Much like the 2011 anti-corruption crusade, anti-CAA stir is a manifestation of widespread public discontent against the ruling party and its policies
The nationwide protest against the citizenship law, spearheaded by students and youth, has its own irony. BJP has been the beneficiary of such an agitation between 2011 and 2013, which helped the party to be swept to power in 2014. Today, the party and its government are at the receiving end.
Anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare's agitation that began in 2011 was a watershed event in contemporary history as it provided a channel for people's frustration to find expression. The response to Anna's call had gone much beyond his own expectations and the single event snowballed into a national movement against corruption, nepotism and government apathy towards people's grievances. It was as though all the pent-up frustrations were waiting for a vent and Anna's agitation provided an ideal opportunity.
Almost a decade later, students and youth of the country are pouring out on the streets spontaneously for a fight against what they believe to be draconian laws that cut at the roots of the concepts of Indian secularism.
They are braving heavy layers of barricades, closing down of public transport, brutal use of force, water cannons and baton-charges, apart from all conceivable repressive measures. They defy the clamping down of prohibitory orders so that they may express their disenchantment with the new citizenship laws that they fear will end with the minority Muslim community being discriminated against.
In both instances, the political class had little role to play in the spontaneous show of disapproval. But in both, the ire was directed against the government of the day, which seemed to be oblivious of the public mood.
For instance, in the anti-corruption movement, the political parties, irrespective of their hues, hesitated to take a position as they were all part of the prevailing order, which was steeped in corruption and almost everything that was undesirable. BJP at the point did not resist public sympathy flowing towards it because it was nearly in the wilderness in terms of power politics at that time.
Similarly, the current agitation is also marked by a lack of political leadership. It was triggered by the Jamia Millia protest and the violence that followed but spread to campuses and streets across the country. Political parties joined only when the realised the depth and spread of the agitation and it served their purpose of grandstanding against the BJP government, which they wanted to fight anyway.
It would seem that the general discontent was waiting for an opportunity to find expression, just as it happened during Anna Hazare's agitation. Well, Anna was a leader in his own right but the success of his massive show could be attributed to the rallying point that the Gandhian provided for the pent up feeling of frustration among the people than the appeal of his leadership.
The current economic situation has placed people in a similar predicament. The NDA's priorities are on a tangent that is meant to drive the saffron agenda but without any bearing on the life of common people. National security and patriotism are no doubt emotional issues but when life becomes miserable to lead, there are other more important things. And the BJP government has been a complete failure on this front.
There is so much discontent among people that it has to find expression. Probably, the antiCAA agitation provided just that. No wonder, people have been spontaneously coming out on the street to join the protest. This is the message that the BJP leadership has failed to read as it continues to take high moral ground.
The government is in a state of denial, while the economy continues to decline. Unemployment is at a 45-year high, consumer spending at its lowest in four decades and practically all economic sectors are suffering losses due to lack of demand. Thousands are losing their jobs as factories down their shutters and people have little money to spend. The economic slowdown has begun to bite hard. Fancy stimulus packages have had little effect on the ground situation.
The increasing appeal of the anti-CAA agitation is, in fact, a manifestation of people's frustration with the government. Defence of secularism is, of course, an important objective. But that is only one part of the problem. There are multiple layers to the agitation and the BJP government can ignore these at its own peril.
Views expressed are strictly personal