A ruler needs to recognize who his opponents are. Often, the attempt to gaze at the horizon and beyond to see who it could be goes in vain because the opponents are in your line of sight.
Kanhaiya Kumar was a non-entity from Begusarai in Bihar and did not have a famous surname. His family barely made two ends meet and his mother worked as an anganwadi worker to send her son to school and then to university. All Kanhaiya Kumar wanted was a proper job after his studies but he unwittingly found himself in the eye of a storm for no fault of his. The powers of the day decided to teach the student community a lesson by punishing Kanhaiya Kumar. Instead, they had created a political opponent, which they had not bargained for. Kanhaiya Kumar had transformed from a president of a students’ union to a future law maker, and a potentially powerful and a damaging voice in the Parliament.
People such as Prashant Bhushan and Ram Jethmalani, who may have gotten too old for battle, but whose kind is never extinguished, never go out of fashion. Nature desires that there should be opposition, and the thought of silencing any opposition is foolhardy to begin with.
Saudi Arabia learnt it the hard way when it decided to silence Jamal Khashoggi who was a critic of the ruling establishment. His columns in Washington Post were widely read. Luring him into the Saudi Consulate to kill him was a bad decision. In hindsight, Jamal Khashoggi alive would have been a better bet, but the Saudi establishment forgot Newton’s third law “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
What do Prashant Bhushan, Jamal Khashoggi, Kanhaiya Kumar and Ram Jethmalani have in common – they are all critics of their respective governments. A sagacious government would do well to accept their criticism and course correct to deflect their criticism thereby taking the sting out of it. But the powers of the day seem to have advisers who are not well read and want to ignore the fall out and go about trying to crush dissent ruthlessly. This will not rid them of opposition, but rather, an equal and opposite action as stated by Newton is very much at work and no matter what it will continue to exist.
The name Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi is well known in Tunisia. Bouazizi was a street vendor, and was often harassed by police for bribes, but he soldiered on as he had a family to feed. In January 2011, matters became serious when the police confiscated his things and beat him up. In frustration, he immolated himself and died. Bouazizi’s immolation was the catalyst to the simmering anger against the ruling establishment. The anger burst out in the open and the police and the army could do nothing to prevent people’s anger; the President of Tunisia Zine-El Abidine Ben Ali had to flee the country. This event sparked a revolution in the Arab world known as the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ against autocratic regimes. The powers of the day would do well for themselves and for others if they pay heed to the cries of the people and take a step in the right direction and eschew all actions that impact negatively on the population.
Often, dissent starts small. It is better to pay heed to popular voice rather than try and discredit it. Kejriwal and his people wanted Lokpal Bill, a sort of ombudsman bill. After many rounds of negotiations with the Centre, it became clear that it would never come through. At one such discussion with stalemate approaching, in answer to a question one of the ministers had remarked “If you want a Lokpal Bill that desperately, then form a political party, fight elections, win, then legislate and get the Lokpal Bill passed in the Parliament.” It was a very tall order and Kejriwal took up the challenge and formed his political party, fought elections and won it.
The minister and his party who threw the challenge stands discredited, and they lost the elections. Kejriwal, in his own words, had stated that if the government had accepted their request for Lokpal Bill, they would not be running the government today.
Bouazizi and Kejriwal have one thing in common – they were a minority, nobody knew them. One is dead and the other is alive, but both continue to speak, and their voices cannot be silenced.