Exactly ninety years ago, on April 6, 1930, Mahatma Gandhi completed a 384-kilometre, 24-day Salt March, famously known as Dandi March. This was Gandhi’s way of his direct action of tax resistance and nonviolent protest against British salt monopoly. This was, and remains, among the finest examples in use of symbolism in civil protest. In fact, Mahatma Gandhi used various occasions to use symbolisms to express India’s aspirations during the freedom struggle. From spinning of a yarn to use of khadi, Gandhi diligently used these symbols in mobilizing people and expressing an idea – of a non-violent struggle against the British rule.
The art and practice of the use of symbolism has been integral to India’s social, cultural and political idiom. Therefore it was rather unfair when some went overboard in criticizing PM Narendra Modi in his very strong, and effective use of powerful symbolisms, as India continues its tirade against the deadline Coronavirus.
On March 19, just when the scare of Coronavirus had begun to knock on our doors, PM Modi addressed the nation. As the country waited with anxiety and anticipation, PM gently steered the national consciousness towards composure. For a jittery India, which was by then flooded with dreadful stories of Covid patients from China and elsewhere, he stood like a guardian in command and informed us that we have a problem at hand. It was like breaking a big scary news, but gently. To ensure that the news did not come as a surprise, Modi peppered it with a positive twist and gave a call for collective national applause for the frontline workers on March 22, to coincide with what he termed as a day-long Janata Curfew. He asked the nation to stay indoors to practice social distance in order to break the chain. He exhorted people to stand on their terrace or balconies or main door and clap for 5 minutes as a tribute to the good work being done by frontline workers including healthcare & sanitation professionals, police and delivery staff.
Critics jumped and mocked at this. Memes started to flow thick and fast and many thought it would end as a whimper. The response of people was far more than overwhelming. This March Sunday looked amazingly extraordinary, when the whole country reverberated with rare vibrance of unity, resolve and gratitude. Whatever may have been the misgivings of some skeptics, this classic symbolism achieved much more than was expected. Here are some key achievements of this exercise.
First, and foremost, it helped people ward off a silent fear that had begun to creep in among people. Second, it introduced the idea of social distance far more effectively besides warming up people to the idea of a lockdown by a one-day glimpse of the same – it was a trailer to what was in offing. Third, for a nation, which till few weeks back looked so severely divided on ideological lines because of the fallacious narratives spread about NRC, suddenly looked united. And fourth and the most important thing it did was to hammer down the idea of the incredible role of doctors, police, delivery personnel and health and sanitation workers. The reverberations of those glorious five minutes continue to resonate as we see heart-warming pictures of people garlanding police personnel across the country or showering petals on sanitation workers. That is a realization that no amount of sensitization could have achieved!
Then on April 5, Modi asked people to light divas on their rooftops and balconies and doors for nine minutes. The astrological significance of it notwithstanding, it once again united people in expressing a shared and rare resolve in India’s fight against Covid19, a disease, which by now had spread its tentacles across the country. The visuals that emerged on social media and television channels were nothing less than mesmerizing. It was an epoch-making moment and marked a new beginning in redefining India’s sense of shared purpose. It was a reassertion of India’s collective conscience and the spirit of standing firm in wake of adversities.
The days ahead look grim and challenging. What these two iconic symbolism did to the resolve of the nation shall come in very handy in tiding over the crisis, that looks to linger on for quite some time.
The Tali-Bajao-Diya-Jalao phenomenon is cathartic and amazingly potent
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.