Right Angle – How Modi Transforms Zeroes to Heroes
There is a saying that you cannot wake up a person who is already awake but pretending to be sleeping. That is exactly the case with the so-called farmers-agitators against the three farm-laws that were passed by the Parliament.
The government is right that the agitators are not able to point out what are wrong with these laws. And all the more so when two of these laws that really pertain to the farmers (the third one is concerned with storage of the farm produce and hoarding and thus deals with the merchants, not farmers) are optional. These laws do not replace the existing laws at all. These are only addition of their choices of ways. If any farmer does not like them, then he can continue with the existing laws. It is like a river that has two bridges to be crossed. For crossing one bridge you have to pay toll. Another bridge is toll free. It is up to a commuter which bridge he or she wants.
Similarly, under the existing laws, a farmer has to give commission to an “arhatiya” (middleman) for helping him or her sell in a government controlled market (“mandi”) where he or she also has to pay a tax. Under the new law that is optional, he or she can sell it to anybody anywhere in the country directly, without any “arhatiya” or any fixed “mandi”.
The other law that talks of contract-farming is equally optional, though the fact remains that in practice this is the system in many a case, particularly with the absentee-landowners and small-land holders.
But then the agitators and their supporters refuse to understand such simple facts. They are not to open to any reason. While the government has gone many a step backwards over the last three months to assuage their feelings, they, like the “Kauravas”, are not prepared to concede even one inch of their demand that the laws must be repealed. An unsympathetic mainstream media has further complicated the situation by projecting the government to be rigid and adamant whereas the truth is just the opposite. Predictably, all the opposition parties have joined together to fish in the troubled water.
In fact, the course of the protest that began immediately after the Modi government had brought the ordinance early last year (laws were enacted in Parliament a few months later) reveals an interesting pattern. Initially, it was limited to Punjab, the state than earns in crores through the “mandi-tax” and where the “arhityas” or the middlemen rule supreme and are among the richest in the state( invariably they are also the leading politicians or the financiers of the politicians) country. Then it spread to neighbouring Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh.
Earlier, the agitators were rich farmers and the middlemen. But gradually the agitators mobilised support in the name of their ethnicity, not on the merits of their protest against the farm-laws. In many cases, they also exercised their undoubted money and muscle power in forcing poor villagers to join their ranks on the borders of Delhi.
As my friend M Rajivlochan, Professor of history at Chandigarh’s Panjab University and an expert on political movement and community formation in contemporary India, rightly says, “Sometime some issues touch the heart of people very fast even if they don’t have any logic. People take it as an inner call to participate in it. The leaders of the agitation have projected an image in which even those people, who are not associated with farming, feel that the farmers are facing injustice and we should stand by them. In this scenario, a large number of people who are not even associated with farming have become part of this agitation. Everybody feels they are fighting for justice.”
In the process, we have also seen anti-India forces based abroad are systematically inciting and provoking the agitators (some of them have intruded or infiltrated into their ranks) to resort to extreme paths, including violence. This was evident in ample measure on the Republic Day in the national capital, something that was too apparent to be elaborated further.
As if all these things are not bad enough, the Supreme Court of the country has done the most unthinkable by suspending the farm laws and then forming a committee of experts to elicit opinion on these laws. This is not only unthinkable but also most dangerous. The Court has every right to look into the legality of the legislated laws, but in this case it has intruded into the territory of the legislature (Parliament) and the executive to make and implement laws. Of course, subsequently, the Court has tried to wriggle out a bit out of this, but that is a different matter. Its very intervention in this issue really encouraged or emboldened the agitators to become more and more rigid.
Ironical it may sound, but as I have argued elsewhere, the Indian judiciary is the most unaccountable judiciary in the democratic world that believes in separation of powers. As a result, many a time it has proved to be highly irresponsible. The intervention on the farm laws is one of such irresponsible acts by the Supreme Court. In fact, if it does not shun this path, then it will stop being a court of laws and turn to become the court of anarchy.
