Many Colours of Protest: An Analysis

By Goirick Brahmachari,

Just another weekend evening at the Select City mall compound that stretches from Khirki to Hauz Rani DTC bus stand.  Shoppers and window shoppers alike, throng the entrance; security guards carry out their routine check-ups.

A group of five boys break away from the crowd and start to dance. A Bollywood-sque tune plays along. It sounds similar to one of those Satyameva Jayate songs. The crowd at the basement, now standing in a circle, begin to wonder. As five girls join in, the song gathers tempo and the voice sings, ‘Aam Aadmi aaye hein, Aam Aadmi aaye hein’    gay-rights-protest-story

Flash mobs have been a part of malls, markets and streets in urban Delhi in recent times. Their use varied from awareness on social issues like gender discrimination, rapes, corruption, police brutality etc. to political campaigns. The Aam Aadmi Party in last few months has worked effectively to suit the genre to their style. A group of college going volunteers, dancing to tunes composed by Bollywood composer Vishal Dadlani and others, (sometimes with their symbolic Gandhi topi and broom in their hands,)at a shopping mall is sure to catch anybody’s eye. And this is exactly what they have been doing.

Neither the quality of music nor the form of dance sequence is artsy or intelligent per se. They use popular and cheesy Bollywood songs or party campaign songs that appeases the crowd which adores Bollywood and mainstream American pop- a crowd that consists of a sizeable voter population of Urban Delhi.

They talk of corruption, social issues and campaign for AAP. Few others within the crowd stand with placards and posters displaying the party’s election campaign slogan ‘5 Saal Kejriwal’

Though Aam Admi party has a campaigning design committee, and they decide on the ways of campaigning, they mostly take suggestions from the public, and supporters, and carry them out.  Probably, they resort to these Indie techniques, given the fact that they won’t be able to match Bharatiya Janata Party on the size of Donations they receive. But, this interestingly works out for them.

Apart from the flash mobs, AAP has also experimented with other techniques of campaigning for the Delhi Elections in February, 2015 and in the past. Nukkad natak, street plays, art competitions, wall art, music videos, Google plus hangouts, innovative posters and sloganeering, friendly conversations with commuters in Delhi Metro by AAP volunteers, and some extremely likeable campaign ads.

In fact, an Indian Express article[1] dated August 12, 2014 mentions that the party runs a practice center for various styles of protests named Santosh Koli Centre for the Protest Arts in Sunder Nagri, Northeast Delhi.

Sunder Nagri is where Arvind Kejriwal worked with Santosh Koli and Manish Sisodia for his NGO Parivartan which played a vital role in the RTI movement in India.

The campaign strategies are very similar to how NGOs work and how some of the core Left parties’ campaign. Prakash Karat, General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had accused AAP of imitating the left parties on more than one occasions[2].

Communist theatre groups like the Indian People Theatre Association (IPTA) and Safdar Hashmi’s Jana Natya Manch (JANAM) have been working in Delhi for more than 4 decades. Their Street theatres and other innovative styles have also reached the slums and villages within Delhi. Some of the famous theatre activists and actors like Nandita Das have been shaped by Jana Natya movement.

Street theatres, protest songs, murals, innovative posters and sloganeering have also been a part of Jawaharlal Nehru University and its student union elections. Some of the posters and murals across the JNU campus by All India Students Association, Students Federation of India, and Democratic Students Union volunteers have always caught our eyes.

One basic difference between the styles of campaigning between AAP’s cultural volunteers and that of the Communists is AAP’s simplicity of language and mediocre styles. AAP mixes a commercial, middle class touch to the old forms of advertising, and reaching out to the masses- techniques that NGOs and Campaigns on social issues have tried and tested successfully. Their Communist counterparts comparatively talk about much denser issues and focus on rural and slum population in and around Delhi.

Lack of interest among the new generation in Delhi towards Communism has further caused classy, and politically powerful theatre groups like IPTA and JANAM to perform only to a niche and a select group of audience.

While JANAM released a very cinematic, silent short film titled Safdar Lives[3], by Srinjay Thakur to help spread the word about Safdar Hashmi’s struggle in Delhi and to commemorate his death anniversary on January, 2014; Aam Admi Party leaders too, are lucky to have been filmed for another cinematic, nonlinear film titled Proposition for Revolution[4] by Vinay Shukla and Khushboo Ranka[5] which is yet to release.

Aam Admi Party have been often accused of Dharna– something that Communists in West Bengal have also been largely accused of by the mainstream media. Further, Jantar Mantar- a monument that saw many protests from both Left and other organisations across the ages in the city, is now closely associated with AAP.

It is interesting to observe that the Aam Aadmi Party is resorting to the experimental techniques that the Left leaning cultural organisations have practised for years and is obtaining better results compared to their communist counterparts in Delhi. Their reach and effective customisation of strategies used by the Left and NGOs, to suit the urban middle class has helped them gain popularity among the rural and slum population in Delhi, post the Lok Sabha elections, 2014.

I often thought that the Left cultural organisations could do more, especially in these last three years of Indian polity that saw a mass rejection of mainstream parties. Probably then, the left front could have created a parallel noise in the national capital, even if it were a symbolic gesture.

Goirick Brahmachari lives in New Delhi, India. He hails from Silchar, Assam. His poems have appeared in North East Review, Nether, Pyrta Journal, Raedleaf Poetry, Coldnoon Quarterly, The Four Quarters Magazine and other Indian journals. His articles and film reviews have appeared in dallies like The Hindu, The Shillong Times and others.

[1] http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/delhi/to-take-legacy-forward-aap-members-plan-centre-for-protest/

[2] http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/aap-s-spartan-style-very-communist-prakash-karat/article1-1168788.aspx

[3] Safdar Lives https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrlS51_Wlsk

[4] Proposition for Revolution http://prop4rev.com/

[5] Khushboo Ranka  is the Script writer of critically acclaimed art house production film Ship of Theseus  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5xt0cKasDw