Rakesh Tikait speaks at the Kisan Mahapanchayat at Jind in Haryana | Photo: PTI
''When we arrived on Delhi's borders on November 26 (last year), we had not thought it would take a year,' Darshan Pal Singh, a leader of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha that is spearheading the movement, said in his address. ''But your unity and wise decisions demolished a dictator who for seven years had refused to retreat an inch (on any issue). I congratulate you.'' The Telegraph, November 23, 2021. Darshan's words reflect the robust and radiant face of Indian democracy. Let me repeat the observation on the farmers' protest here: ''When we stand in front of a precipice, a step backwards is what lifts us back into life. Going backwards is then progressive and welcome. How long BJP and RSS can pretend to be unaware of this reality is the pertinent question that the farmers are raising.''
Prime Minister Modi has replied to the question by announcing the repeal of the farm laws. The decision to repeal the farm laws is political. It's a decision that a leader like Modi usually hesitates to take. Therefore it demands a vivid and detailed analysis. Let us recall here the words of Amitab Kanth, the CEO of Niti Aayog, that there is too much democracy in India. Amitab Kanth is one of the most powerful bureaucrats in the Modi government. We should also remember PM Modi's words that some people in Delhi shouldn't teach him democracy.
Rulers, who get elected democratically and turn out challenging democracy later, are not rare in history. The article that Vinod Mehta, the former editor of Outlook, penned for Open Magazine on January 23, 2013, under the title 'A Tale of Two Dictators,' was prophetic. Modi had not become the Prime Minister of India when Vinod wrote this article.
Let me quote from Vinod's article: ''No leader will come out and say, 'I am going to bypass democratic norms.' He will pretend, in the beginning, that he will follow all norms. He will merely promise to get things done much faster, and that could get him elected.'' Remember Modi's invitation to the Tata group to start the Nano car project when they were pushed out of Bengal. It only took three days to have the project kickstarted in Gujarat. If what Tata demanded was 350 acres of land, the Modi government handed over 1,100 acres. There were reports that the Modi government granted a loan of Rs 9,000 crores to the Tata group with a meagre one percent of interest. Don't ask what happened to this ambitious project by the Tatas and what gains this project delivered to the people of Gujarat.
Recall Modi's first entry into the parliament! The sight of Modi's arrival, prostrating at the steps of the Parliament, was so exhilarating that it gave goosebumps to all lovers of democracy. But that tingle of excitement didn't last long. As G Sampath, one of the leading journalists, points out - What the Modi government is practising right now is democracy without politics and citizenship without rights.
Maybe, what defines Modi most cryptically, would be 'Mann Ki Baat'. If dialogue is the foundation of democracy, Modi believes in monologue. Modi is like the high priest who speaks from a pedestal to those standing below. No questions to the pulpit. He would speak and the others would listen. It is a life that is built on the image of an infallible leader who takes only the right decisions.
It is the concept of the monarch and the subjects. Social scientists like Ashish Nandi place Modi in these premises that are alien and inaccessible to the enlivening pastures of democracy. Modi had to backtrack earlier in the vaccine policy. But that was due to the intervention of the Supreme Court. Here, the difference is that the Modi government now stands corrected by the people themselves.
It is widely speculated that the change in the policy is thanks to the upcoming UP and Punjab elections. But that is not the sole reason. The most significant reason is the farmers' struggle itself. The Modi government had gone the extra mile to destroy the morale of the farmers. It should be noted that CAA and the act of neutralising article 370 had led to huge protests by the people. Demonetisation too came under vehement opposition. But the government remained unmoved.
Modi and BJP had no problems in taking on these protests under the cover of Hindutva and nationalism. But farmers are a different cup of tea. RSS and BJP can't simply match them. It seems the Modi government was under the impression that farmers' struggle would come a cropper with the intervention of the Supreme Court. The farm laws were brought in by the political leadership. So the solution also had to come from the political realm, not the court. It was poetic justice that the snake that bit came back and drew out the poison itself.
The Sikh community is literally the spine of the farmers' struggle. The Sikhs can't be unsettled by the onslaught of Hindutva. Many soldiers who keep vigil at the borders are from the Sikh community in Punjab. If BJP has any plans to teach them patriotism then it would backfire in no time. Kashmir and North East are already in turmoil. The Modi government and RSS chieftains who sit in Nagpur know very well that if Punjab too gets rattled, then it would lead to chaos in many frontiers. That is why Modi chose the day of the holy Gurpurab to announce the repeal of the farm laws.
As pointed out by Prof Prabhat Patnaik, the leading left economist in India, the struggle against the farm laws has been a question of survival to the farmers. The farmers couldn't think of anything less than victory in a battle against the regime that had thrown them away to the corporates. Modi was a strong proponent of federalism before he captured power in Delhi. The letter that he wrote to the central government demanding enactment of a law ensuring minimum support price must still be there in the files of the Central Secretariat. But now federalism is anathema to Modi. Let us not forget the fact that the Modi government brought in the farm laws unilaterally under the cover of marketing even as agriculture remains a state subject.
