The crowds were large, not massive. Instead of the customary fire of political rhetoric an eerie silence prevailed -- except when TV crew tried to “flesh out” their reportage, or the odd politician sought to ride piggy-back on an outpouring of public dismay and disgust.
That general silence articulated and amplified the deep concerns of the Indian people at the manner in which lynch mobs were now running riot virtually all across the country. It is true the political leadership of the day has “condemned” that gory reality, equally true that it has done little by way of preventive action.
At times it has seemed to encourage lumpen elements to dispense “rough justice” when protecting cows -- or promoting outmoded misogynistic social mores. And the police do nothing, perhaps firmly in the belief that the mobs had official approval. As they had when the Sikhs were being massacred in the Capital (and elsewhere) in 1984, as well as during the “ethnic cleansing” in Gujarat.
The gatherings that in several towns had rallied around the “Not in my name” banner had a spontaneous quality. No Opposition party had sponsored the “movement” by utilising either funds or cadres, it was truly an expression of the apprehensions of enlightened people that gravely endangered are the core values of the democratic Republic.
Which made even the police in many towns realise that trying to prevent the people from their expression of anguish would be futile, and could well have negative consequences.
The real question that needs to be answered is “in whose name” is the savagery being perpetrated? As it was in a Delhi-Mathura “shuttle” a few days back, or many times over the past couple of years when “majority rule” was interpreted to justify emasculation of the minority, and people told to “go to Pakistan” if they wanted to think “independently”.
Calls for tolerance from the outgoing President have been ignored with contempt: will his successor have the “nerve” to speak in similar tones? What the public displayed on Wednesday was that it had the courage to speak up and that there was a limit to pushing an “agenda”.
True the scenes were nowhere near as “stirring” as when Anna Hazare had made the Ramlila Ground a venue for demanding “change”, or as “revolutionary” as when Jayapraksash Narayan addressed a gathering at the Jama Madjid in the run-up to the poll that ejected Indira Gandhi from office.
But they did remind that the people of India were still prepared to stand up and be counted. Maybe the head-count will not suffice to drastically alter an election verdict, but surely it was good enough to tell the political establishment that “enough is enough”. Is the establishment listening, though?