A challenge led by student political leaders that involves “punching” a replica of Narendra Modi in a crowded public place. What could go wrong? In a few sites of this unique student protest, only everything.
The “Punch Modi” challenge, planned by members of the All India Students Federation (AISF) in Kerala, saw AISF members hanging punching bags bearing the face of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in public places, and asking passers-by to either hug or punch the punching bag, depending on whether they believed the Modi government had done anything good for the people of the country, or the opposite.
In some locations, the Punch Modi protest merely saw AISF student activists using boxing gloves to punch the bag themselves, while in other locations, like in Kochi, the public joined in, with over 500 members of the public who were not affiliated to any political groups, hitting or punching the bag hung there. This protest was carried out by the AISF in numerous locations across the state, particularly in university campuses, busy roads and other public areas.
AISF State Secretary Subhesh Sudhakaran told TNM that the protest, which was held at various locations on different days, starting 15 days ago, was a response to PM Modi’s own grand statement to the country’s citizens. “Soon after demonetisation was announced, the PM himself said that if the negative effects of the initiative were not tackled by his government within 50 days, you can throw stones at him. It has been more than two years and we are still suffering from the negative impact of demonetisation, and so many other issues, like caste-based violence by the RSS, GST and rising fuel prices. We are merely responding to his words.”
But unfortunately, in some locations, the symbolic Punch Modi challenge ended in violence, and police intervention.
One such was the protest held at around 4 PM at the Mofussil Bus Stand (New Bus Stand) in Kozhikode on Sunday. Members of the BJP Yuva Morcha arrived at the site of the Punch Modi protest in Kozhikode, and took objection to the nature of AISF’s challenge and the slogans being raised there, asserting that they would not tolerate any such insults to the Prime Minister. Members of the two rival student political groups—all of whom were male college students between the ages of 18 and 22—entered into a physical altercation at the site of the protest, after which the police were called in.
Videos of the altercation show the student leaders continuing to shout political slogans as they are led into the police jeep, while other students at the site, who were not being arrested, retorted with slogans of their own.
15 members of AISF present at that protest, and 5 members of the BJP Yuva Morcha were arrested by Kasaba police in Kozhikode. Kasaba police told TNM that the arrested activists had cases under IPC sec 143 (unlawful assembly), 147 (rioting), 149 (offences committed in pursuing common goal of unlawful assembly) and 283 (obstruction of public paths) registered against them. They were allowed to post bail and leave the station after a CrPC 41 notice (notice of appearance before a police officer) was issued to them.
AISF State Secretary Subhesh Sudhakaran told TNM that fights had broken out in other locations as well, like Ernakulam, Kollam, Kannur, and Palakkad, and that cases had been filed against them for holding such a protest in other locations like Kayamkulam and Allapuzha.
He also points out that this particular challenge has actually gained media and public attention because of the opposition it was met with. “Burning effigies of politicians is a common feature of many protests in democratic countries. It is done widely in India, and was done in the US with effigies of Donald Trump as well. But somehow, our particular protest is getting a lot of opposition that we haven’t seen before.”