Modi’s Retreat Represents a Resounding Defeat of the Ugly Impulses Driving New India

By persisting with their protest, the farmers of India beat back the political instigators of violence, the policeman and the technocratic elite that sees democratic protest and consultation as a waste of time, and even a threat.

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Why? Why now?

Even after a week, no one – probably not even the Great Leader himself – has a convincing answer to the question of why the three controversial farm laws stand withdrawn. Of course, professional apologists of the regime have been whistling very loudly in the dark that the supreme karmayogi has undertaken this roll-back precisely because our “national interest” so demanded.

“National interest” throughout the modern age has remained a handy, flexible sentiment, invoked as per their convenience by dictators, petty tyrants, party autocrats and democratic overlords. Prime Minister Modi is no exception. And as almost every tax-payer funded advertisement reminds us, for him there is no greater cause, no greater virtue, no greater commitment than the “nation.” It stands to reason, therefore, that the withdrawal of the three farm laws was dictated solely by the ‘national interest’.

For over a year, the rulers of new India subjected us to convulsions and confusion as they sought to browbeat the farmers. We had violence, disruptions and ugliness. Suddenly, all the arguments and  rationales that were touted in favour of these arbitrary laws as also all the allegations and all the suspicions that were flung at the protesters have been abandoned – of course, out of concern for the national interest, as recently discovered by  the great deshbhakt.

Beyond the hypocrisy that comes easily to us as a society and as a nation, we need to remind ourselves of the larger unappetitising  picture: the obduracy that the Shahenshah and Shah regime demonstrated against the farmers and their democratic dissent was not just on account of a desire to push the three laws but was very much dictated by the Modi Raj’s operational DNA.

It is not so difficult to decode this DNA, the sum of entrenched ugly impulses.

First, there is a growing infatuation with violence, collective or individual, as long as it it inflicted in the name of a “cause” approved by the  regime’s political and ideological high priests. We have long been accustomed to lumpen bands of hooligans, masquerading as this or that “Hindu” outfit, visiting violence and intimidation on the Muslims. This new culture encourages official and private coercion against all those who will not fall in line with the regime’s priorities and preferences.

The same experiment with violence was sought to be inflicted on the farmers. The Haryana Chief Minister was heard exhorting his party cadres to take on the protesting farmers. But the most volatile manifestation of this ugliness was the Lakhimpur Kheri episode. It is pertinent to remind ourself that  the concerned junior central minister is yet to be defrocked.

The farmers’ peaceful, prolonged and dignified protest withstood the official ugliness and defeated it.

The second element of the regime’s DNA that the farmers stared down and overcame is one of the operational paradigms of Naya Bharat: reliance on the police as the principal instrument of governance.

The Shahenshah and Shah regime is quite unapologetic about its belief that all issues of governance – especially those that require the sanction of democratic legitimacy – can be sorted out by the exertions of a dedicated policeman.

This is first time in 70 years that a government in New Delhi has outsourced its political imagination to the policeman. It has unthinkingly allowed itself to be guided –  and manipulated – by the policeman and his tool-kit of coercive tactics. The  upright, uncorrupted policeman has long been celebrated in popular culture as ‘dabang‘ but he now also casts his spell on the insecure politician. The policeman invents “enemies” and “threats” and manipulates the governing politician towards the use of coercion rather than persuasion against democratic rivals and opponents. Curiously enough, the most powerful prime minister and the most powerful home minister since Independence have become India’s most  insecure couple – and hene susceptible to this manufactured talk of “enemies” under every bed.

Only a few days ago, we were treated to a disquieting treatise from the grandest of all policemen, the national security adviser, as to how civil society could be a breeding ground for our nation’s “enemies.” So dependent are the rulers of Naya Bharat on the minatory policemen who enforce ‘governance’ that they were constrained to tweak the rules in favour of their trusted thanedars.

The regime’s most empowered and trusted policemen failed – and, failed conspicuously – to tame, divide, factionalize, terrorize and neutralize the agitation leaders. This is arguably the single most consequential aspect of the farmers’ movement.

Third, Modi’s grand retreat on the farm laws constitutes  a resounding  defeat for the technocratic elite that is an integral part of his regime’s DNA. This new elite of Naya Bharat arrogantly believes that it need not allow itself to be slowed down by democratic processes of accountability. This elite has enforced the political bosses’ anti-democratic impulses. And, it was this elite that had dug its heels in: all in the name of reforms and vikas. A concession now would jeopardise the whole ‘reform agenda,’ they argued. For the ruling politicians, “vikas” is just  a toxic electoral slogan, but for this righteous  elite any democratic consultation is a waste of time. This arrogant group stands rebuffed.

Modi’s retreat on the farm laws offers an occasion for introspection for all constitutional stake-holders, especially those who have an obligation and a duty to ensure fairness in our republic. The farmers refused to accept the totally untenable argument that just because a bunch of politicians has managed to secure and procure a “mandate”, they get absolved of the constitutionally-mandated matrix of constraints and restraints. The farmers’ success is an occasion to recall the Chief Justice of India’s words of wisdom: democracies elect rulers, not tyrants. A sobering moment.