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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2902

The Renaissance of Gandhian Protests

Hemantha Yapa Abeywardena writes from London…

Miles Franklin, the Australian author and feminist, once said, “Heed the spark or you may dread the fire.” At present, not only do we witness the consequences of not heeding the sparks in quite a few trouble spots across the world, but also how those who are responsible, in each individual situation, have been forced to dread the fire.

From Hong Kong to Chile, across the Middle East and in Africa, multiple protests have broken out on the planet and they have three things in common: they are spontaneous; there is no sign of the involvement of the established political parties; the young are at the forefront.

Among the many demands of the protestors of the digital age, they have one thing in common too; the need of new leadership to run their own affairs in respective countries.

These are not the kind of protests that we used to witness in the not-too-distant past, often instigated by the top tier of major trade unions or student bodies, most probably in line with the stale dictates of a fading, 18th-century doctrine.

Apart from what’s happening in Iraq, the protest marches are largely peaceful. Not only are the protestors determined, but also prepared to face the consequences, come what may.

In the absence of political dimension, the protestors transcend the existing divisions along religious, racial and tribal lines while echoing their collective frustration in unison.

The sparks that the authorities did not heed are different from country to country: in Lebanon, it was the strange tax levied on WhatsApp messages; in Chile, meanwhile, it was the increase in fares of metro trains; in Hong Kong, the introduction of extradition bill that triggered off the protest – and later the recession after a long period of time, as a consequence; in Iraq, Algeria and Sudan, the grievances of people long ignored by their respective rulers.

The most notable thing to see in these protests is the commitment of those who take part not to turn to violence in achieving their goals. In short, they are following the footsteps of the great Gandhiji, the icon who personified non-violence in order to achieve the rights of oppressed people.

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In addition, the cohesion of ideals, stemmed from a collective civic spirt, is on display everywhere; an unbelievable development, indeed.

As the leaderless protests, broken out spontaneously, then started gathering momentum, in many countries, the authorities suddenly find that well-hackneyed, boring phrases have become completely redundant in proportion to the irreversible progress made by the societies along the civic lines: conspiracies by the West – or by Israel, in the case of some Muslim nations – the need of maintaining the law and order and the need of safeguarding democracy, to name, but a few, do not resonate with people anymore; they have lost their luster.

The protest movements are making it glaringly obvious that the power of social media is the most potent weapon in their possession - in the digital age. With the advent of messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, the traditional mass media has been forced to stare into the borehole of irrelevance and as such, grabbing their headlines is the last thing in the list of priorities of the modern protesters.

We have witnessed incidents in certain protests that the participants turned their anger on media crews by demanding that the latter leave them alone as if the latter was too toxic; they didn’t hide the fact that social media was their new guardians – a worrying development as far as the survival of the conventional mass media is concerned.

Against all odds, protestors are winning too: the extradition bill in Hong Kong has been withdrawn; protestors managed to dislodge the presidents of Algeria and Sudan from power in a matter of weeks; the prime minister of Lebanon has resigned; In Chile, the government is in disarray.

It looks like the success of modern protests in Gandhian spirit can bring about the downfall of some more leaders in the coming months.

For instance, Imran Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan, has suddenly found out how vulnerable he is, as a protest march launched by a cleric is just 7 km away from the corridors of power.

Since the march is peaceful, the political tools at Mr Khan’s disposal are very limited in order to mitigate the impact on his administration.

The sparks that trigger off moderns’ protests, the determination of the participants to win and the failure of national leaders to address the burning issues in pragmatic manner are fuelling the new phenomenon, which could potentially grow into a global movement.

The way protestors in different parts of the world borrow slogans and banners just indicate the early signs of such a development. It’s a bad omen for contemporary politicians, who used to think that endless rambling could be used as a substitute for the combination of lack of action, competence, vision and results.

- Asian Tribune -

The Renaissance of Gandhian Protests
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