It is against this background that I would like to express my views of the manner the Modi government has dealt with the issue. In my considered view, the response of the Modi government to the so-called famers’ stir has been disappointing. Let me explain:
First, there has been the terrible inability of the Modi government to convey or communicate to the people at large about the true nature of the laws, giving thus rise to a perception that the laws are not good. Unfortunately, in this perception-war, except the Prime Minister himself, no one in his cabinet (with the possible exception Smriti Irani) is good enough to say what the things are. His bureaucracy is perhaps the worst in conveying the government’s policy. And as has been seen, the Modi government shuns the outside talent (unless this talent belongs to the BJP or RSS) in helping to promote its right causes, policies and intentions.
Secondly, there is a perceived (and I share this perception too) pathetic lack of coherence even within the Modi-cabinet on this issue. When one hears the Prime Minister, both inside and outside the Parliament, one gets a clear impression that he is committed, and rightly so, to the farm laws as these are good for the 99 percent of the farmers all over the country and that he will not bow down to the vested interests from a particular region, particularly when these interests do not represent the real farmers. But if you hear his cabinet colleagues, including the Agriculture Minister, you get the impression that the government has done something wrong and that it is prepared to concede as much concessions as possible to the vested interests/agitators.
Thirdly, the Government missed the bus when the Supreme Court unnecessarily interfered and suspended the laws. The government then should have immediately suspended the talks with the agitators by saying that since the Supreme Court has taken up the issue, everybody should wait till its decision. But continuing the talks with the agitators even after the Supreme Court intervention and promising the agitators to suspend the laws for 18 months literally strengthened the latter. They not only became more rigid but also started demanding more. They were not earlier bothered about the government and the Parliament, and now they got the support ironically from the government to defy even the Supreme Court. It is really unimaginable how the Modi government went for this absurd option.
Fourthly, the Modi government again missed the bus on January 27 when the whole nation was behind it to remove the agitators from the borders of Delhi, even by force if necessary. Everybody saw Rakesh Tikait, the so- called farmers’ leader in tears when the security forces were all geared to remove these agitators that evening. But all of a sudden, the forces were ordered by the government to withdraw. The result is that Tikait, who was literally a zero( he had lost his security deposit when he fought the elections last) has now become a big hero not only at all the protest-sides on the Delhi border but also in meetings held in various villages of Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh. The numbers of the agitators and their supporters have only swelled.
Fifthly, the way anti-India elements have infiltrated the agitators’ ranks is nothing but the failure of the government’s intelligence agencies. And the way these anti-India elements are influencing the international opinion through the social media and foreign governments through lobbying also reflects India’s overall strategic shortcomings.
I think the most important outcome of Modi government’s handling of the protests is that it has converted zeroes to heroes. It has failed utterly in exposing the zeroes that they have nothing to do with the farmers, that they are extraordinarily rich by Indian standard (most of them have petrol pumps, tractor showrooms; they have properties in India and abroad; and some of them are essentially failed politicians and social parasites).
Let there be no doubt that this agitation is no longer about the farmers. See the way the list of demands of the agitators is becoming bigger and bigger with each passing day. It is a template for removing Modi from power. Today, by mobilising few lakhs on Delhi’s border, if you can compel Modi to go back on agriculture- reforms, tomorrow the same method will be repeated to remove another reform. And a day will come when this method will force Modi to be removed from power, despite his huge parliamentary majority.
If this template becomes a success story, India’s democracy will be imperilled and no elected government will be allowed to frame policies and implement them; they may not be allowed even to complete their tenures.
One hopes that Modi will not let this happen. And the best way to do this is to stop converting the zeroes to heroes. Shun talking to them and expose them of their illegalities and criminalities over the years which are readily available and in plenty. And say that you work for the farmers of the whole country, not for few, that too middlemen, coming from a specific region of the country.