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Kher's March for India: the intolerance debate is now 'us vs them'

Soumya Shankar | Updated on: 8 November 2015, 8:48 IST
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The protest

  • Actor Anupam Kher led a \'March for India\' against the intellectuals\' protest on intolerance
  • It featured Kashmiri Pandits, RSS affiliates as well as clusters of common people at India Gate

The collision

  • While intellectuals insist intolerance is rising, people at the march felt it\'s all a Congress conspiracy
  • Kashmiri Pandits asked \"where were these intellectuals when we were driven out of our homeland?\"

More in the story

  • How it\'s turned into a masses vs classes, \'us vs them\' debate
  • Why both sides view the media as the enemy

Last week, there was 'Pratirodh', an event featuring more than 350 historians, intellectuals, scientists and artists. The purpose of the event was to condemn the 'rising violence and intolerance' in the country.

Then, on Saturday, 7 November, there came the 'March for India', led by actor Anupam Kher and a sizeable portion of Delhi's Kashmiri Pandit community, which launched an all out anti-anti-intolerance cry.

Also read - There can be no peace without freedom, and no freedom without peace

And while the 'intellectuals' chose the seclusion of the Mavalankar Hall at the Constitution Club of India, Kher's crusaders used the more 'proletarian' setting of India Gate to launch their counter-attack.

Smells like Sangh spirit

march for india 1

Photo: Soumya Shankar

It all started in spurts of uncoordinated events, when the 'progressive rationalist' intellectuals started returning their national recognitions and awards to the government. It was their way of protesting against the rising intolerance and the murder of three rationalist writers, by those whom everyone loves to call 'fringe elements'.

Now, with this march against the intolerance and aggression that the 'Congressi', 'sickular', 'Commie-Naxal' intellectuals have unleashed on the 'tolerant' BJP government, Kher has created a concoction of causes that the masses can rally behind.

Protesters included youth wings of BJP-RSS affiliates & the Muslim Jagran Manch, Islamic wing of RSS

Among those protesting were the youth wings of BJP-RSS affiliated organisations, the Muslim Jagran Manch (the Islamic wing of the RSS), and national and local BJP workers. Then there were those who were simply on the lookout for selfies with Kher and filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar.

Apart from them, there were clusters of MBA students, lawyers, government officials with their families, and retired Army personnel who were there to 'see' what was happening.

The Pandit clarion call

march for india 2

Photo: Soumya Shankar

The biggest clarion call came from the Kashmiri Pandit group, who raised the argument, "Where were these intellectuals when Kashmiris were thrown out of their homeland en masse?"

The Pandits' call was one-dimensional: "everything that the intellectual class is doing now to protest against Modi, it should have done to rally behind Kashmiri Pandits."

Of course, there was no space to argue that some of the 'pratirodh' intellectuals had flagged intolerance of all kinds even under previous governments, regardless of their political affiliations. There was no space for dialogue at all.

The grounds of the Rajpath were replete with street plays, rousing anti-liberal speeches, shankhnaad and the resonating slogans of Vande Mataram and Bharat Mata Ki Jai.

According to most attendees connected to the BJP-RSS, some of whom were calling themselves 'social workers', there is a war at hand and the enemy is two-fold: the Congress-backed media, which is selective and opposed to poor masses, and the Congress-backed intellectuals who, in reality, are Naxal/anti-national elements.

These are the ones whom the Congress kept busy all these years by giving them important positions in organisations related to art, culture and academics.

The favourite punching bag

What was common at both protests was the hatred and mistrust of the media.

At 'pratirodh', some of the speakers left no stone unturned in branding the media "uneducated, arrogant, foolish and comic". One speaker even advised mediapersons to "read books" and "get a real education".

At the 'March for India', the belief was that all media, especially the English-language media, is owned by Congressis and functions for the sole purpose of propagating Muslim appeasement and anti-national activities.

"Ye bhi koi baat hai?"

march for india 3

Photo: Soumya Shankar

While roaming the lawns at the march, one participated in some conversations, and eavesdropped on many other speeches, comments and monologues. Here are a few noteworthy ones:

- "FTII students must be sent to jail. They are terrorists who think they can hold the government to ransom. Who has given students the authority to decide their administration and staff? When we ere young, we couldn't imagine this. Ye bhi koi baat hai?"

- "The mediawallahs are all relatives and kin of Congressis. Karan Thapar and Barkha Dutt are all Congressis; what can we expect from them? Yeh unhi ka khaate hain. Sab par upar se pressure hai (That's the hand that feeds them. The Congress puts pressure on all of them)." - a group of MBA students from a well-known university.

Kashmiri Pandits asked, "Where were they when Kashmiris were thrown out of their homeland?"

- "Look, they kept stalling Parliament when real work could have been done. What are these people if not anti-national?" - an ABVP leader, who received rapturous applause from the audience.

- "I never knew I was right-wing, until these 'secular' people started their reactionary politics." - a senior journalist unwilling to be named.

- "In Bengal, Durga visarjan was delayed for two days after Vijayadashami because of Muharram. Imagine the audacity of the state government, undermining the religious sentiments of the majority to appease the minority religion. We had to keep our idols at home. If the state cannot provide security for us, then it's an inefficient state and must be brought down." - a senior member of the BJP's state wing, not willing to be identified, but insisting that Hindus are most tolerant, and that non-BJP goverments insist on appeasing minorities for political gain.

- "The discourse was hitherto ruled by a selective, privileged elite, pampered and petted by the Congress. This must change. What we're seeing is much bigger under the surface, and will metamorphose into a massive force in the coming days." - the dean of a central university.

Us versus them

It's not clear which way the scales are tilting. But what is clear is that Indian society is facing a massive polarisation.

The burgeoning middle-class is making demands based on the change-development-majoritarianism model. This is colliding massively with the old power structure.

The middle-class's point is simple: outrage cannot be selective. All the institutions that were the preserve of a certain class and ideological position must be taken back and handed over to the middle-class itself.

The 'progressive, rational' intellectuals need to heed the war cry of this ever-growing section of people. Dismissing it with characteristic impunity will not work any more.

The outcome of this collision will define who'll be the new 'fringe' of Indian society. For now, it is clear that for both sections, it's nothing but an 'us versus them' battle.

Also read - Why I am returning my National Awards: docu filmmaker Tapan Bose

PM's Mann ki Baat not enough. India needs action on intolerance

Welcome heat: After writers, 400 artists speak out against intolerance

First published: 8 November 2015, 8:48 IST
 
Soumya Shankar @shankarmya

A correspondent with Catch, Soumya covers politics, social issues, education, art, culture and cinema. A lamenter and celebrator of the human condition, she hopes to live long enough to witness the next big leap in human evolution or the ultimate alien takeover of the world.

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