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Movements need to "move" people: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. All successful movements have been transformed over a passage of time. From protests to resistance to struggle, movements need a buildup rhythm that engages more and more minds and hearts for it to achieve major mission and goals. Social movements, religious movements or political movements all are aimed at bringing a change. Change itself is a difficult objective. Change requires giving up habits. Change requires giving up set ideas. Change requires giving up comfort zone. Change requires challenging traditions. Change is costly. Change is risky. Change is uncertainty. Thus, whether a protest will turn into a movement requires many elements for its continuity.

Protests can be based on social or economic reasons. The Yellow Jacket movement in France was a protest against the austerity measures announced by President Macron. On the other hand, 'Black lives matter' movement was for a social cause. Which protest was more successful can be gauged from the reaching of goals it set out to be. While the Yellow Jacket movement in France lost its momentum during Corona, 'Black lives matter' protests started during corona and has left a bigger mark on people. 'Black lives matter' protests began in Minneapolis on May 26, 2020, after the killing of George Floyd, an African-American man, who asphyxiated when now-former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin pinned him down with a knee on his neck for more than 8 minutes. The brutality of the event created an outrage that spread in 50 states of America and across Europe too. This resulted in the promise to reform police laws and inequality. On the other hand, the Yellow Jacket movement has shrunk and almost petered out.

In Pakistan, we have seen protests taking place off and on but few turning into a movement. The present opposition has announced an anti-government campaign under the banner of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). This is a coalition of 11 opposition parties who insist that the government must be removed because they are "selected" and have failed to perform. Their stated objective is that this movement will be so strong that the government will fall before the start of 2021. Let us see what elements make a movement successful and how does this movement measure against these criteria:

  1. A Worthy Cause - To move people to join a movement the most important factor is the pull of the purpose. The cause has to be worthy enough for people to leave their normal lives and be part of a movement. The purpose can be economic, social or political. Economic conditions like inflation, unemployment, taxes, price hikes, etc, normally induce protests. Such protests can either be by groups directly affected by them or by larger parts of the population. It is generally seen that when petrol prices increase or people are laid off or new taxes are imposed, people gather to raise their voice against these economic steps. In Pakistan, we saw that when the traders were asked to register any sale invoice above Rs 50,000 with their ID numbers they went on strike for a few days. Normally, economic causes lead to protests, negotiations and then they finish after a while.

Long-term movements are based on causes that are based on universal principles. Principle-based movements are more sustainable as they appeal to human values. Thus, social movements based on inequality due to racial discrimination or religion, as in Kashmir or the USA, are violating humanity codes and will appeal to a much larger universe. The sustainability of anti-government movement will be dependent on how the cause of democracy will appeal to people. If the present system was martial law it would hold a bigger appeal. Against a democratic government whom they claim to be selected, such movements may not last as those who are protesting are themselves direct beneficiaries of the system in the past. The cause, if perceived to be based on individual vested interests, will not be enduring.

  1. Clarity of Objectives- Similarly, for movement to engage the minds of people clarity of objectives is a prime requirement. What is the movement asking as an end goal and for what purpose. The Pakistan Movement was meant to give an independent Muslim motherland. Nelson Mandela's Anti-Apparthied movement wanted equal rights for the non-white people. These were clear objectives and ends in mind people could see and subscribe to. In Pakistan the PDM is stating objectives that are divergent. PML-N leader is saying that this movement is not directed against the government but those who brought the government into power. PPP does not want the government to go as they may lose their government in Sindh. JUI-F wants new elections as their leader has lost his election and wants to be back in the assembly. This may create an unclear call to action and end in mind. If they want PDM to succeed they must have a convergence in the overall goals of the movement.

  2. Inspiring leadership-The most important element of the movement is the leader and his or her credibility. Quaid e Azam was followed in rallies even by those who could not understand what he was saying in English because of his character and credibility. Dr Martin Luther King's famous speech "I have a dream" has become iconic. The Segregation movement changed the status of black people. Despite terrible oppression, people followed Dr King because he led from the front risking his own life. The problem with PDM is that none of the leaders has either the credibility or the exemplary pull to move the crowd to follow and sacrifice for too long. The PML-N leader no doubt is trying to create momentum by speaking from London but it is very difficult for people to keep on struggling and resisting when they see their leader not leading from the front.

Movements are easy to start, tough to continue and very difficult to become sustainable till they achieve their goal. The duration and impact of a movement is uncertain, volatile and many times with dire consequences. If the opposition's Pakistan Democratic Movement has to be more than a few rallies it must focus on creating a clear and compelling purpose led by a leader who is willing to put his life at stake. These are pre-requisites of appealing to the minds and hearts of people. Otherwise, as happened in last winter, it may end up exposing them more than deposing the government.

(The writer can be reached at [email protected] The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the newspaper)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020