Mainstream, Vol XLIX, No 9, February 19, 2011
Monday 21 February 2011, by
The world has been charmed by the exercise and display of people’s power in Egypt. It all started in Tunisia over a common man setting himself aflame because of the callousness of authorities setting off huge demonstrations ending with the resignation of the President. But it reached its apogee in Egypt by what the Egyptians fondly called the march of a million in the Tahrir Square from day to day, unafraid and undeterred by the presence of the Egyptian Army, whose mind none could foretell, but who were won over by the tact and wisdom of the Egyptians by coopting them to their side by show of complete solidarity with them. There could also have been a shared frustration of the Army brass with Hosni Mubarak’s government which was cleverly read. The revolution seems to be reaching its conclusion, all the way, by Mubarak demitting office followed by a transition phase overseen by a Military Council and the Vice-President followed by a fair election. A glorious victory has been won by a glorious people with glorious self-restraint, without a whisper of violence.
The gains of democracy often get covered by the dust of time and the grime of greed and craftiness of the elected governments and their ability to manipulate votes, business and external relations which makes up for lost shine. In democracies in which nothing changes but governments and their rhetoric, without a change of policy, governance only takes care of powerful sectional interest disguised as national interest. It is the revolutionary potential of democracy which is only manifest once in a long while, as in Egypt now, that shows up democracy’s true power and turns it into the sentinel of the people all around the world. There is no derailed democracy in the world that has not felt the tremor of Egypt and no dictatorship that has not scurried to appease the people by coopting their cause.
Thank you, Egypt, for leading the world as you have done before by your steely courage and doing it all so peacefully. There are clearly shades of Gandhi in your non-violent resistance to an unjust authority, even though your own. One of your courageous Presidents, Sadat, had acknowledged his inspiration from Gandhi in reaching a peace accord with Israel. One of your Presidents, Nasser, and Nehru were like blood brothers in the non-aligned movement. Our secularism is very much like your own.
But we hadn’t had a revolution against any of our own governments for a long time. The last time it happened was in Bihar in 1974, called the JP movement with the lofty objective of Total Revolution. Its impact spread to the country and decimated the formidable Mrs Indira Gandhi and ended her rule for the time. While Mrs Gandhi was in power she dubbed the uprising as a fascist movement out to pull down elected governments before their time. She also declared an Emergency, suspended the Constitution and put the Opposition leaders behind bars. But the people answered her back by removing her from power dramatically in 1977 once elections were held without lifting the Emergency.
Since then every now and then in some part of the country or the whole of it where there has been misrule after misrule, there has not been an uprising except in Kashmir where it got mixed up with Pakistan inspired terrorism. Yet the uprising in Kashmir from time to time has taught the government to be more responsible and the Indian Army to be more restrained. At other places, in the North-East, it has taken the form of militancy and secessionism which is now winding to an end after decades of turmoil by wisely coopting the leaders.
The importance of people’s movements when the government starts going astray is a basic democratic right of the people. Protest cannot wait till the next election in which a particular misdemeanour could be lost in the totality of election issues. The people are entitled to a quick remedy. That can only be had by an Egyptian or a Bihar-type movement. Let there be no misake. The people cannot be circumvented by the Constitution which has been made by their own sanction. People are sovereign and can override their own devices that have become anti-people.
The author is the Convener, Lok Paksh, Patna/ Delhi.