Saving India from Anarchy
In the name of the farmers of the country, thousands of agitators have now virtually closed all the entry points to Delhi. They are agitating against the passage of three farm bills that the Narendra Modi got passed in the Parliament months ago. As in any vibrant democracy, these farmers, like anyone else, do have the right to protest and the government of the day is supposed to respond by trying to alleviate their concerns. In this case, the Modi government has precisely done that.
It has agreed to give written assurance that the Minimum Support Price for various agricultural prices will continue. The government has said that it is prepared to give any undertaking that will ensure that farmers selling their produce will always have an upper hand vis-a vis the purchaser. And most importantly, the government has clarified that the new laws are providing options to the farmers to sell their produce to anyone in the country with the agreed price; it is not compulsory at all and that if they want to continue with system of selling through middlemen at state government-controlled “Mandis” by paying commission to the middlemen and levies at the “Mandis”, they are most welcome. There is no compulsion whatsoever for the farmers under the new laws. It is up to them to use them or not.
In fact, it is being difficult to understand what these agitators are agitating against. They are not prepared to say what are their concerns that the government should look at. They want the laws to be repealed lock stock and barrel. It is the most astounding demand that one has come across. And that raises the question whether they are representatives of the farmers at all.
As it is, these agitators are mostly from Punjab, Haryana and West Uttar Pradesh and majority of them are rich famers and the middlemen. It is they who have grabbed all the incentives that every government has provided to the farmers, be it in monopolising 90 percent of MSP-procurement that is done by the central government (only 6 percent of the total number of farmers in the country avail of the opportunities of selling their produce under MSP, and that is also restricted to few produces like rice, wheat and pulses). Naturally, they think that providing options to the overwhelming majority of the real farmers will adversely affect them and their business. And since most of them are filthy rich and finance invariably the politicians in the region (some of them are politicians themselves), they are important to get the support from more or less every political party; it is certainly the case in Punjab from where the bulk of the protestors have come.
The farm-laws, as the government rightly says and every agriculture-expert has concurred with, will do good to crores of Indian farmers. Agricultural reforms are need of the nation, particularly when nearly 60 percent of the people are engaged in an activity that contributes only 14 percent to the national GDP. Farmers have to be given new skills to produce better and produce different from what they are doing at the moment.
However, I do not want delve further on to this issue in this column as I want to focus on the manner and implications of the protests that we are witnessing on Delhi borders. A vibrant democracy that India is, everybody is entitled to have his or her opinion that one can freely express, and that includes protesting a governmental, or for that matter any, decision. In a democracy, no one can physically stop you in expressing your opinion. But the problem arises when you think that only you speak the truth and others must listen to you and do what you say. In other words, you do not believe in “respect other people’s opinions.” If others request reconsideration of your opinion through logical argumentation, persuasion, rigorous research, and expertise, you mock at them and say that their views do not deserve any seriousness and consideration.
In other words, you do not believe in “equality” of opinions; you expect that only your opinion must prevail. On this case of the farmers, precisely we are seeing the above phenomenon. These so-called leaders are not open to reason; they think they are right and everybody, including the Parliament, the government and the judiciary must do what they say, howsoever microscopic minority they are in. They say that they have divine right not to repay the bank loans, not to pay for electricity, to dangerous deplete the ground water, to receive free fertiliser, to collect fees from the farmers under their control and so on. They do not want even the Supreme Court to interfere in their stubble burning that makes the environment dangerous to live in for the people hundreds of kilometres away. In fact, by blocking the roads to Delhi, they have done great injustice to the honest taxpayers on whose money these roads have been built. Because, they have no moral right to block these roads that are not built with their money; they are exempted from paying taxes even if they earn in lakhs!
And as expected, these opinions of the agitators are being wholeheartedly supported by the dominant section of our intelligentsia whom I usually describe to be the Kahn Market gang. These “farmers” are therefore being given plenty of media time and mainstream consideration even when it can be shown that all their claims are verifiably wrong and have serious negative consequences. No wonder why these people controlling the media do not go by their own professed love for “plurality of views”; they will not talk about challenging their “ideological opponents”, including the government of the day, through “deliberative democracy.”
For these people, the word “identify” is more important than words “agree with”. If you hate the Modi-government, then just do not go by what these so-called famer leaders say; you just “identify” with them. There is no need be convinced by their reasoning, you just side with them as representatives of something that defines yourself, something that cuts to the core of what makes you who you are. Today, it may be farmers, tomorrow there will be some fringe groups with violent goals; but all this does not matter as long as they are against the government of the day led by Modi. This is what writer Frank Cioffi says in his essay, “Argumentation in a Culture of Discord,” to be partly because the “food-fight journalism” that dominates our media sphere displays a specific form of fiercely partisan argumentation that is mimicked by those who grow up in that sphere.
Viewed thus, it is increasingly becoming obvious that the way farmers assembled on the borders of Delhi and their consequent behaviour have gone beyond their right to protest that is guaranteed under the democratic constitution of India. They are fast turning out to be anarchists and unless controlled or dealt with adequately, they could be role models for similar anarchists for similar causes, thus crippling all our democratic organs.
Today, they are against the government and the Parliament that passed the farm-laws; tomorrow they will be against the Supreme Court for its decisions that are not palatable to them and so on. Few thousand protestors will come and block all the entry points to the national capital and every government of the day will be asked to succumb to their demands. In effect, this will mean that the Parliament, whose members are elected by the crorers of Indians, cannot make laws; every government that is formed on the basis of the majority in the parliament cannot take any decision; and the Supreme Court or the judiciary which is the sole interpreter of laws abdicates its responsibility to the agitators.
India needs to be protected from such anarchists. Dealing with them effectively inside is as important as fighting the Pakistanis and Chinese on the border.