, the government seems clueless on how to tackle the issue of class boycott, the only remaining bone in its neck. The government also failed miserably to capitalise on the voice of discontentment raised by guardians and some student bodies against class boycott. Rather than grabbing the opportunity to bring a negotiated settlement, the government once again brought to the fore its obsession with its own police force when it came up with a bizarre idea of resuming class under security protection.
Civil movements are no war
Yenning hopes the government is not fighting any war against civil society organisations and the student bodies. But going by the way the government is dealing with the issue, it seems the government is fighting a war against its own people, where there is no room for negotiation and only victory matters. Response of the government to people’s protest movements all these days has ample characteristics more akin to a military rule than being a democratically elected government. Had it been a genuine popular government rather than its manifest autocratic nature, the helpless students would not have been left in the present precarious lurch for such a long time. Even if it was a war, a truce is long overdue. Or is it a fight to the end ?Again the hardline stand of the government smacks of autocratic rule.
As often as the government employed its military power against civil movements, its sheer irresponsibility and unaccountability are visible most glaringly. We cannot imagine a responsible government to remain a spectator when the fates of hundreds of thousands of students have been hijacked for such a long period. The government’s militaristic idea of deploying security personnel in and around educational institutions is indigestible. Bringing back students to classrooms when the contending parties have not showed any sign of relenting or negotiation would amount to pushing young students in the battle-front, raging on for quite a long time now between the two parties. Moreover, presence of security personnel around educational institutions would create serious psychological disturbances to the tender minds of our young students.
As hinted by the first round of talk held between the government and the agitating civil organisations, certainly a room can be created for negotiation. The government need to realise that the fate of lakhs of students are still at stake. As all the vocal protest agitation which threatened the government’s position in the earlier phase of the movement have been crushed, the government, if it has any sense of responsibility, need to review its hardline stand and break the stand-off for the sake of suffering students.
If the government has run out of means at its disposal that can bring back students to classrooms under normal atmosphere, then it must negotiate. The government has already won half of the long-drawn battle and it should not commit the fait accompli of extending it any longer at the expense of hundreds of thousands of students.
Failure of the government to carry on the dialogue to bring a negotiated settlement despite the earnest appeals from different sections of the society to end the deadlock evokes two fundamental questions. First, is the government trying to prove a point ? Whether the government is trying to prove that it is the supreme authority just like an elephant battling a rival to prove his supremacy in a herd. Whether it is attempting to define government as state itself and that ultimate power lies with it, not with the people.
Second, is the government waiting for an ignominious defeat of civil organisations acting as vanguards of civil movements so that this could be a bitter lesson to future civil movements ? Otherwise, the government must negotiate or come up with some feasible idea so that students can attend class without any sense of fear or reservation.
In case the government is harbouring any of these ideas to define government as state itself or pre-empt all civil movements in near future by handing out a shameful and crushing defeat to civil organisations, then we may bid adieu beforehand to democracy, its ethos, principles as well as all forms of protest movements permissible in a democracy.
This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, November 15, 2009

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