"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
The status of social activism as a pillar on which a healthy polity is structured could not have been more eloquently stated than in JFK's own words.
If we submit to the fact that no society is perfect, then we must also acknowledge that no society should remain static; given how it is inherent in its nature to be influenced by a constant flux of the prevailing economic, social, political, environmental and cultural milieu. Social activism is therefore that balancing force which counters the resistance to change. Social activists throughout history have challenged established norms, practices and institutions and names likes Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mandela come to mind.
Historically while some activists have chosen to remain as external agents to the politics in their country, critiquing the system from academic, intellectual or activist viewpoints, others have actively participated in politics as a necessary means of bringing about real change in the system. With their advanced education in social, political, economic matters they bring to the table a nuanced understanding of these subjects that is often found lacking in the average babu. They are motivated not by power but by a quest to bring about change that benefits everyone, which makes them much less likely to fall into the traps of corruption, nepotism and self centrism that politics is often plagued by.
If we consider the case of Arvind Kejriwal about whom reams have been written, a common pattern of criticisms emerge. His brief stint as Delhi CM followed by a severely lacklustre performance in the Lok Sabha elections raised serious concerns about his political pedigree and whether he was prepared to be in the game for the long run. Politics is often seen as a game of chess where you plan your every move beforehand and attempt to outthink your opponent. While Kejriwal's intentions were unquestionably noble, he admittedly has failed to play the long game. Short-term thinking coupled with a serious misjudgement of his opponents has dented his credibility and indeed his charismatic image of a bringer of clean politics. The AAP is sort of like the case of an experiment conducted in the real world that is expected to produce ideal world results – it just won't happen! External factors like political alliances, prevailing economic conditions, perception of the opposition, anti-incumbency etc. will always ruin your well prepared plans. Activists are often found out against seasoned politicians precisely because they tend to be very narrowly focussed rather than seeing the bigger picture.
This is the biggest problem activists face. While their education and pedigree in the academic and intellectual world is usually well established, it ultimately means nothing in the political arena which is a battlefield filled with well established heavyweights and long standing alliances. As such you are expected to 'play the game' or risk being outplayed by shrewder opposition. This of course comes at an expensive cost through compromises not every activist would be prepared to make. Often some of the more vocal methods activists adopt flirt with the boundaries of legality which a politician cannot be seen to practice or even endorse. The result is that while some activists take the plunge, hoping that their joining politics would give momentum to their movement, others choose to work from outside where they see fewer restrictions and no compulsions. This position is debatable because what would we rather have, an insulated, ineffectual intelligentsia or dynamic, critical and hands on leaders that are embody the very philosophy they preach and hope to be implemented?
It is imperative that the corrupt not be left unchallenged because that would further concentrate power in the hands of those who deserve power the least. Activists turned politicians like Kejriwal, Imran Khan in Pakistan, Nigel Farage in the UK etc. have strived to build political legitimacy in a prevailing environment of political disrepair and through it have captured the imagination of millions. The need of the hour is for them to soldier on, inspire even more people and see their mission through. If it means an overhaul, restructuring, reimagination of an established yet dysfunctional system then so be it. Their actions will not only affect this generation but the ripples of their revolutionary work will be felt across generations of the future.
(Shoeb is a Mumbai-based digital marketer and works in the gaming industry)