Out of India: Grin mightier than the sword

NEW DELHI - Some forms of non-violent protest are uniquely Indian. Take the gherao, for instance. A factory owner emerges from his limousine and is mobbed by angry workers. They never hurt him: they just surround and immobilise him for hours, or even days, until he gives in. This works fine in a country pulsating with more than 850 million people but you wouldn't find a gherao succeeding in places like Alaska or the Australian outback. But in Calcutta it is easy to assemble a Wembley Stadium-sized gherao.

The laugh-in was devised recently by a man in Bangalore named M D Nanjunda Swamy. He is not much of a comedian, and the few jokes he tried telling me (admittedly, they were translated out of the local Kannara language) fell so very flat I couldn't even pretend to chuckle.

But Mr Nanjunda Swamy does not earn his living being funny. He came to humour rather late in life. By training, he is a professor of constitutional law, a former MP for Karnataka state and a connoisseur of jails. 'I've seen the insides of almost all the prison-houses of Karanataka,' said Mr Nanjunda Swamy, 55, a serene and rather quiet man with silvery hair. A champion of Karnataka's small farmers, he has dared to challenge the state's despotic Chief Minister, S Bangarappa, by laughing at him in a big way.

Earlier this year Mr Nanjunda Swamy gathered 50,000 farmers to sit outside the state secretariat and tried to 'laugh the government out'. They had tried all the usual forms of non-violent protest - sit-ins, blockades, refusing to pay taxes, picketing, blockading roads - but the state government remained unmoved by the farmers' pleas for land reforms and an increase in produce prices. The farmers' only reward was getting arrested or shot.

The farmers, surrounded by policemen, just sat on the lawn outside the government building and told jokes against Mr Bangarappa. And the jokes? 'They were puns, actually,' Mr Nanjunda Swamy said. After warming up the farmers with a little word-play, it was enough simply to say 'Bangarappa]' over the megaphone and the farmers would shake with laughter. The police made no arrests ('How could they? All we did was laugh') and no public property was damaged. 'It's as easy to make people laugh as to make them angry. Laughter can be a very powerful weapon against the government,' Mr Nanjunda Swamy said. However, when confronted with these jeers, Mr Bangarrapa, who is as rhino-skinned as any politician, did not flee the secretariat weeping and immediately resign.

Still, Mr Nanjunda Swamy was undeterred.' Bangarappa is a very uncouth man. I imagine he didn't take it much to heart. But come election time, I think the voters will remember how ridiculous he is.'

Mr Nanjunda Swamy took a page from Mahatma Gandhi's thinking on non-violence. Gandhi called it satyagraha, which in Sanskrit means 'a pressurising for truth'. Gandhi is said to have been influenced by the story of a prince in one of the Upanishads (Sanskrit philosophical treatises). 'The prince asks his father the meaning of life,' Mr Nanjunda Swamy said. 'His father, the king, dismisses him in disgust, and tells him to go ask Yama, the god of death. The prince does, and that is satyagraha.'

This talk of death brought us to hunger strikes, an everyday occurrence in India. A hunger strike is less shocking, perhaps, in a nation where so many people are starving to death than it would be in reasonably affluent Britain. But Mr Nanjunda Swamy claims that since independence from Britain, tens of thousands of Indians have gone on hunger strike but nobody has died on one. '. . . these people today, they say they'll fast until death, knowing that they'll break the strike in one or two days.'

No, the laughing protest has more possibilities than a hunger strike. You don't often die from laughter. But where's the challenge? Politicians, be they in Bangalore or Downing Street, are simply too easy to laugh at.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015