Is Social Boycott an Effective Tool in Converting a Fascist Majority?

The 2019 general election declared a historic mandate for the Bharatiya Janata Party, awarding it with over 300 seats. A sweeping victory such as this points towards a certain section’s firm belief in the policies of the saffron brigade; the promises of a five-trillion dollar economy, electricity for all, creation of one crore jobs in a year, and most importantly, the systematic persecution of the ‘other’.

It is tempting at such a time to declare war on anybody who disagrees, socially boycotting those who support a government which is so obviously at fault. It is tempting to ‘cancel’ friends and colleagues who voted for the BJP, using it to sum up the entirety of somebody’s personality.

But ostracism based on disagreement sounds eerily similar to the very policies we are fighting against.

The BJP has not only implemented segregation tactics on religious grounds, but on any act of defiance, whatsoever. It has taken the weakest, most vulnerable point of humanity, the crutch called religion, and weaponised it. It has targeted educational institutions repeatedly, cementing the greatest mark of a fascist dictatorship – its fear of free intellectual thought. In both these scenarios, it has found solidarity in the orthodox majority, in the vote bank it can rely upon.

In times such as these, can we afford to sideline bhakts, the ones who gave the dictatorship its power? In a fascist majority, the tool of boycott only isolates us further from a chance of overhauling the system.

The silence of eminent celebrities has been a persistent point of concern for activists. There have been talks of boycotting their movies, and the products they endorse, in order to assert that we are non-compliant with cowardice.

However, the entertainment industry in India is worth over a hundred thousand billion dollars. Bollywood waltzes in and out of the 100 crore club in an unrelenting tango. How can we expect our boycott to make as much as a dent here? A study by Brayden King of Kellogg’s Management & Organizations claims, “Activists seeking to create corporate change are partly dependent on the conditions of the company they’re targeting. It has to be vulnerable to change to have any transformative effect.”

Also read: ‘That’s Not What I Meant’: Everything Wrong With Language-Policing Online

The success of social ostracism or boycott is a questionable tactic in a situation of emergency such as the one we find ourselves in, currently. In a piece published in The Guardian, Brandon Steele – a senior manager of stakeholder engagement at a Future 500 – says that boycotts fail because they aim at the bottom line of revenue instead of the overall reputation of the unit. That is, they ask the consumers to shop elsewhere, diverting business, instead of tarnishing the reputation of the brand, which makes for a more permanent damage.

By that logic, the idea of boycott may have been successful if, instead of asking people not to vote for the BJP, we could highlight its vile reputation. However, in this case, the reputation we find so vile, is the one which sells – an ideology of hatred. For the supporters we are looking to convert, the current government holds a free pass that trumps civility, or any social code for that matter. Why would they be willing to give that up?

Social boycott is a questionable choice even on the microcosmic scale. Cleansing our social media profiles of opposing views can be quite liberating. It is the easy path towards a good, calm mental space. The pro-BJP and the anti-BJP are looked upon as starkly different groups, incapable of co-existing. But what good has ever come out of surrounding ourselves with yes-men? Scrolling through your feed, double tapping away on outrage posts which are only slight variations of each other – is this how we incite a revolution?

On January 23, Irena Akbar took to Twitter calling for the boycott of Healthzone chain of gyms and beauty parlours in Lucknow and Keeros brand of health snacks on Amazon. Her stance was that the owner, Sachin Sahni, is a “rapid Islamophobe”, who spews hate against Muslims on social media. In a series of tweets, people have hounded Sahni. While I understand the sentiment, I also believe that the boycott won’t lead to an actual conversion of changing his mentality. He might apologise, as most people in power do, in order to continue the sale of his produce.

Dialogue, where dialogue is possible, is always a more effective solution. In Scott London’s ‘Power of Dialogue’, he talks about how the Greek used questions and counter-questions to find “the inconsistencies, never attacking or insulting but always searching for what they can accept between them…” Based on Bill Isaac’s basic model, Edgar H. Schein has designed a model to achieve the most effective communication strategy. ‘Ways of Talking Together’ walks us through the processes of deliberation, discussion, suspension, metalogue, et al. It shows us how we can achieve much more through either the building of a common ground, or structured debate.

The idea should not be to purge the country of BJP supporters, but to show them better sense. Like Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” It will be difficult to engage with people whose views are diametrically opposite to yours, who chose their privilege over their country, who put their thumb print on a symbol that promotes systematic oppression, but nothing about revolution has ever been easy.

Sarfaroshi ki tamanna ab hamare dil mein hai, dekhna hai zor kitna baazu-e-qaatil mein hai.

Meghalee Mitra is a littérateur and hopes to change the world, one word at a time.  

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty