There is more to the anti-CAA protests than meets the eyes. Ordinary Indians in dozens of cities did not come out on to the streets in their thousands merely because they disagreed with the Citizenship Law or the National Register of Citizens.
The protesters in fact were giving vent to their pent-up feelings of growing disgust at the policies of the Modi government since 2014. The feelings were bottled up for far too long and have now erupted. The divisive citizenship policy is something in the nature of the last straw that breaks the camel’s back.
An eye-opening example of this is something that took place almost a year ago, in January this year. A group of students of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) then sent a New Year gift to the Prime Minister – the parcel contained a tarpaulin. The attached note said that since Modiji claimed to be a devotee of Lord Rama, he should henceforth live in a tent – just as the idol of Ram Lalla was living in a tent in Ayodhya.
The emotions behind sending the tarpaulin to the Prime Minister were evidently complex. At one level it was severe sarcasm, at another level it was sheer frustration and at yet another level it was an act of defiance. What is clear, however, is that even at that time, much before the current mini-revolution of student protests over CAA-NRC, there was a strong sentiment of distrust among not just college-going youth but a sizable section of society at large.
Such was the pro-government propaganda – heightened by a pliant media – that most common citizens remained silent. Even during demonetisation there was deep resentment but no major outward expression of rebellion. Nobody had the courage that the BHU students who sent the tarpaulin displayed.
Indeed, one of the most striking features of the current agitation – and there are several other very striking aspects – is the spontaneous manner in which students of BHU expressed their solidarity with the students of Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia. It was an eloquent signal that young people today are not religious fanatics and are secular to the core.
This fact is all the more significant because BHU is situated in Varanasi, the adopted Lok Sabha constituency of Narendra Modi. It cannot be without a deeper meaning that despite Modi’s strenuous efforts to endear himself to the people of the holy city, the students of the most prestigious and historic educational institution in his constituency were not impressed. One of the jokes doing the rounds in the campus is that Modiji is a ‘migrant infiltrator’ in Banaras and he should have stuck to his home state of Gujarat.
It is not as if Modi has not made extraordinary efforts to woo the voters and citizenry of Varanasi. Apart from taking out massive roadshows through the city, he has made it a point to make the University gates a focal point of the live television coverage.
In April this year, Modi in fact started his seven-kilometre election roadshow by first garlanding the statue of Banaras Hindu University founder Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. Sporting an orange kurta, the Prime Minister sought to win the hearts of the mammoth crowds. Incidentally, two months earlier he had addressed the BHU convocation. As it now turns out, not everyone was bewitched.
The ongoing demonstrations across the country against the CAA-NRC have indeed exploded at least one myth – that 125 crore ‘ Bharatvasis’ are staunch supporters of Modi and his policies. In his numerous public speeches, he has seldom failed to make the claim that he has the wholehearted endorsement of the entire population, barring anti-national Opposition party leaders and a small handful of foreign-funded urban Naxalites acting at the behest of Pakistan.
This is clearly not true. BJP attracted just about a third of the votes cast in the 2019 elections, which means that 65 percent of the electorate voted for others. To claim that he enjoys the unstinted backing of all 125 crore (or, as the latest population clock shows 137 crore) Indians, is in any case preposterous.
But the point is that after the student uprising and the pan-India citizens protests, he will no longer be able to make the same claim in future speeches. That by itself is a big blow to his image and his ego – which probably why the police in multiple towns and cities were ordered to use the big stick as viciously as they could to teach the dissenters a lesson.
The big problem for the Modi-Shah regime will be if it turns out that the total number of dissenters is 65 per cent of the population or even more.