Everything about Hindu College’s annual V-Tree pooja tradition and the protests against it make for a brilliant case study in politics in action.
“The pooja epitomises politics in action. I find it fascinating”, says Saloni Verma, a third-year English Hons student at Hindu College. She says “I love how the pooja has been smartly evolved. It’s such a brilliant trick to capture the audience”. Without actually supporting the pooja, Saloni points towards a very interesting example of how politics is played out. Everything surrounding the tradition – from its concept and the opposition against it to the claims of competing parties and their mode of operation – is a case study into the functioning of active politics.
Now that the dust around the V-Tree episode has settled down (for now), this case study can be made. The very bone of contention – the tradition of the V-Tree pooja – illustrates how social issues
are often contested between the political right and the left. Analogies can be made with discussions surrounding other traditions which are often labelled ‘oppressive’. Saloni gives
an example of Rakshabandhan being considered by some to be a symbol of sexism and oppression. But such traditions have been modified.
Rakhis that sisters tie on their brothers’, and even sisters and sister-in-laws’ wrists, aren’t rare. About traditions and how the left and the right response to them, Saloni says “They (the left) just say that tradition is bad…Traditions can be misogynistic but the solution the left proposes is that you abandon the tradition which ignores the importance of traditions to people who may not have consumed the same literature as them. What the boys’ hostel did was that they morphed the tradition to make it somewhat acceptable.” She says that while
the decision to have a poster of Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma as a couple was
“tokenistic”, it was “beautiful politics” as it “moulded tradition according to contemporary relevance”.
Often in politics, means become important. When four top judges of the Supreme Court took to the media to address alleged problems of mismanagement within the judiciary last year, many people opposing it asked why was the ‘correct procedure’, that is, dealing with the issues internally, not followed. Perhaps the content of their complaints got overlooked to an extent. In Hindu College, while the clashes of 14 February were at their peak, many people were expressing discontent over the means followed by the protesters, especially regarding the participation of non-Hinduites and the possibility of people getting physically hurt in the process. Perhaps enough attention wasn’t paid to the core of the protesters’ concerns and the discourse leaned more towards the means over the goals. Then again, when we ask whether means can be prioritised over the ends or vice versa, a single correct answer perhaps doesn’t exist.
The analogy I find the most interesting is with regards to how competing sides often claim victories for themselves, despite how things actually turn out. The ‘Aadhaar’ verdict by the Supreme Court was seen as a win by both the government and the opposition, and so was the ‘Rafale’ judgement; so are opinion polls and even election results. Here too, both sides claimed that they won. Those supporting the pooja said that they successfully conducted the “grandest” pooja ever. The protesters claimed that the “mere action of men withdrawing from the public to the private space” and “disruption of the pooja” was a victory. The mutual allegations of threats, intimidation and violence by the other side were also levelled, just like they usually are in larger political activities.
Despite all that, the vital element is this: narratives and counter-narratives will always exist, tensions will inevitably arise and contestations won’t stop, be it in colleges or countries – and that must continue. And when conflicts come about, it will be this active political assertion that will challenge the status quo, for better or worse. This crucially reinforces a belief that the tradition of democratic protests is alive and well. Perhaps not all traditions are meant to be disposed of, after all?
Image credits- Prateek Pankaj for DU Beat
Image captions- The V-Tree episode beautifully represents active political participation