Expert advice to make the present anti-Modi protests self-sustaining

Col A Asthana (retired)


I have been watching the protests against CAA and NRC proliferate and gather steam in the last one month. Seeing the character of the movement – spontaneous, not led by politicians, multi-religion, youth dominated – it arises the hope that this one will succeed in bringing about real change in India. Till now, no movement has been as promising.  I watched them with the mind of a social scientist, complexity expert, change specialist and an innovation facilitator. That tells me that while this is presently moving well, application of techniques and guidance from social sciences will help immensely for it to achieve its purpose much better. The purpose being – bring about real sustainable change in India for the betterment of the common man. It is not only about CAA or NRC, or even saving the constitution. It is also not solely about Mr Modi. It is more about focussing on the positives of change than on avoiding the negatives or removing Mr Modi. As of now, though, the CAA and protecting the Indian Constitution provide attractive start points.

Any long-term movement starts from an initial push. It then sustains itself from a fresh input every now and then. Else it slowly withers off. Watch a child on a swing. The mother provides the first strong push and then keeps the joy ride going by additional pushes every now and then. However, after some time the acceleration stops. This may happen to these protests too. Sri Modi is presently in a very strong position to be rattled by the present level of protests. The elections are too far, so he is not really troubled by all this. He seems to be cleverly trying to ride it out. The trick for the protestors lies in sustaining the push for at least 3 years more. Since common women and youth can’t be expected to keep at it for that long, we must not depend only on their sacrifices but strategize to make it an efficient project.

The present form of protest i.e. continuous dharana, itself may change over time. I do not think people can be on dharna for that long. This is all the more reason we need to strategize.

Rather than a fast burning fire sustained by leaves and twigs which burn off too soon, we must keep the fire going by using logs that provide slow-release energy. Some suggestions ahead.

There are enough protests happening already. However, the outsider is not getting a good feel of the overall effort. One sees pictures of protests, songs by people and theatre groups, opinions by people but since they are on different platforms, some of us see some of these while others see the others. It would be better if there is one platform which somehow provides one window viewing of the various protests. This will create the thread that will make the individual beads convert into a necklace. That’s the whole idea of synergy – the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

What should be the general principle on which this platform is to be created? It should be by simply linking the various protest items on the web in a loose manner, in levels of increasing details. This would allow the viewer to go in as deep in it as one wants. One good example is how Amazon and LinkedIn work. When I post something there, my image appears on the side. If the reader feels interested, he clicks on that to open my profile. If he feels interested, he creates an automated system to hear my views in the future. He does this by simply clicking the Follow button. The world can also get to see how much attention my piece is getting by viewing the Likes. We need to do something like this for the protests too. It will immediately coalesce the whole effort and make it self-sustaining. At the first level it will have to be user-driven but at deeper levels, it should be curated.

This loosely networked system should also provide a public dashboard which depicts the strength of the opposition as per some transparently agreed algorithm. There is nothing as motivating to a fence sitter in make up his mind, as a credible display of the strength of a camp. I believe that there is already a very strong camp in favour of seeking Mr Modi out, but somehow the strength of this camp is not being seen by the common man. We need to do something about it.

Who’ll take this one? With so many bright and rich people and also those in powerful positions, it should not be a problem to create an organisation for this. The material is there; all it needs is the spark and initial push. I am trying to provide it.

Let the leaders from JNU, AMU, Jamia, BHU etc communicate on this issue among themselves and open up a dialogue specifically on this issue. Gradually, rope in people who have a say in the sit-ins at ShaheenBag, PrayagRaj and now also Patna. Keep increasing the circle. At a later stage, also connect with leaders across the world who made large social protests a success. Once you start exploring, you find a plethora of guidance and help, all for your asking.

Knowledge of innovation has also taught me to manage complexity – which is what a protest like this is all about. In a complex environment, there are too many inter dependencies. A butterfly fluttering its wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in California. This is so because one event sets some others in motion, which, in turn set yet others in motion. Unlike science experiment, which will it all unfold just can’t be predicted. There is no single cause.  In such a situation, what guidance can we provide to all our protesters? How does one provide leadership to a group that is not bound by a structure or hierarchy of an organisation? In a complex environment, central leadership is always fatal. There will be shock volatility and stressors. The project should not merely be robust to withstand volatility and uncertainty, it should somehow BENEFIT from these inevitable conditions. In complexity science, this is called ‘Anti-fragility’. This, too, happens when a organisation is kept leaderless and kept in motion by the bottom rather than the top.

Here we take guidance from the way birds organize themselves in flocks. Watching starling scenes as the birds swoop, dive and wheel through the sky is one of the great pleasures of a dusky winter’s evening. From Naples to Newcastle these flocks of agile birds are all doing the same incredible acrobatic display, moving in perfect synchrony. But how do they do it? Who is their leader? Why don’t they crash?

Complex events are always leaderless. Any attempt to force central leadership, or any cause-and effect type of reasoning in it will fail. So, how do the birds maintain the flock integrity? If each bird attempts to consciously maintain the flock integrity, the group will fail. But each bird does do something, which automatically results in group integrity. Scientists have found out that each bird follow three rules of personal behaviour – nearby birds would move further apart, birds would align their direction and speed, and more distant birds would move closer. This allows for a responsive pattern of flock behaviour, controlled from below and not above.

Out project needs to follow the above technique. We must provide some guidelines for individual people which will help the project grow, acquire the right shape and be responsive enough to stave off the opposition that will inevitably come from the government. My initial study shows that, in this case, the guidelines for each person could be just three– communicate vigorously on public platforms, consciously keep in touch with like-minded people and do whatever is possible to assert your rights at as many places as is possible. This will grow an efficient leaderless community of people able to achieve their aim i.e. bring about real sustainable change in India for the betterment of the common man.

Imagine the simplicity of it. All every person had to do is just three things –

  • Communicate vigorously on public platforms.
  • Consciously keep in touch with like-minded people.
  • Do whatever is possible to assert his or her rights at as many places as is possible.

All we need to start this is some people writing to each other how to start this. A good hashtag to start this on Twitter is #changeindia. I have created this. If required, I can provide some more guidance.

I am not doing out of any expectations of money of fame. None at all.

Will you help me reach this post to coordinators of the movements at Shaheenbag, JNU, AMU, Jamia etc and other people actively involved in this. Even if it reaches a few active coordinators, it will jump start the project.


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