January is the time for predictions, and you do not have to be an expert to predict that 2014 will be the year of global protests. From Brazil to Turkey, Egypt to Russia, UK to Spain, the growing middle class of the world is angry. But nowhere is the middle class angrier than it is in India. If 2013 was the year for the evolution of the New Indian, disenchanted and fed up with status quo, and willing to take the fight to the streets, then this year will be the year of the revolution, when the New Indian may end up wresting power from those who have shut us out for so long. 2014 will be the year of the voter, who may choose to use his Right Not To Vote. But for the first time, the voter in India has a clearly defined choice, to vote left, right, reformist, socialist, and even anarchist.
All of last week the state capital of New Delhi, more specifically the monumental Lutyens’ Delhi where the power-holders and law-makers of India reside, came under an “anarchist” siege. The newly elected Chief Minister of the state, Arvind Kejriwal held Delhi’s strongest lobbys and power corridors hostage as he and his Aam Aadmi Party, like its moniker, collected brethren of common men of the country and sat at a dharna demanding their rights. Protests, marches, vigils and spending nights on the roads in the bitter cold of Delhi’s winter marked this weeklong protest. The premise seemed fit for a news channel primetime debate. A party MLA Somnath Bharti was blamed for behaving unconstitutionally during a “drug raid.” Kejirwal stood in his defence and demanded more constitutional, and law and order reforms. But instead of closed-door meetings in ministerial homes at sombre tea parties, Kejriwal took his war to the streets of Delhi.
And why wouldn’t he? After all, we have become accustomed to Delhi’s monumental arch of Rajpath and Janpath roads time and again being filled with protestors and scores holding candle light vigils dating back to the protests surrounding Jessica Lall’s murder verdict in 2006. More recently social activist Anna Hazare took his campaign to charter the Lokpal Bill in 2011. Only last year, Delhi almost came to a standstill when the brutal gangrape of young girl led to a rethink of the state’s law and order following a protest that lasted for months resulting in revising of laws guarding safety of women. In retrospect, 2013’s January noise hardly seems that loud. But it carries the resounding reality of this singular belief system that for centuries has been the call of any freedom movement: “United we stand, divided we fall.” And nothing unites a nation torn by many communal, secular and state divisions than the notion that its human rights are being compromised.
You could blame Mahatama Gandhi for introducing us to the Civil Disobedience Movement or even the martyred Bhagat Singh for empowering us with unbridled anarchy. Hazare and Kejriwal are only following their respective footsteps and the latter was also widely quoted saying, “Yes, I am an anarchist.” You might argue that in any Republic, anarchy is nothing but a chink in the machinery. But what if it has already been a part of the system? A former US ambassador John Kenneth Galbraith during his posting in India nearly 50 years ago had remarked that India was a “functioning anarchy,” where the implication meant that despite India’s then new democratic government not doing much, the nation seemed to be doing somewhat well. In the 50 years since, we have had a series of economic and institutional reforms. But our core problems of poverty and overpopulation have remained the same.
The New Indian has learnt to take his anger online. We might be entitled to more gas cylinders per year or less, but the fire has never burnt so bright. According to a recent Internet penetration survey done by the Internet and Mobile Association of India, by June 2014 India will have 243 million internet users in the country, overtaking the US as the world’s second largest internet base after China. Social media is an important driver of internet use in the country. Facebook had 82 million active users in June 2013. 70 % of the rural Indian’s active internet population access the web via mobile phones.
While the top political parties and policy makers are still discovering how to use this to their benefit, most young Indians who are potential votebanks in this most crucial election year of 2014 when disillusionment from the government and awareness of corruption are at an all-time high, are already making their voices heard and shaping things. Political experts feel that this election could result in a hung Parliament, mostly due to the fact that electoral reforms have empowered us to exercise our Right Not To Vote on the ballot paper.
(The New Indian is the cover story of the first edition of Pop Splatter. Copies available at select locations including The Hive, Bandra. Do pick up your copy and tell us what you think)