The Sangh Parivar wanted to create a Virat Purush (cosmic man form) out of Modi. It was the concept of having one and only leader who can replace all the democratic institutions. Just see how cleverly the structure of the NDA has been dismantled. It's no longer an alliance of partners. It's out and out BJP. The ruling party had no qualms in ending its relationship with Akalidal which demanded the repeal of farm laws. The alliance partners became irrelevant and avoidable before the realisation of the motto - one leader, one nation.
It is this motto that the farmers challenged at Indraprastha, the holy courtyard of power. This was the first time that Modi and BJP came face to face with such a crisis. Hubris only led Modi to this predicament. It was also the reason why he couldn't answer the question on the need for enforcement of farm laws if the farmers didn't want them. Ultimately, it exposed and stripped naked a regime that was at the beck and call of the corporates.
The centenary of RSS is just four years away. RSS simply can't imagine 2025 without BJP at the centre of power. This is where the upcoming UP assembly elections next year becomes crucial. If BJP fails to retain power in UP, then the dream of a third term at the centre may not materialise. This is a risk that RSS cannot afford. That is why the Parivar is setting aside their concept of the Virat Purush for the time being. It must be the realisation, that a third term is more important than the image of the 56-inch chested leader that must be leading the Parivar right now.
The illusion that Modi is invincible got ruptured in the Bengal assembly election. Despite all the efforts by BJP to save the image of Modi in the context of the setback in Bengal, RSS knew that the reality had been startlingly different. The Modi government got the farm laws passed in the parliament violating all the democratic procedures. It was the first time the nation was seeing the central government being controlled so openly by a bunch of corporate overlords.
Those who raised dissent were arrested and imprisoned. Octogenarians like Fr Stan Swamy had to sacrifice their lives when the regime came hunting down. Over 700 farmers lost their lives during the struggle. Can the BJP regime go scot-free without paying for this? That is why Darshan Pal and Rakesh Tikayat are saying that the farmers' struggle is not over yet. The votes of the farmers will be crucial in both the 2022 UP Assembly election and the 2024 Lok Sabha election. The farmers will remember their brothers who died encountering Covid, the biting winter and an immensely hostile regime at the centre.
This is a scenario that frightens the Sangh Parivar. They smelt it when the farmers, who assembled at Muzaffarpur some days back, raised the slogan 'Ishwar, Allah Tero Naam'. There is already a trust deficit between the farmers and the Modi government. It has not occurred over one day. And it won't go away in a day either. The shadow of Gujarat has been over Modi for quite some time. The hangover of ruling the state for 12 years has not left him. Gujarat has been a catalyst in the co-existence of right-wing politics and corporates.
Modi always dreamt of the expansion of the Gujarat model throughout India. But India is not just Gujarat, neither Kerala nor Bengal. India is a confluence of all these regions. Writer Udhay Narayan Singh speaks of a letter received from a German friend who wanted to learn the 'Indian' language. There is no Indian language like German, Chinese, Russian or French. India means diversity. India doesn't have a heritage of homogenous culture or history. There are as many Indias just like as there are Ramayanas. No ideology that denies and defies this base can do justice to India.
The farmers are telling Modi that India is not just Gujarat. It's not a trivial thing that the Modi government has come to accept this reality even if it is too late. Modi is propelled by limitless desires and aspirations. Modi and his followers never had any problem with former American president Trump calling him the father of India. It seems Modi is inspired and motivated by the Chinese leader Xi Jinping who is trying to surpass Mao and Deng Xiaoping. Modi might be aiming to become a greater leader than Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
Nothing tempts human beings like immortality and power. While in power, the rulers are under the impression that they are destined to be immortal. They build palaces and forts and install mementoes that carry their names.
Vinod Mehta's article, which compares Modi and Sanjay, was referred to here in the beginning. All the powers Sanjay enjoyed came from his being the son of Indira. Once Indira fell, Sanjay too came down. The difference with Modi is that he has the consent of the majority . It is a known democratic feature that the leader who gets elected on a majority vote bank must respect the minorities too. That is the essence of democracy. But Modi ,riding over a majoritarian wave , interprets this consent to implement anti democratic policies. ''Narendra Modi has the capacity to get things done within the system. But he knows it'll be slow. It'll be hard going. And if he has come in with a reputation of speeding things up, then he will want to retain that reputation. So while he knows it can be done within the system, he also knows that if he bypasses the system he will get them done much faster. That's the danger.''
Vinod was prophetic indeed! The Modi government brought in the farm laws violating all the democratic procedures. The farmers had the courage to question this aberration. The illiterate, poor people of North India only regained Indian democracy in 1977 by throwing out the dictatorial regime of Indira Gandhi. Now once again the farmers of UP, Haryana and Punjab have come up to protect Indian democracy. As Darshan Pal said: ''Hats off to you, dear farmers!''