2020 brings hope that Indians will reclaim a composite nation
In dark times, it is not difficult to make a wish list for oneself, one’s city, one’s nation. As the year 2020 dawns, here’s one.
It’s a year that carries hope and aspirations of millions – hope for a gentler and more just future, aspiration to be any kind of an Indian that one wishes to be with freedom and joy.
The resistance that some of us had hoped to see after Lok Sabha election results in May last year burst forth towards the end of the year. This needs a depth study but it’s possible that pent-up opposition to an increasingly majoritarian government –its heavy mandate in Parliament bringing out its authoritarian and arrogant nature – found expression in the pan-India, multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-lingual protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens.
The protests have been largely without leaders and upfront organisations so far but the resistance to the CAA-NRC in the months to come would need to be sustained beyond the predictable protest-fatigue, would have to articulate and repeat key messages in creative ways, make space for those in the margins of this protest. Changes to India’s citizenship process affects Muslims but equally other sections such as women, tribals, scheduled castes, the landless and the migrants. Their voices have to emerge.
The coming months could see broadening or deepening of these protests.
Should this happen, it would send the strongest signal to the Indian government that its Parliament majority does not give it the authority to ride roughshod over all Indians and, most importantly, the Constitution of India.
The government will hit back harder. The civil society may not back off or stop talking back to it. This is democracy in action – messy, noisy, complicated but altogether organic. May we have more of it in 2020.
After decades, old and stirring protest poetry was discovered by new generations, new inspirational penned by the perennially condemned millennials, there was much sharing between languages and modes of protests and re-interpretation of the “Azadi” chant. Should the protest maintain momentum, the vocabulary and poetry of civil protests would be enriched in the coming months.
It’s a marker of the dystopian times we live in and the threat that mere words carry that an institute like IIT-Kanpur set up a committee on new year’s day to investigate if the legendary Faiz’s popular protest anthem “Hum Dekhenge…” provoked anti-Hindu sentiments.
There will be more reading and re-reading of the rousing Preamble of the Constitution. The words and phrases, recited in school years, have acquired an urgency, layered meanings and more for generations of Indians willing to engage with their government.
Every police bullet is aimed at the Constitution, wrote Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad. It will not be as easy to upend or hollow out the Constitution as it had seemed in May last year. Indians will reclaim their highest book and protect it from an elected government in the months ahead.
If the ruling party stops profiting from stoking hate and social divisions, it could focus on the economy. India was the next big miracle on the international horizon ten years ago; it can be again if the government is committed to go beyond smart slogans and band-aid solutions to revive and course-correct the economy.
As for Mumbai, it will likely draw out more protestors. It will find space and time to protect the best parts of being Mumbai, being India. It will offer its crowded streets, promenades and virtually non-existent pavements for civil society events.
While on Mumbai, there’s a simpler wish list too: more pavements across the city, better roads, harsh crackdown on wrong-side driving that’s now a malaise, safer and more comfortable train travel, reclamation of the BEST bus network, recovery of the informal sector on which depend millions, promise of affordable housing coming good, lower gender gap in education-health-jobs, more Bombay food and newer cuisines, less hunger and malnutrition, safer city for all, new popular icons with spines and tongues, large helpings of kindness for fellow Mumbaiites and some typical Bombaiyya humour.
When local trains hoot in unison at the stroke of midnight next January 1 at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, we should hopefully be saying that 2020 was a good year for we, the people, reclaimed our diverse composite India.