Congratulations to the Prime Minister of India for coining new phrases that go on to become part of public life and TV debates. In 2019 he gave an interview to a newspaper where he spoke of the “Khan market gang” a phrase used to mock his elite English-speaking adversaries. It was a profiling similar to that once done to the “elites with many causes” who inhabit Britain’s Labour party. A way of putting them down was to refer to them as the “champagne socialists”.
Khan market itself is a fabulously located market in central Delhi. It attracts diplomats, posh young people, and politicians and is a meeting ground dotted with little cafes in the heart of the city. Like other shopping destinations in the country, the eateries and shops of Khan market are also facing hard times.
Now in the midst of the farm agitation that’s obviously rattled the regime in Delhi, the PM has spoken about a category of people he calls Andolan-jivis, the best translation of which could be parasites who live off protests. Naturally, the farm unions have objected to what they see as an insult.
But the PM has come up with another phrase that will now become part of popular lingo, the andolan-jivis. It is entirely possible he has certain individual activists in mind and a figure such as Yogendra Yadav would not deny being part of many movements: he was part of AAP that sprung from the Anna movement, he supported the anti CAA protests that came to be known as Shaheen Bagh protests and is now a prominent telegenic face of the farmers protest with which his Swaraj Abhiyan is involved.
The phrase andolan-jivi will be popular with certain TV anchors that berate all protesters as anti-nationals so in that sense the PM has added to their phraseology.
The problem is that prime ministerial words should ideally not be seen as jibes and mockery. For the truth is that without mass protest there would be no independence in the manner in which we got it in 1947 and there may not have been a BJP; after all, the party came to national prominence with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement when L.K. Advani travelled across the country on his Ram rath yatra in 1990. Mass agitational politics birthed the BJP.
Subsequently, Advani went on five other yatras. The Janadesh Yatra, Swarna Jayanti rath Yatra, Bharat Uday Yatra, Bharat Suraksha Yatra, Bharat Chetna Yatra. So was Advani, the promoter and backer of the young Narendra Modi, an andolan-jivi?
Many big andolans or agitations have created change and thrown up new leadership. The Anna movement of 2011 for instance rattled the Congress-led UPA regime at Delhi and eventually led to the birth of the AAP, currently in power in the city-state. But at the national level, the movement that shook the Congress edifice actually benefitted Narendra Modi and enabled his move from Gujarat to Delhi in 2014.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, part of the NDA alliance, is a product of the JP movement of 1974 that so rattled Indira Gandhi that she imposed the Emergency in 1975. The methods used by that movement were strikes, fasts, chakka jams, large protests, exactly what the protesting farmers are doing today.
But what a long way Nitish Kumar has travelled: For today his regime in Bihar has threatened that regular protestors (now called andolan jivis) will not be entitled to government jobs or grants and may not even get passports if the police verification of social media posts reveals them to be agitators.
And let’s be clear that the state of Tamil Nadu would not have its distinct politics were it not for the Dravida movement with its own unique history. In each part of India north to south, west to east, we will find the history of protest, mass mobilization, and citizens stir. That is why we are a democracy.
India was liberated by non-violent protest and the greatest andolan jivi of all was certainly Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. We know that one BJP MP and some members are fans of his assassin but Gandhi is the man who invented a form of protest that inspired the world. We are a nation that used non-violent resistance against a big colonial power so the PM has given us a popular phrase but also an occasion to remember the role of protest in contemporary Indian history.