India’s protection against Egypt style rebellions

John Elliott

DELHI: RTXXPK4 300x180 India’s protection against Egypt style rebellionsQuestions have frequently been asked in India during the past three weeks about whether the type of uprising seen in Cairo’s Tahrir Square could happen there, with a street-level rebellion occupying a city centre and spreading across the country to such a degree that it topples (or almost topples) the national government.

Surely, it is generally said, India’s democratic systems, though flawed, make the country immune to such social and political upheavals. As a last resort, India’s non-political army could step in as a benign temper-calming longstop, as it does from time to time around the country. India, people say correctly, is not an autocracy, so surely it has enough checks and balances in its parliamentary system to stop such an event happening.

To an outsider however, India must seem ripe for an Egypt-style eruption. Its parliament is frequently closed down by political rows, its governing coalition is rudderless and steeped in corruption, and the opposition is ineffective. More than 300m people live on a dollar a day or less, and there has been frequent regional unrest over the poor losing their land to rampant speculation and industrial development. Top judges and army generals have joined politicians and other officials in building up illicit personal wealth.

The young are restless and ambitious and, though many are enjoying an upwardly mobile lifestyle that their parents could only dream about when they were young, many are underemployed or just without work, even after some form of tertiary education. Those under 35 account for about 60% of the 1.1bn population and, like Egypt’s youth, they are heavily into electronic communications and social media. Some have not just one but two cell phones – there are over 750m mobiles in use in the country. A recent survey however suggests that the youth are “highly risk averse, more politically right-wing than before, extremely socially conservative and disinclined to opt for rebellion”.

Land is most likely to trigger unrest, as has been seen in many parts of the country, notably in West Bengal’s violent eruptions that started four years ago over a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) at Nandigram and a Tata Motors factory at Singur. (Both projects were abandoned.)

The trouble starts with small farmers and landless labourers giving up land they have held for generations. They often waste the small amounts they are paid and then see developers making massive profits in later deals. Tribal people lose their village land in mineral-rich forests and mountains to companies like Vedanta, a controversial UK-based mining company, and to many more Indian operators that move in illegally with the support of local politicians and officials.

Until now however, democratic forces have calmed protests, negating chances of a mass rebellion. West Bengal has had all the seeds for a popular uprising after 30-plus years of rule by an increasingly corrupt and self-serving Communist-based Left Front state government. The Nandigram and Singur unrest was encouraged for political reasons by Mamata Banerjee, leader of the regional Trinamool Congress opposition party, and was inflamed by Maoist Naxalite rebels. Democracy is now re-asserting itself and Banerjee hopes to oust the Left in state elections due in April

Corruption is another potential issue, but millions of people enjoy the spoils down through the system to village level, so it arouses condemnation and protest marches, but not potential revolt. Anger about corruption is also defused by elections, which politicians frequently lose if they are perceived themselves to have benefited excessively.

Much is forgiven if there is development. Corrupt leaders of two parties, the DMK and AIADMK, have between them run Tamil Nadu state assembly coalitions continuously for 44 years. Operating in the style of Malaysia’s former prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, they have led strong economic, social and industrial development (including respectable SEZs). At the same time, their relations and friends have been awarded jobs and business contracts in the state and ministerial coalition posts in Delhi. This may not be ethical government, but it is a model of development that works.

The biggest threat to India comes from Maoist Naxalites, who are active in a third of the country’s districts and conduct armed terrorist attacks that security forces have not been able to quell. The rebels thrive in tribal and other under-privileged areas where there is a lack of development and where India’s often-brutal security forces and forest officers harass the poor.

There are other major social issues, as well as ethnic and religious clashes, that cause often-violent riots, for which India is famous. But the size and diversity of this voluble and argumentative country makes it very difficult to build a unified view on anything, Protests usually peter out once the demonstrators have been placated with promises, or the vested interests that encouraged and facilitated them have achieved their political, monetary or other targets.

Since independence, no event has united the country in protest. There have been local uprisings for years in the far north-east states such as Assam and Nagaland, but this has have no resonance or impact elsewhere. Even 21 years of unrest in Kashmir has been largely contained to that state.

It looks therefore as if there is no prospect of Tahrir Square being replayed in Delhi’s majestic Raj Path that leads past parliament to the presidential palace, nor even in the traditional Jantar protest area off Parliament Street.

But, if democratic forces continue to fail to serve the people of West Bengal better, might the Naxalites draw closer to Kolkata’s Victoria Park that houses the monumental Victoria Memorial? That would be a neat location in the former imperial capital for an uprising by the poor about how badly they have fared since the British left.

