The Oxford dictionary defines a rabble-rouser as “a person who speaks with the intention of inflaming the emotions of a crowd of people, typically for political reasons.”

In these cantankerous times, the pressing need is for society to maintain its calmness and balance. Controlling the habitual rabble-rouser is one way to do so. In fact, it is of the essence! Too many of them are vitiating the atmosphere, not only in the political sphere, but in every realm.

While even the global landscape is dotted with notable rabble-rousers these days, there’s not much you or I can do about them. But we can surely do something about such persons at the local level, and even in everyday life.

The rabble-rouser is practically ubiquitous. He is visible and audible at every little gathering, especially on the street, such as when a fracas breaks out, or even when a milder incident such as a smallish accident takes place. When the vehicle owners step out hurriedly to assess the damage, a crowd will collect within no time. The rabble-rouser will emerge from nowhere and join the audience. He will quickly go on to provoke one of the parties into adopting a sparring attitude. And before the police arrive, or matters get really heated up, he will stealthily steal away!

At a factory gate meeting, his actions will be will be even more damaging. He will shout the first chant of ‘Hai Hai’. He will urge someone to throw the first stone. And at a political rally, big or small, he will create a ruckus through his words and tone, whether on the stage or off it.

The rabble-rouser effect first became apparent to me when I was a young SDM at Kalka subdivision. During a village tour, our group found one particular gentleman to be extremely agitated and complaining loudly against the government. The local MLA was a powerful man and he mentioned something about the need to offer him a minor position in order to keep the man quiet in future. The MLA had obviously sensed the mood of the local populace who were inclined to agree with the rebel, and he was receiving a fair degree of nods during his anti-establishment speech.

What I did not realize at the time was that our man would get really lucky and would soon be made the Chairman of a state level corporation, complete with a ‘sarkari’ car and a red light (those were the days!)
Rabble rousing can be quite a gainful activity it seems. In an Ajay Devgun film, his character rises swiftly to become the main sidekick of the gang leader simply by virtue of being persistently antagonistic.
The evident damage that such people cause is in their negative influence on society. Even in our own lives we find some persons who do not let a family settlement take place because they keep needling the main actors in the ‘drama’. Some of them also act as rumour-mongers and impact reputations adversely with ease.
Each individual can play his or her own role for the social milieu by not falling prey to the designs of such instigators. These days even Whatsapp messages can be rabble-rousers, as they sometimes contain potentially pernicious information which cannot be verified easily. Thus we find users mentioning “forwarded as received” when they send a message of which the veracity cannot easily be verified. The thing to do is to refrain from forwarding messages which are capable of causing more harm than good.
Sometimes the originators of these missives, the online rabble-rousers, may actually be spreading a fear psychosis by design.
Some people will share stories like ‘gangs of robbers are on the loose in the area’ with the intention of alerting their dear ones. The result however could be a mindset of mass worry in the region, often without reason.
The antithesis of the rabble rouser is a masseur whom I know. This worthy will tell each client that “So-and-so was all praise for you, Sahib” Thus instead of spreading animosity, he creates friendships. Truly a role model for us to follow, for there is probably a mini rabble-rouser in each one of us!