Punjab Notes: Crowd: success, failure and fear.

In our culture we are quite familiar with two types of crowds-religious and political. Religious crowds are both closed and open. So are our political crowds. A closed crowd occupies an enclosed space while the open one is in the open air and is open to all those who wish to join it. The former can be forbidding and the latter inviting. The closed crowd is usually stationary as we can witness it in some religious congregations and secular gatherings. An open crowd can be both stationary and moving. But there can also be exceptions.

Elias Canetti, in his monumental work Crowds and Power, says about the open crowd: 'The natural crowd is the open crowd; there are no limits whatsoever to its growth; it does not recognize houses, doors or locks and those who shut themselves in are suspect'. About the closed crowd, he writes: 'In contrast to the open crowd, which can grow indefinitely.... The closed crowd renounces growth and puts the stress on permanence. The first thing to be noticed about it is that it has a boundary. It establishes itself by accepting its limitations. It creates a space for itself which it will fill...Once the space is completely filled, no one else is allowed in.' The boundary may be visible as well as invisible.

In our context, things may not appear as clear-cut and neat as described by Canetti. Specific historical conditions make each culture unique in the sense that despite sharing broad features with other human cultures, it has its specificity, certain characteristics that define it and distinguish it from others. Traditionally, one of important expressions of dynamics of our political life has been the mass political gatherings organised by political parties in open spaces or public grounds. The practice continues. But over the last few decades, something new has come up; rallies and marches. Some political marches have pompously been declared 'Long Marches' which appears farcical as it evokes the images of the history's greatest and the toughest long march led by Mao Zedong, lasting more than a year that paved the way for the Chinese Revolution in the twentieth century. Compared with it, our so-called long marches have been joyrides, at least for the politicians who led them. The march here reflects the will of a top political leader and its execution by his minions called party leaders through mobilisation. Party leaders are beholden to the head honcho for the reason that they are not elected by party workers as...

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