CHANGE IS LIKE A CRUMPLED FACSIMILE
F or several weeks now demonstrators in Hong Kong have been occupying one of the few open spaces — Central — in densely built Hong Kong. Their demand is for genuine democracy, as promised by the government of China at the time of the takeover in 1997. Hundreds of thousands of young people are squatting on streets, wielding umbrellas as shields against tear gas or other strong-arm tactics of the police and pro-Beijing thugs. They do not have the physical power to take on an organised police force or an army that appears to be lurking behind the threats that Beijing has been issuing to well-behaved protesters. The Chinese government has been promising “unimaginable harm” to them if they do not disperse quietly, but the demonstrators — perhaps spurred by the hope of preserving their liberal space and cheered by the Western media and democracy activists — have been hanging in there.
Going by the experience of the past few years when people have occupied public squares under the diverse rubrics of the Arab Spring, the Jasmine Revolution or the Occupy Wall Street movement, these demonstrations have only created the atmospherics of change without really bringing about one. Worse, the change resembled a crumpled facsimile of the earlier failed and decrepit order that had initially brought the crowds out into public squares. Due to this, the outpouring of the young onto the streets of Cairo, Tunis, Washington, Bahrain, Istanbul, Kiev or Delhi, howsoever driven by idealism to build a new society, had to be viewed with scepticism. Just look at the long list of heartbreaks.
In Tahrir Square, Egypt, the young idealists who campaigned for multi-party democracy and a liberal plural society ended up paving the way first for the obscurantist, anti-women Muslim Brotherhood and later a General in civilian clothes. The Gezi Park face-off in Istanbul between the government and those who did not want to yield open space to corrupt builders mutated into a larger demonstration against Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, but here again it got swamped by greater assertion of the old order. In Kiev, Ukraine, the Maidan that had been occupied by protesters to join hands with the European Union spun out of control to the extent that the fascist right-wingers took over a country truncated by Russian intervention.
In India, the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare and India Against Corruption (IAC) against the corruption of the Congress had as one of its demands the appointment of an independent ombudsman, Lokpal, but only succeeded in creating an engulfing haze that allowed the BJP to come to power. The creative energy unleashed by the anti-corruption movement which manifested itself by questioning established patriarchies and drafting of new policy architecture to run this complex country quickly dissipated. Disquietingly, Occupy Wall Street and other demonstrations that were spawned in different parts of the world after the 2008 economic slowdown were overwhelmed by existing state apparatuses.
There are innumerable examples of how hope for change, which meant redefining the content and control of democracy, has been smothered by those powerful and wealthy vested interests that saw in this instability an opportunity to fatten themselves and increase their hold on the instruments of production and wealth creation. Otherwise, what is the reason that the disparities the world over have grown manifold with oligarchs everywhere becoming perversely bigger and exercising inordinate influence on policymaking. Elected governments in many countries now give precedence to attracting investments – following the credo of ‘development at any cost’. Sadly, this makes light of granting rights to the populace to actualise its potential.
These are difficult times for societies that do not take into cognisance the desire of ordinary people to earn a livelihood in societies that also give them liberal spaces to communicate and have a good life. Most countries that are still mired in the past and pay little heed to what the young people want will experience convulsions that may be interpreted in different ways. The old order may have succeeded in hijacking many of these movements in the recent past, but the change is coming ASAP through whatsapp!