After all, our government is just as (or maybe even more) corrupt. Our police can be just as cruel. Our people are much poorer1. All the conditions seem to be ripe for Indians to rise up and revolt. But they dont. I cant remember a single instance in my lifetime where Indians have demanded the ouster of their government. I’ve seen protests aimed at certain religions, states and castes. But I havent really seen an anti-government demonstration of the kind happening in Egypt. Why ?
Some say it’s just a matter of time; India will rise soon in a cauldron of protest against rampant corruption, inflation and unemployment. But Indians have been poor, subject to poor governance and sporadically ill treated by the police for a while. So why have they protested against every possible thing except the government directly ?
Its not as if Indians have never protested against a ruling government in the Republican era. The actually did so in great force and very successfully during the Emergency of 1975-1977. Hundreds of thousands gathered in Delhi, Bihar and other parts of India to challenge Indira Gandhi’s rule by decree. Jayprakash Narayan’s call for ‘Sampoorna Kranti’ (सम्पूर्ण क्रांती) electrified the restless youth. Indeed, it is thanks to the stiff opposition faced by Indira Gandhi in the wake of the Emergency and her consequent rejection by the Indian public that we remained democratic.
The principle of elected government ensures to a great extent that Indians do not have to rise in revolt to make themselves heard. And I feel there is another, more subtle factor at work, keeping Indians quiescent. It is the principal of incremental social revolution. The driver for this is not just democracy, but also liberty. The trigger for the Tunisian and Egyptian revolution was the sacrifice of Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self immolation was motivated by police abuse,
Mostly, it was the type of petty bureaucratic tyranny that many in the region know all too well. Police would confiscate his scales and his produce, or fine him for running a stall without a permit. …. A policewoman confronted him on the way to market. She returned to take his scales from him, but Bouazizi refused to hand them over. They swore at each other, the policewoman slapped him and, with the help of her colleagues, forced him to the ground.
There was no outlet for Bouazizi’s rage, no free media to report the abuse, no freedom for the people of Sidi Bouzid to come together and protest the injustice one of their own faced.
“Newspapers”, he said, “have made the police’s job more difficult.” I asked why. “Once”, he said, “if one policeman went to a village, the people were afraid. Now, six may go to a village and people are not afraid. Newspapers have made them know that the police are not supposed to beat them.”
Democracy and liberty ensure incremental progress that bring people the dignity they aspire for. I am confident that in most states of India, the common people have grown stronger, become more aware and confident in the last sixty years.
However, there seems to be a worrying reversal in certain states like Chattisgarh and an uneasy stagnation in other regions, particularly the North East and Kashmir, where liberty is under siege. If there is anything we can learn from the events in Egypt it is that we need more democracy and more liberty, not less.
1: Egypt’s per capita income is about twice that of India.