The reference is for Tyrion Lannister, the guileful political strategist with a vulpine smirk from the cult-series, Game of Thrones. In the show, while warring factions want to take over the throne, it falls on people like Tyrion to bring method to their madness. Les stratèges.
Modern political campaigns have been similarly influenced by thinkers, philosophers and strategists. While Sun Tzu, Carl Von Clausewitz, Niccolò Machiavelli, Genghis Khan, Antoine-Henri Jomini, Alfred Thayer Mahan and Gustavus Adolphus led with their astute military strategies and opened up newer frontiers of war, political strategists like Ilan Amit, Hassan Abbasi, Ismaël Emelien, Prashant Kishore and Erik Martin Lakomaa have influenced history no less by advising candidates and campaign managers on how to win elections amid dire adversities.
Though most of them had picked sides and taken their cause up for a bag of silver, it would be notable to mention a political scientist whose influence on history is so paramount and yet so invisible, that the true worth of his life’s work is only being acknowledged now.
Engineering A Revolution
‘Letters of opposition or support’
‘Camouflaged meetings of protest’
‘Protest emigration (hijrat)’
‘Refusal of industrial assistance’
‘Refusal to pay fees, dues, and assessments’
‘Boycott of election’
‘Refusal to accept appointed officials’
‘Hiding, escape, and false identities’
‘Blocking of lines of command and information’
‘Stalling and obstruction’
‘Non-cooperation by constituent governmental units’
‘Nonviolent land seizure’
‘Overloading of administrative systems’
‘Disclosing identities of secret agents’
‘Dual sovereignty and parallel government’
Any of these pique your interest yet? Or ring any bells?
Hint – You have seen them before. In Cairo. In Delhi. In Seattle.
These are just a few hacks from 198 Methods of Non-Violent Action from the book The Politics of Non-violent Action by the notable American political scientist, Dr. Gene Sharp. The founder of Albert Einstein Institution is also heralded as the dictator slayer, Machiavelli of nonviolence, and the Clausewitz of unarmed revolution. His seminal work, From Dictatorship to Democracy, is regarded as the 21st century anarchists’ handbook and has made cameo appearances at the epicentres of many global conflicts. While Sharp intended it to help dissidents in Burma against the oppressive rule of the Military junta in 1993, the book grew its own feathers to reach the library of Serbian students seeking to overthrow the Slobodan Milošević regime, then into protest groups of Colour Revolutions of Georgia and Ukraine, and was reportedly downloaded in Arabic amid mass protests in Tunisia and Egypt, the genesis of the Arab Spring.
Once set upon modern thinking as a pamphlet of resistance against oppression, Sharp’s Gandhian impersonation has faded away, unravelling layers of anarchy, bedlam and mobocracy. Late in his career, Sharp began working on defining violence as ‘direct infliction of injury’. If you were to starve somebody to death, or block an ambulance leading to a patient’s death, it would be ‘non-violent action’.
As a towering intellectual in the Cold War era, Sharp developed his original theory of anti-communism as a means to destabilize ‘centralized state’. His regard of power centralisation as an instrument of systematic violence inspired much of his work later and also of his AEI Foundation that today tutors revolutionaries across the world. He constantly debated and voiced ideas on how to dissolve common will that fuels political and administrative systems, underlining almost all modern civilizations. Unlike Machiavelli who was interested in consolidating power, Sharp wanted to ‘knock down the house’. The resemblance is truly unsettling.
Sharp’s political jujitsu is a guided missile system that picks targets based on commands, not by the nature of their actions. You begin by attacking the core of a regime’s legitimacy and existence, constantly enhance it with manufactured protests, place hidden drivers in news and social media for provoking violence, compel administrators for a violent retaliation and then hail it as a revolution without arms.
Shaheen Sharp Bagh
Gene Sharp’s Frankenstein’s Monster has made its way into the world, passing hands of those who mean good with evil plans and those who mean evil with good plans. It is debatable to affirm which of the one was Shaheen Bagh, but the uncanny similarities of their modus operandi with Sharp’s work cannot be ignored.
India is not a totalitarian regime, not more than what it was six years ago at the height of August Kranti. United States can’t be a ‘dictatorial regime’ even if Donald, Jared and Ivanka wanted it to happen after a brief, enlightening reading of Breitbart. Then, why do we see island nations in New Delhi and Seattle, funded by those who want to control it and designed to be self-sustaining till it blows up into full-scaled anarchy? What democratic regime were/are they trying to overthrow through a ‘grammar of anarchy’ with elections just a few months away? The devil and the beauty, are both in the details.
As much as an oxymoron it refers to, the politics of the left is now based on demagogues of political nostalgia and promised utopia.
Backed against the wall, they chose an age-old, tried and tested remedy. Guiding them in their journey of salvation were thinkers like Gene Sharp and Yuval Noah Harari, who were themselves a manifestation of ‘supremacy of the nation’.
Then came the day of action, a great, great day. A day in every revolutionary’s life that determines how he or she can influence the movement and bring it closer to fulfilment. Little did the revolutionary know that the biriyani came from one power broker, the dry gin came from a lobbyist, the bread came from politicians and the spray-cans came from the neo-liberals. But the day came, and powerful regimes were toppled by humble books. The dictators vanished and the puppets arrived and the revolutions continued. The slogans changed and the movement grew smaller and no longer could loudspeakers do the job. Then in wooden boxes arrived the Kalashnikovs, Molotovs, acid-filled bottles, stolen flash grenades, machetes and petrol canisters. The difference between ‘direct violence’ and ‘indirect violence’ evaporates in the heat of revolutionary fires. Then the wildfire runs its course and consumes all that can be consumed.
Protesting The Protest Culture
Urinating on police vehicles, frisking passers-by, looting shops, shooting cops and burning public transport is a mere fraction of what has come to be acceptable, if not right, under the garb of protests and dissent in democratic systems. You will often come across the phrase that, ‘the oppressor can’t judge what a protest should be and what is right with a protest’. Of course the oppressor will not be the judge of that, but the law enforcement will be and the law of the land will also be.
As Sharps & Friends continue to disperse seeds of wisdom across the world, democratic systems face an existential threat in every corner of the world. Either cede to the minorities on your front porch or be prepared to be ousted in a quasi-democratic campaign.
It is always advisable to land the first punch and then prepare to defend. This gives you an unmistakable edge over the opponent, regardless of his size. That first knock has been delivered by Sharp and we are yet to find a counter-culture defence to it. This has not only given his holy book the cult status he always dreamt of, but also a validation that only aggrandizes the inherent zealotry.
We need to ask ourselves the question and reminisce the antiquity Ambedkar warned us of in his legendary final Constituent Assembly speech on 25 November, 1949 –
We must nurture a protest culture against the protest culture (the irony still weighs me down) to protect democratic systems. In the absence of systems, chaos becomes the system and it leaves our futures open to speculation, by the revolution that shall deny us our socio-economic evolution. Nothing good truly ever remains good and the quest for balance must begin today. ‘Social will’ was never inherited and even today, it should not be submitted to its proclaimed keepers. But, how do we start?
V. B Routray consults with the Biju Janata Dal and advises governments across the country on GovTech. He tweets @vbroutray.