Deadlocked democracy

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Deadlocked democracy

Monday, 11 January 2021 | Indra Shekhar Singh

Deadlocked democracy

The Govt can still salvage the situation if the PM personally steps in and breaks bread with the farmers, like Vajpayee would have done

With the failure of the 7th round of talks between the agitating farmers and the Narendra Modi Government, Indian democracy is once again at a crossroads. The impasse has been created because the Prime Minister, in a cavalier manner, forced three “black laws” upon the farmers. As the “peace army” of farmers started for Delhi from Punjab, the members were hit by water cannons and harassed by police, yet unafraid — like true Satyagrahis — they marched on with one demand on their lips: “Repeal the laws.” While the farmers’ demand remains unchanged, the Government has tried all the tricks mentioned by Chanakya but failed to uproot the farmers from the Capital’s periphery. As despondency grows within the Government and class traitors are exposed, the farmers’ protest evolves.

Several Machiavellian schemes have failed to end the stalemate. All invectives hurled at the protesting farmers stand discredited. With time, the protest has grown to become sort of a revolution, greater than the Arab Spring. In fact, it is arguably the largest “occupy” movement in the history of human race. Yet the target of the American “occupy” movement and farmers’ revolution in India is the same — one per cent.

Mussolini defined fascism as the marriage between a corporation and the State (political power). But in just a little over a month, the farmers have exposed the robber-barons and their political pawns. Neo-con elite and lazy economists may think that there is still hope for Modi and that the farmers will be routed, but people with ears on Chilla or Singhu borders know the tide has turned.

Nevertheless, let’s contemplate the Government’s strategy to tackle the crisis on hand. From the farmers’ side, the demand for repealing the laws remains unchanged; the Government is again stressing on considering amendments but saying an emphatic “no” to rolling back the laws. So, we have a deadlock. The Government understandably prefers the option of getting the matter heard by the Supreme Court. But the farmer leaders, without challenging the apex court, would rather have the Government deal with the issue. Even if the Supreme Court is roped in, can it effectively remove the blockade? At least the farmer leaders don’t think so.

The Government’s advocates may carp that the farmers are blocking essential roads and causing public nuisance. But this is not true. The blockades at all points are allowing vehicular traffic to pass and, in fact, the police are obstructing traffic as seen in the media. Even if the SC issues an order, what will be the basis for it?

Judging from its earlier statements, the apex court will also act with caution. Even one wrong word could go a long way in eroding its own credibility and integrity. If any complicity is seen between the courts and the Government, it shall only spur the revolution. If the courts remain impartial, the farmers have nothing to fear.

We must also remember that the world community is closely watching every development as India is only just breaking in her shoes at the United Nations Security Council. There could be serious questions and political ramification at any sign of any collusion by the Government. Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau has twice already signalled the mood of the international community to Modi. The Government should be very careful and ensure that a strict and proper judicial process is followed.

But, considering for a minute that the Supreme Court orders for the eviction of farmers and removal of blockades, the orders can be carried out only by the police, paramilitary or finally the army (God forbid it comes to that). Rakesh Tikait has already issued a statement that if the police came down to evicting them, “We (the farmers) are ready to face the bullets on our chest but we won’t leave until the laws are repealed.”

But the moot point is if the Government can afford to be violent or fire at the peaceful and unarmed farmers. In modern times, even if one farmer is killed by a police bullet funded by the tax-payer, the country might erupt in anger and Modi — forget about being remembered like Shivaji or Dadabhai Naoroji — will go down in history as “General Dyer 2.0” and Delhi’s borders will resemble Jallianwala Bagh. While the Government must be very cautious against using even a single bullet, the farmers should ensure that their protest remains peaceful and disciplined.

The next point to ponder is that at what stage would the Delhiites sympathetic to the farmers start protesting? Is the Modi Government ready to have farmers protesting at Delhi’s borders and citizens on the streets? To prevent this from happening, the Government should set an example and punish all those who are spreading conspiracy and the “Khalistani” discourse in public. It will boost the nation’s confidence and build trust between the Government and farmers.

If things do go awry, it’s Catch-22 for Modi. The only way he can remove the farmers without repealing the laws is if he uses the State’s might on them; he can say goodbye to politics if he does that.

There is also a third probability, even more ghastly: What if the troops are called in but they refuse to fire on the farmers? Will there be court-martials or a coup d’etat? Do keep in mind that most uniformed personnel, especially in the Delhi Police, have propinquity with farmers. Is the Indian Government ready to forsake the Constitution for the sake of three laws? An astute politician wouldn’t do it. The kisan and the jawan are entwined; the Government must not pit one against the other. This will not only result in an egregious crime but also seed the rot within our food and military systems.

One might feel that troops from the South or Northeast could be mobilised but if that is done, the Modi Government will use the exact same tactics as employed by the East India Company to quell the 1857 Revolution. The Government should not call any additional troops into or around Delhi. That would be a disaster as the farmers’ networks are very strong and they are aware of such tactics. Either way, the Government is slowly nearing the end of the stalemate unless it softens its position.

Modi also needs to end the dissent within his own party, for they are now starting to splinter; some of them have secretly started aiding the farmers and leaking information.

The Government can still salvage the situation if Modi steps in personally and breaks bread with the farmers, like Atal Bihari Vajpayee would have done. He needs to win the farmers’ trust by repealing the laws rather than patronising them. He would do well to convene a special session of Parliament and mollify dissent. By doing so, he would win not only electorally but also morally. This will be a happy lesson in democracy for the ages to come. But if this is not done, the Indian democracy will resemble a kleptocracy at best. The farmers are highly organised, managing to do what the combined strength of the Opposition couldn’t achieve.

If the righteous farmers are killed or defeated now, the rest of us don’t stand a chance. With demonetisation, our cash was taken away; with GST, the incomes of our small and medium businesses eroded; and finally, with the new farm laws, each morsel of food will be under corporate control, our farmers will become indentured labour in their own fields and the urban populace would have to pay through the nose each time the price of dal hits Rs 200/kg. The middle class and the poor stand to lose the most.

If the common citizens think that they are unconnected to this farmers’ revolution, one urges them to think again: This movement is not only about the farm laws, it is a litmus test for Indian democracy. It is farmers for now; in the next round of “reforms” we could be targeted and then there will be no one to remonstrate for us.

The Government needs to logically analyse the situation and keep ego out of it. To end the stalemate, the Government needs to repeal the new laws. The farmers are relentless and, in the coming days, their resolve will only grow. They refuse to be Hitler’s Jews.

If farmers win, we all win; if they lose, democracy dies in India!

(The writer is Director, Policy and Outreach, National Seed Association of India. The views expressed are personal.)

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