Monday, July 15, 2024

A WIN Without a Victory


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By Roshmi Goswami

The first call I get as the Election results rolled in and the manipulated exit polls of the Godi media kicked out was from Manipur. It was Hamid the trusted and dependable Pangal taxi driver who has been a constant support and witness to the many challenges of negotiating travels through the buffer zones of his strife torn state during my numerous travels there in the last one year. He called to share his joy with someone who he felt would be equally ecstatic about the Manipur results plus talk about the all India scenario and his aspirations. The victory for people like Hamid and millions like him across the length and breadth of the nation is indeed a very personal one for this Election like none other was truly between an individual who had elevated himself to an invincible ‘celestial’ being versus the People of India. And while large numbers of the urban educated middle class remained entrenched and slothful in the oblivion of opportunism or the comfortable corporate bubble of ‘designer thinking’ and designer lifestyles the ‘people’ – largely the working class rural janata exercised the power of their one vote to uphold the Indian constitution and draw Indian Democracy back from the brink of the precipice.
The contribution of thousands of common people mostly young men and women who came forward as community influencers, organizers, social media activists and volunteers was invaluable in this process of mobilisation. Being part of the Bharat Jodo Abhiyan (BJA) platform one came in close contact with many of these committed workers silently strategising and giving their all behind the scenes including my two comrades during the Yatra in Manipur – two young professionals from Mumbai and Hyderabad who opted to put their careers and earnings on hold and instead volunteer time for the country. Finally as BJA one witnessed closely the leadership, vision and encouragement that Yogendra Yadav provided to veteran as well as young activists across the country. Altogether an extremely humbling experience different from all other civil society engagement that one has been a part of.
In the struggle to uphold Indian democracy the challenges to the process of mobilisation for both civil society platforms as well the political Opposition were almost insurmountable. Everything was stacked against the Opposition and the people – money, muscle, the entire administrative machinery, an obsequious and totally partisan media, corporate patronage, a blatantly regime indulgent Election Commission and in many instances arrests and detentions under flimsy and trivial charges. Yet people persisted and triumphed and as the glittering jewel in the crown of Hindutva fell in Ayodhya almost retributively to a Dalit leader, the people of India gave the ruling regime a resounding message – a win without a sense of victory! As Yogendra Yadav tellingly put it -“ Mr. Modi might have managed the numbers but he lost the iqbal!”
A sense of people’s triumph was palpable at the launch of the Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra at a private ground in the Khongjom area of Thoubal district in Manipur on the January 14, 2023. In a bull-headed display of lack of graciousness and political professionalism typical of the ruling regime, permission to flag off the Yatra from the Hapta Kangjeibung grounds of Imphal was denied at the last minute by Biren Singh’s government by imposing impossible conditions. Days later much to the profound shame of Assam similar but even crasser obstructions accompanied by crude verbal assaults by the State functionaries ensued as the Yatra travelled through Assam. A slur on the reputation of Assam deeply felt by sections of us Assamese brought up with the age-old ethos of always extending impeccable hospitality towards any guest even an enemy by ensuring that the biggest seat or ‘bor pirah’ is offered to the visitor. The only saving grace was a statement that 100 plus of us – public intellectuals, academics, artists, musicians, writers, church leaders brought out was graciously received and appreciated by the visitors. Nagaland on the other hand despite being a BJP or BJP indebted state retained its individuality and traditional Naga dignity. The Nagas gracefully received and enabled Rahul Gandhi and the Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra through the state with typical Naga hospitality and distinctive tribal ethos.
In violence scarred Manipur thousands converged that afternoon at the Khongjom grounds in Thoubal seeking reassurance from a national leader – hoping for Hope and for a hopeful way out of the impasse. As the numbers swelled one could see that pushing the Yatra out of Imphal had clearly boomeranged on Biren Singh for participation in Thoubal also a strong Congress base, exceeded all expectations. As people waited for Rahul Gandhi’s delayed flight to arrive and as we listened to the diverse array of powerful speakers on stage there was something which was refreshingly uplifting. The energy generated in Thoubal was infectious and carried late into the evening to the civil society interactions with Rahul Gandhi(RG) at the Yatra’s night halt in Sekmai. I also carried with me a memorandum written in Meitei Lon from the ‘warrior women’ of Thoubal to be handed over personally to Rahul Gandhi! In the last one year I have been interacting closely with these ‘warrior women’ – calling them out on the violence committed by their community but also listening to them. Strong, powerful, wise women deeply reflective and politically astute. During one of our interactions one of them had reflectively announced – ‘To solve the complex problem of Manipur layers of analysis and a sharp mind is required plus a deep sense of responsibility. None of the present leaders of today have these qualities’! We were all surprised and impressed by the contents and tone of the memorandum which was translated and read out to RG by a respected veteran journalist of the state. Among others the women asked whether RG would be open to a discussion and engagement on the unresolved questions around the statehood of Manipur. The rest of the interaction with the select group of civil society members not aligned to any political group was also very intense and complex. Despite the fact that some of the members had serious clashes with the Congress in the past there was no angst and the discussions were carried through with a high level of political maturity, insightfulness and congeniality. The participation of three local journalists was especially useful.
The same level of openness continued the next day as the Yatra moved into Kangpokpi district.An interaction with a group of civil society members predominantly women was scheduled. In the end it was only the women who came. Four young Kuki women with whom I have had a year long close association boarded the bus in Motbung and in the short drive to Kangpokpi had the most personal, candid and substantive meeting with Rahul Gandhi.The politically sharp and articulate young women were able to talk not just about the violations but their own deep fears and insecurities and also lay out the entire gamut of accompanying issues that affected their community due to the near total concentration of power, facilities and infrastructure in the valley and the implications thereof given the divide.The interaction was understandably emotional as the women were overwhelmed that a national leader was giving them this personal and precious time.
Kangpokpi has been one of the worst affected districts reporting the maximum number of brutal violations. The women presented the facts with firmness and complete honesty but with the quiet dignity typical of this region. There were thousands of people on both sides of the highway cheering or calling out and every now and then RG would just jump off the bus throwing security concerns and restrictions to the wind and be with the people – just to hold their hands, listen to them, show basic human empathy or pay respect at the Wall of Remembrance which meant the world to families whose loved ones were now pictures on that wall. This is the empathy that the hurting and grieving people had waited for from the Prime Minister but never got. Thousands of people also waited at the Kangpokpi grounds to listen to RG at the proposed public meeting. But yet again in deference to her rulers in Delhi and without any concern for the sentiments of her own traumatised community, the will of Nemcha Kipgen the local BJP MLA prevailed and permission was denied for the public meeting.
The Manipur election results clearly tell us that on both sides of the divide people understood that there was no state left, the government had completely collapsed, and people were just left to their own devices including to defend themselves. They saw too through the divisive and mercenary agenda of the BJP, the sheer callousness and complete disregard for people. So the people across the seemingly irreconcilable divide united mentally to make a clear political choice. A political choice which definitely has significant implications for the entire NE region. Together with the dramatic and welcome changes in Nagaland, Meghalaya and Assam especially Jorhat, the process of de-saffronisation of the region has perhaps just been initiated.


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