Why the act of citizenship is political and creative

Shiv Visvanathan
Shiv VisvanathanFeb 19, 2020 | 11:30

Why the act of citizenship is political and creative

Democracy as protest creates ambush and lethal surprises which warns regimes that democracy never lets politics to be taken for granted.

The stegosaurus, now extinct, is a fascinating creative. It was said to have two brains. It was said that it took time to coordinate action between the two centres. The BJP, which was seen as an inevitable juggernaut, has become more of a stegosaurus slow to coordinate between party and RSS cadres. It is reading India in a confused and baffled way. This is clear in the manner it has read three recent phenomena, which can be read as local events.


Three events

Yet, all three evoked responses nationally and internationally. The three events were the student protest at Jamia, the events at Shaheen Bagh and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal's victory in the electoral battle of Delhi. In each case, the BJP misread the event and made observers wonder whether it has lost its mix of drama and decision making, which has made it an enviable force over the last few years. The crudity of its response hides a certain panic, a certain hysteria of thought in the party. Each event that we are going to discuss was local, concrete and could have been described as a frog in the pond occurrence and dismissed.

If Jamia evoked sympathy through its eloquence of silence and dignity, Shaheen Bagh was even more evocative of the poetics of democracy. (Photo: Reuters)

But something undefinable changed the quality of the event and created a new sense of symbolic significance. The local suddenly evoked a sense of the cosmopolitan and acquired a symbolic power to upset the regime.

Consider the first event, the student protest at Jamia Millia Islamia. One must admit that the battle of JNU was more sensational, but it could be scripted in traditional and stereotypical terms as a usual feud between the Right and the Left. But Jamia as a nonviolent student protest went beyond the language of marginality and minoritarianism and invoked a cosmopolitanism inclusiveness of citizenship which was impressive. It demanded a sociology of generations with a new generation of students stating that they were going beyond the dualism of the ideological divide and insisting on being nonviolent.


The alleged police brutality added to the drama of the event and made Jamia enter history's centre stage. The message conveyed and the manner of communication had a dignity, a sense of solidarity which showed that citizenship was now a ritual of concern and activism. Jamia became a microcosm of new sense that citizenship is a lived world, which goes beyond the rudiments of certification. Jamia reminded the powers that be that citizenship was more complex and demanding than a skin-deep patriotism.

If Jamia evoked sympathy through its eloquence of silence and dignity, Shaheen Bagh was even more evocative of the poetics of democracy. It showed that protest is not mere dissent, it is an inventive act of breaking stereotypes, the grid of predictability that the regime imposed.

Jamia, Shaheen Bagh

In a basic sense, it was a protest by marginal, vulnerable, generally orthodox, Muslim women making a statement that vulnerability and marginality can make you cosmopolitan. It makes minorities go beyond minoritarainism, stating that Assam was a part of India. The sheer simplicity and tenacity of the protest, the persistence of the message broke through majoritarian stereotypes. Vulnerable marginal Muslim women affirmed the Constitution as a sacrament, and emphasised the regime was conflating which is electoralism and majoritarianism.


Electoralism follows the logic of numbers. Numbers define the grammar of rules, but this vision of democracy is normative, rule-bound, plural, celebrating the all-inclusive nature of the Constitution and the plurality of democracy challenging BJP's vision of a society in uniform. It created a new folklore around Satyagraha, which delegitimised a regime that mechanically echoed law and order, using threat and brutality as tools of governance. Shaheen Bagh removed attention from the Budget to become the most discussed drama in India. Civil society had trumped the state in a quietly effective way.

The Delhi elections completed the sweep of the civil society imagination. Like Shaheen Bagh and Jamia, AAP became a David versus Goliath narrative, where Goliath's very gargantuanism made it inept in understanding the creative nuances of locality.

Different poll politics

The AAP programme emphasised the everydayness of locality and the everydayness of the needs of locality. Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia emphasised the needs of education and medicine, and catered to the needs and requirements of migrants entering Delhi. Rather than seeing itself as the Capital, Delhi becomes a collection of mohallas with specific needs. The AAP language of the concrete, the very modernity of its formulations made the rhetoric, the bully boy tactics of the BJP seem ineffective. It was battle of two visions of Delhi, a rhetorical Delhi of empty policy and a Delhi as an invention tailored to local necessities.

Each of these three events work out a new relation between local and national, between emotion and certification, between spontaneous feeling and propaganda, dualisms that the BJP government had created and imposed on the people. The triangle of events demonstrated that the act of citizenship is political and creative. It challenges categories, enacts new interpretations and questions imposed categories. In the span of a few weeks, three events had exposed the clay feet of the BJP. Democracy as protest creates ambush and lethal surprises which warns regimes that democracy never lets politics to be taken for granted.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Last updated: February 19, 2020 | 11:33
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