This is a time when all of us are seeing visuals of the riots in Minnesota. The riot videos were shocking. Some rioters were assaulting women and differently abled people. Some ended up harming themselves. The cause of this unrest was an act of police brutality which led to the unfortunate death of George Floyd. This deserves the highest condemnation and punishment according to the law of that land. Any racist act or police excess must be condemned and dealt with, accordingly. I’m sure there are laws for this at the appropriate level in USA. To those who know, the intention of the rioters is to bring down Trump and blame whites for rioting.
India had similar riots in Delhi, earlier this year. Mobs wreaked violence in the streets and destroyed the lives of many. North East Delhi was the worst affected. Shaheen Bagh had been the epicenter of a gathering where women and children were propped up to carry out the ‘struggle’. An Amendment which had nothing to do with Indian citizens was deliberately misinterpreted to create fear. There were reports of a baby dying of exposure to cold at Shaheen Bagh, to evoke anger. In this case, Kapil Mishra and Anurag Thakur were made ‘culprits’ to justify the riots under the guise of fighting ‘against’ Modi’s ‘dictatorship’. This was despite severe provocation from ‘the other side’, some who were threatening the territorial integrity of India and provoking communal clashes.
Using women, students, farmers, poor people or children is a cunning tact in such coups. It’s easy to downplay any provocation from their side. On the other hand, the government and its forces will be in a catch 22 situation, weighing pros and cons of dispersing such an uprising. The violent act of the protesters either gets suppressed or blamed on their opponents. Once the provocations exceed the limit, the government acts to disperse the mob only to face its repercussions. Visuals of ‘government cracking down’ on (violent) protesters make it look more like a dictatorship, so that it gains international support.
In 2011, Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit seller immolated himself as a form of protest. He had been humiliated by the municipal officials after his wares were confiscated. This became the starting point of the Arab spring, as the Tunisian President fled the country. The months that followed saw various uprisings and revolts against his ‘dictatorship’. Many protesters aped Bouazizi’s style of protest, to regret it later. This was the situation of a President who was ‘elected’ for the fifth time. He died, in exile at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Now, do you need to oust the head of a country for an act committed by municipal officials?
This is where the power of a narrative lies. A photo or a video taken at the right time, with a catchy caption and spread widely can evoke strong emotions. It can whip up sympathy, an acute sense of justice and repercussions from almost every corner of the globe. Such an incident need not be within the political boundaries of a country. Few years back, the photo of a 3 year old’s body lying on the beach went viral. Alan Kurdi lost his life as the boat he was on, capsized in the Mediterranean sea enroute to Europe. It influenced the Canadian Federal elections, 2015 since it occurred when his family was going to Europe after they were denied asylum in Canada. Have kids stopped drowning in the Mediterranean sea after this?
These were common people who were part of groups which faced some or the other problem at a local or minor level. Were they the only ones or groups who faced problems? No. There would have been scores of such tales about injustices meted out. But, how were only such isolated incidents blown out of proportion while the others got ignored or suppressed? This is where the ‘other side’ comes into play. Let’s face the fact that there are few sections of our population ready to riot and run amok at the drop of a hat. Their reasons for such a mindset, could be anything. But, they need an acceptable ‘valid reason’ to vent it out. This is the reason we see disproportionate violence as a response to some minor problems which maybe there (or imagined) in a system.
This is also where narratives and a co-ordinated action plan from something influential comes into play. If you go to the Wikipedia page of Demonetization in 2016, there is a separate heading for ‘deaths’, something which finds no mention in the Wikipedia page of Emergency in India. One, was a decision taken with extreme caution and planning for various fiscal and economic reasons. The other, an attempt to cling on to power, while brutally crushing the opposition. The deaths apparently ’caused’ due to demonetisation got emphasised to evoke a powerful response. The deaths due to emergency got downplayed as it badly affects the reputation of India’s prime opposition party.
There are similar narratives being spun around the lockdown in India. The focus was mainly on migrant labourers who got stuck in far flung corners of the country with no option to return home. Were the migrant labourers the only ones, affected? No. Yet, they got most of the attention. Probably they wanted to drown any news of illegal immigrants stuck in India, unable to go back due to lockdown. Soon the fake news on trains being diverted and deaths started flooding the social media. The Rajasthan CM (of Congress) took potshots at the Railway Minister. When the issue of Floyd’s brutal killing came in to the picture, some shady people instigated Indians to riot by drawing false equivalences. All these events read together, show that there are multiple attempts to repeat the coup experiment in India.
The common rhetoric during any political slugfest in India is to portray the government as a ‘friend’ of crony capitalists. An evil ‘dictator’ who sells the country to them. Though there are many corporates, the ones who get attacked the most are Ambani and Adani. Such things usually came from the Communists who opposed Capitalism but, now times have changed. However has anyone seen a Communist in India attack George Soros, who’s a convict? Or isn’t he a “Capitalist”? He had recently earmarked one billion Dollars for ‘fighting would be dictators’. If you remember the story of the Tunisian president above, he had won elections 5 times. It won’t be difficult in that context to overthrow a democratically elected stable government, by branding it as a dictatorship.