Updated on: Tuesday, December 24, 2019, 09:46 AM IST

Modi's strategic retreat on NRC reminds us of the importance of dissent

While politicians have always been economical with the truth, none have so gravely pursued terminological inexactitude as Modi, with his utterances at Ramlila Maidan on Sunday
Anti-CAA protest in Mumbai's August Kranti Maidan on December 19 | Photo: BL Soni

Anti-CAA protest in Mumbai's August Kranti Maidan on December 19 | Photo: BL Soni


Long after the Mahabharat ended, Arjun asked Krishna for a refresher course of the exquisite PowerPoint presentation Krishna had given, which normies called the Bhagavat Gita.

Arjun’s impudent request angered Lord K, who commented that such pearls of wisdom were wasted on a dolt. Arjun, however, persisted; as a result, Krishna concluded he was under the influence of Shiva’s ‘prasad’ and told him other tales instead, about Kashyap, about Parasuram, about a Brahmin couple, this and that… This came to be known as the AnuGita. The lesson we learn from this is: what you say at the time of war, you forget in times of peace.

Our politicians faithfully follow this lesson from our holy books -- all those promises confidently declared at the time of the vote-war are promptly forgotten once the vote-war is over.

In the last six years, this has been demonstrated to a tee by the powers-that-be:

‘Acche Din’ will come for all.

Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas.

Black money will be brought back.

GST will be a good and simple tax.

The government cares about economic growth.

Life in Kashmir is ‘normal’.

Demonetisation would wipe out terrorism and Naxalism.

Humour is necessary in political life.

The government believes in dissent.

While politicians have always been economical with the truth, none have so gravely pursued terminological inexactitude as Modi, with his utterances at Ramlila Maidan on Sunday.

Over the last year, Amit Shah has been telling anyone who’s willing to listen that the NRC is coming, and that it would get rid of all the immigrants in the country. He has said it in Parliament and election rallies, used it as a political slogan to target opponents and as a dog whistle to tell Hindus to vote. He also sold it as a part of CAA to assure immigrants such as the Matuas that they’d get citizenship.

Even President Kovind has batted for the NRC, and yet, standing at Ramlila Maidan, PM Modi said no discussions had occurred. He claimed there were no detention centres despite there being media reports to the contrary. He claimed a host of things that directly contradicted statements made by his party chief, this nation’s President, several Union Members and even himself.


Modi’s sharp retreat, one rarely observed during the reign of this brazen government, is a reminder to us of several things. A former CJI observed that dissent was the safety valve of democracy, and the current regime was clearly flabbergasted by the intensity of protests that hit the streets across the country. It was no longer just a Muslim-only protest, and a regime famous for controlling the narrative appeared to realise it was losing it.

That it no longer had control was witnessed in the ham-handed approach the regime attempted to counter the CAA-NRC protests.

It was an unsigned source-based FAQ to the government’s favourite news agency that they thought would help them retake the reigns of the narrative. It appeared in a PIB blog, before being tweeted by the official PIB handle.


It also became clear to the BJP that this wasn’t merely a political protest by the Opposition. While some politicians have been in the thick of it — mostly Mamata Banerjee giving memetic relief — the protests have largely involved civil members of society.

These non-political figures, albeit uninformed, have managed to channel their fury into a movement that appears to have made the BJP rethink its plot.

The presence of so many film stars and sportsmen is also interesting, given that the celebrities in this country love to toe the official line.

While some such as Saina Nehwal have had their ‘thoughts provoked’, many, largely apolitical, sportsmen and film stars have jumped on the bandwagon.

The presence of stars is an important marker here, as celebs are wont to do what will benefit their brand. That so many of them believe protesting against CAA-NRC will benefit their brand should alone make the BJP think its stance.

So, even if they’re brazenly cop-out statements, such as those made by Hrithik Roshan and Varun Dhawan, they’re a reminder that no individual can completely remain silent in times such as these. They’re a reminder for politicians that contradictory speeches are much harder to pull off now.


The ever-present nature of the social media means whatever Modi has ever said in the past will be held against him. Gone are the days when the BJP was the sole political party using the social media. People are far more involved now, and CAA-NRC could snowball into a larger movement against the Modi government.

Most importantly, Modi’s utterances at Ramlila Maidan are a reminder for all of us not to take what politicians say at face value. Politics is about writing cheques one can’t cash, but Modi’s direct contradiction is a reminder of the power of protest. And protests, although clueless or directionless at times, have forced a sort of course correction, reminding us that no regime is infallible. There are only so many lies people will believe.

Maybe an NRC will be enforced, but at the moment, the government is trying hard to tell us there’s no ongoing discussion about it. There’s no doubt that any NRC process will burn a huge hole in the taxpayer’s pocket, particularly at a time when GDP growth rate is down to 4.5%—some claim it could be between 1 and 2.5%—not to mention the huge human cost involved. Those protesting CAA-NRC across the country should take heart because it made one of the most recalcitrant regimes of our times rethink its steps.

The next time someone asks, ‘What’s the point of protesting?’ remind them that protests can make even the strongest of regimes stop in their tracks.

Nirmalya Dutta is the Web Editor of The Free Press Journal.

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Published on: Monday, December 23, 2019, 05:50 PM IST