It is frustrating when peaceful protesters remain peaceful even in the face of a bullet. Such Gandhian restraint upsets many plans and possibilities.
The moment Rambhakt Gopal fired a pistol at them on Thursday afternoon the student marchers of Jamia Millia Islamia ought to have panicked and erupted in retaliatory anger. The hot-headed amongst them ought to have picked up roadside rubble and hurled rocks and stones at the police. The rest should have immediately run helter-skelter.
It would have provided the media with visual evidence of violence. The men in uniform, in turn, would have got the opportunity they were waiting for to retaliate - a lathi charge to start with, followed by tear-gas shells, water cannons and even a Dyer-like fusillade if need be.
The faint-hearted among the protesters should have shrieked and screamed in fear. There should have been a stampede, with everyone pushing, shoving and trampling on each other in a desperate bid to get away from the scene as fast as possible. It would have added to the chaos and confusion.
Instead, what did they do?
They kept their cool and remained peaceful. Some even started holding hands to give solace and strength to each other and formed a human chain. Others rushed to the aid of the young student with a bullet injury on his hand, helped him get over the yellow barricades and escorted him to the nearest hospital.
This is not the way it should have panned out. When someone fires a gun at you, the reflex reaction is to either run away or fight back. Not to do either of these two things is contrary to all theories of human behavior under sudden stress or unforeseen provocation.
When a gun is fired at you, when one of you actually stops a bullet, the reaction is supposed to be predictable and reflexive – fear or rage. That’s what the Pavlov Theory is all about - a sudden stimulus invariably triggers a conditioned response.
It is irritating when young people disregard such proven principles of human behavior. It is all the more annoying in the present instance because the atmosphere was so right, the air is so thick with hatred, the setting was so carefully choreographed, the time would have been so perfect.
After all, what better day could there have been for violence to erupt on the streets of Delhi than on the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination?
The police would have been deemed to be entirely justified in cracking down immediately. The entire blame could have shifted squarely to the desh-drohis and tukde-tukde gang.
Dozens of TV camera crews were present right there on the spot to click videos of the mayhem happening right in front of them. The visuals would have gone viral.
The video evidence would have been there for the world to see – especially in Brussels where Members of the European Parliament would hopefully refrain from trying to pass strongly-worded resolutions denouncing the Indian government for divisive laws and brutal suppression of human rights.
Should the police stand idly by when thousands of protesters indulge in violence (as the videos would have shown)? Should the men in uniform be sitting ducks when lethal rocks are hurled at them?
Alas, none of this happened. The Jamia students did not throw stones. They did not lose their heads. There was no stampede. It is all so anti-climatic and disappointing.
Television screens are only showing Rambhakt Gopal firing at the students, again and again and again.
They are also needlessly showing police officers standing in the background, doing nothing to accost the black-jacketed fanatic throughout the time he was moving freely, leveling a pistol at the students in classic gun-fighter stance and shouting “Yeh Lo Azadi, Jai Shri Ram” slogans.
They are irresponsibly showing clips of one or two senior officers standing with arms crossed across their chests in classic do-nothing posture. They are unfairly commenting on the gentle, arm-over-shoulders manner in which the gunman was belatedly taken into custody - after he had pulled the trigger and hit one of the students.
Apart from being terribly unpatriotic television – showing the police in bad light and depicting the students as models of Gandhian non-violence – it also puts paid to many other possibilities.
What an opportunity lost!
A convincing crackdown and few broken Jamia bones would surely have had a chilling effect on other anti-CAA-NRC protests that have become such a headache for the government.
In particular it would have punctured the confidence of the amazing ladies of Shaheen Bagh who began their sit-in 46 days ago on December 15 and have become the stuff of legends.
Alas, Gunman Gopal’s Facebook boast of “Shaheen Bagh – Game Over!” remains unfulfilled.
Another possibility that remains unrequited is that if the Jamia peace march had erupted in violence, it could have paved the way for cancelling the ongoing Assembly polls on grounds of collapse of law and order. So important to prevent yet another embarrassing election defeat in yet another state.
But, alas, the day of the Mahatma’s death anniversary passed off infuriatingly peacefully.
Now, in all probability, voting will take place on February 8 as scheduled – unless some other Rambhakt suddenly surfaces in the next few days and is able to fan the fire of violence more efficiently and with greater success than Gunman Gopal.