A longer version of this article appears on John Elliott’s Riding the Elephant blog –

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  • Dilip Barad

    It is not ture that ’since independence, no event united country in protest’ – the Nav Nirman (Re-invention) movement was a socio-political movement that occurred in 1974 in Gujarat. It started of as an argument over a 20% hike in hostel food bill in the L.D. College of Engineering, but ignited an agitation which later snowballed into a major public agitation that eventually led to the fall of the Gujarat state government and aggravated a national crisis which led Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to impose a state of emergency. (wikipedia)

  • Surinderjit Singh

    While we have seen in past many states rebellions so much so to a level of taking arms to fight for their rights, e.g. Assam, Nagaland, Punjab, Kashmir …..etc.etc…..
    Therefore its just a matter of time before things shall become obvious…..however, why past REBELLION FAILED ?

    You need to understand INDIA before Rebellions are brought into picture.
    INDIA was gifted and carved by UK in 1947, india in past centuries have never existed what exists now. Question is what is keeping wide diverse india intact, it is only holding itself due to being POLICE STATE!

    1984 GENOCIDE, 2002 MASSACRE, KASHMIR/ASSAM killings…..and so on….and so forth!
    There is absolutely no accountability by INDIA on November 1984 GENOCIDE = 0 convicted! YES ZERO CONVICTED!

    When the value of LIFE is lost and HR/CR rights are abducted/hijacked then it’s no longer DEMO-CRACY but DEMON-CRACY…….that is what is going to start fission reaction.

    You can’t keep holding on for long by enforcing FORCE/POLICE-STATE to people!

  • Toshiba

    I see you hate Pakistan, trust me Indians need a life.

  • Guest

    Yeah. I am about to trust an arabized pakistani. Haha. Toshiba, I see that you love japan but maybe its not apparent to you that your Pakistani society is not just hated by Indians but by all civilized people because of the institutionalized islamist fanaticism and terrorism in your society. Since self evaluation is foreign to your arabized culture, this is not apparent to you. Jinnah has created a monster which is hated by the whole world.

  • Guest

    Ah..a Han from the middle kingdom. A chincom. There was incoherence in your posts which is a sign of brainwashing. Now its apparent where it comes from. Haha. I should have seen this before. My bad. Nv1. Thanks.

    I took a look at your comment history and the idiocy in your posts have deservedly earned you a long list of colorful abuse from almost everyone posting in the independent website. I feel good now that I have made my contribution to that long list. Haha.

  • Guest

    I will ask you one more time.

    Where did pick you that magic six months figure from? From your arse? Or your bigoted mind which as filthy as your arse?

  • The Reverend Peter M. Hawkins.

    Naxabari is a long way from the Victoria Memorial, which is on the site of the former Alipore Prison, on the south of the Maidan in Kolkata. Demonstrations normally take place in Chowrighee. For all the corruption and incompetance of the West Bengal Government, the truth is that the ordinary Bengali Farmer is now well off. The Tribals have justified grievances but it is a long way to Kolkata so marble splendour of the Victoria Memorial is unlikely to see them assemble, although Victoria herself would have been anxious to say to the West Begal Government, as she did to her Viceroys, “Be kind to my people”.

  • The Reverend Peter M. Hawkins.

    The 1943 Bengal Famine in the District of Midnapore was the responsibility of the Muslim League Bengal Government, responsible Government Minister, SK Shurawady, actually a Midnaporean who later confessed his major problems were fast women and slow horses, the dying Governor of Bengal, the Viceroy, the head of the “blasted hopes”, Linlithgow, and of course the Prime Minister of the UK. Disruption of Rice Supply, Bengalis would not eat anything else, was caused by the Japanese Invasion of Burma and consequent restrictions of the movement of Rice. Midnapore is on the South West Coast of what is now West Bengal, where in October 1943 there had been a major Toophan destroying the harvest and poisoning the land up to five miles inland. The incoming Viceroy Wavell organised competant relief by the Indian Army. SK Shurawady was considered to be corrupt and incompetant, he later became Prime Minister of Pakistan. There were two other famines in 1943, like the one in Bengal they were made likely by War. Churchill was peripheral to all of this, even if finally responsible. Diversion of transport in 1943 was regulated according to the High Priority needs of the Indian and British Armies fighting in East and North Africa and crossing into Sicily and Italy.

  • The Reverend Peter M. Hawkins.

    The Toophan was in October 1942§

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