Raouf Rasool

Exploring better ways of political expression

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In the midst of the gassing and violence by the Chicago Police and National Guard during the 1968 Democratic Convention, many students, having found themselves at the receiving end of the police violence, went to meet one of the great organizational gurus of the time. After exchanging pleasantries, obviously the discussion that ensued centered around what had just transpired – the way the students and activists were tear-gassed and ruthlessly beaten by the police. As happens in such situations, the victims were obviously very sullen and all fire and brimstone against the police and their political masters. They began by hurling choicest abuses and invectives at their tormentors and went on to vow revenge – come what may.

To this, the political organizer, who was a great votary of non-violence and believed in pure organization and carefully and imaginatively worked-out tactics for reaching the desired political goals, retorted saying that there were other ways, and indeed better ones, which could be adopted against the adversary. All through this discussion he kept stressing that in order to hit the adversary under the belt, one does not necessarily have to go out of the system or break any law. For, if anyone does, in that case one could attract the blame of being an outlaw and hence punitive legal reprisals. But the students, who thought they had already had enough, seemed in great hurry to level the scores. They wanted revenge and were ready to go to any extent for it. Moreover, perhaps because of their age, they wanted quick results – they wanted to go right into the climax without waiting for the plot and drama to unfold first – they wanted the final show-down between the ‘Good’ and the ‘Evil’ as quickly as possible.

Since all this went against the basic philosophy of political realism, the organizer took the students on a historical journey and narrated to them various movements and revolutions and how those who had chosen to work within the system stood benefited. He even quoted Sam Adams and Dostoevsky and so many others who have spoken and written about the benefits of challenging the “rotten system” from within rather that challenging it by going outside it.

But the students, not convinced about the efficacy of these tactics, kept asking what were, at times, even very insulting questions. “Mr. Organizer,” asked the student’s leader, “Do you still believe we should try to work inside our system?”

“Mr. Organizer,” another student leader said, “We fought in primary after primary and the people voted no on Vietnam. Look at that convention. They are not paying any attention to the vote. Look at your police and the army. You still want us to work in the system?”

Having had seen the police and army with drawn bayonets advancing on young boys and girls, the reply Organizer gave to young students, continues to remain, even to this day one of the great lessons for all those who are active in the field of political action – more so for those who are in the leadership roles. To this disenfranchised and disillusioned lot (students or political have-nots), the organizer said: “Do one of three things. One, go find a wailing-wall and feel sorry for yourselves. Two, go psycho and start bombing – but this will only swing people to the right. Three, learn a lesson. Go home, organize, build power and at the next convention, you would be delegates.”

Now, those who still believe that the ‘hartals’ or shutdowns are the “only weapon” with the political have-nots in Kashmir, must understand that it is basically their inability to think of better tactics which makes them rely so heavily on this self-inflicting behaviour. We need to understand that one’s concern with the efficiency of ‘hartals’ as a political weapon, and knack and urge of calling shutdowns, varies inversely with one’s distance from their impact. Please don’t ask what it means, for we have enough hindsight to conclude that ‘this kind of politics has long lost it appeal and relevance here.

Instead of shying away from engaging with political issues in informed and mature way, it is better that those in leadership roles organize and try and build political power. Next time they have an issue at hand, they must have better ways of steering and showing popular opinion than creating conditions wherein a young protagonist with a stone in hand is accorded sanctity to break anyone’s car for ‘defying’ hartal – notwithstanding that the victim is traveling somewhere to attend an emergency, like a relative’s sudden illness or death!

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