A couple of days ago when I checked out my Twitter account, I was amazed to observe a number of Tweets describing skirmishes between protestors and law-enforcers in Istanbul.The rather cryptic tweets said something about protests against the Government’s decision to build a replica Ottoman era barracks to house shops or apartments in the Taksim square, for long the favoured venue for public demonstrations in Istanbul/Ankara. New Delhi too has a favoured venue for public demonstrations, the Jantar Mantar and it has also seen skirmishes between demonstrators and the police, the most recent being protests against the infamous gang-rape case that took place in the capital in the month of December 2012!
Looking at the tweets it seemed as if The Turkish Spring was going to be like the Arab Spring of Tunisia, and the Battle of Tahrir square with the scent of the Jasmine revolution! However a distinction needs to be drawn between what happened in Egypt and what has been happening in Ankara. The demonstrators at Tahrir square were voicing their angst and anger against a dictatorial regime headed by the same dictator for the past thirty years or so. The issue in Istanbul however happens to be different. It is a reaction to the increased curbs put into place by a popular Government. It is about the ban on the right to consume alcohol for one thing. It is also about the threats to personal freedom felt by minority communities living in the country. There is no doubt that if Prime Minister Erdogan were to seek re-election, then he would definitely emerge victorious!
What began as a a protest against a local development project at the Taksim Square has today snowballed into massive protests all over the country with frequent images of tussles between demonstrators and law keepers, firing of tear gas shells, demonstrators lobbing the shells back at the police personnel, and water canons being fired at protestors. But then this protest seems to be the result of a growing sense of discontent amongst people who think their rights are being curtailed in the form of women’s reproductive rights and the imposition of alcohol free zones. Somehow history has shown how some uprisings in famous squares in countries all over the world have spilled into massive proportions. The mass uprisings in Tahrir square in Egypt was infectious enough to mobilise mass protests in different countries all over the world as a demand for greater liberty and freedom from dictatorial governments. The repercussions were felt in Yemen, Tunisia, some Arab Countries (where demonstrations were crushed, nipped in the bud), Libya, and in India too we had growing public discontent with rampant corruption.
It appears to be a protest against the consolidation of the Government's powers, a protest against the emergence of a head who is behaving as an ex-sultan. The Head of the Government was according to protestors was behaving in a defiant manner and had adopted an, “I know what is good for you” attitude. The head of the Government seemed to have a rather ridiculing attitude, accusing the demonstrators of being part of a fringe group that couldn’t emerge victorious in the previous elections. Is it all about people wanting to have a greater say in the running of their country?
Some how, it seems as if the common man is becoming more aware about his right to freedom and the days of passive toleration of dictatorial rule have come to an end. Information technology is a catalyst for uprisings against repressive governments, and protests because it ensures that no protest exists in isolation. It is perhaps because of the Internet that what started as a demonstration in Ankara, soon spread to the rest of the country. This is because people all over the country were able to witness live, the clashes taking place between the law keepers and the indignant protestors. The demonstration against the Government plans for Taksim Square was just the spark, the flashpoint, that found a ready echo in the minds of diverse people in the country and perhaps all over the world. Such uprisings are an expression of the increasing feeling of discontent across the world with anything that sets out to curb liberties and rights of people.
Unfortunately, harsh measures taken by Governments across the globe to curb uprisings are met with equally harsh resistance by the protestors. What governments need to ensure is that grievances of people receive at least some hearing. In India, the Right to Information is an important tool the hands of common people for retrieving information from government and public agencies. The democratic system of governance, and periodic elections help ensure that there is minimal abuse of power and the rights of the common man. In the same way, transparency in Governance has meant that the common man can have an insight into policies, programmes and projects undertaking by Government and non Government agencies.
So, then can we look forward to a Turkish Spring? Guess the answer is, “No!” Unlike the case in Egypt, the people are not protesting against dictatorship, that too thirty years old. The Taksim Square uprisings are an expression of discontent accumulated against a Government which although neo-liberal is under the process of undergoing modernisation. The difference between Egypt and Turkey lies in the fact that the Erdogan Government continues to enjoy popular support! Unfortunately the situation becomes critical when heads of Government begin to alienate themselves from their own people creating distinctions between themselves and their own people, as “the other people!” What had begun as a peaceful protest in Ankara however became a large scale mass protest because of the harsh way in which it was handled by the police! The reality today is that the people of any modern nation have the right to protest, albeit in a peaceful manner, they have the right to hold on to a popular venue to gather in and show solidarity and thus they have a right to participate in the Democratic process of Governance. Opinion polls, discussion forums, surveys, and referendums are important tools by which Governments can gauge public sentiments regarding various schemes, and reforms planned by any Government. The fact today is that the common man’s voice cannot be ignored at any cost as has been proved in the case of Egypt, Tunisia, and of course, Libya! True, Governments can’t please everyone, but then they can’t also ignore the “few!” The lessons learned from Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and even Yemen cannot be ignore and forgotten!
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