Putting democracy in farm’s way

The two topics vying for headline space in the national media are the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing farmers’ agitation against the government’s proposed agricultural reforms.

While there is hope on the horizon where the disease is concerned as the vaccination rollout continues apace and the virus seems to be on the wane in most parts of the country, the gridlock between the protesting farmers and the government shows no sign of early resolution, recalling the conundrum of classroom physics as to what happens, or fails to happen, when an irresistible force meets an immovable object.

Indeed, the impasse now involves issues beyond the demands of the agriculturists and raises questions, and concerns, about the roots of the world’s most populous, and arguably most volatile, democracy.

The peremptory promulgation of the agri laws, the tumultuous protest launched against them, the disproportionate use of police force to quell the movement, the resultant violence which erupted in Delhi on Republic Day, now reads like a chronicle of a disaster foretold.

The riotous scenes which took place in the Capital on January 26, which have been compared with the mob fury which engulfed Washington DC after Donald Trump was seen to have lost the election and would not serve a second term in the White House as his supporters hoped, turned the farmers’ movement, and the government’s attempts to suppress it, into an international cause celebre, or cause celebrity, as high-profile public figures ranging from eco activists like Greta Thunberg to pop stars like Rihanna who claims to have a Twitter following of over 100 million, came out in vociferous support of the agriculturists.

The government’s response to the growing clamour of criticism has been to resort to that over-used five finger exercise of raising the bogey of a sinister ‘foreign hand’ behind the scenes working to further the anti-national machinations of pro-Khalistani and pro-Pakistani elements.

The Delhi police’s ham-handed attempts to thwart such seditious designs, like arresting Bengaluru-based environmentalist Disha Ravi and attempting to arrest two more supposed saboteurs of national security in Maharashtra, have played like a tragi-comic rerun of a Keystone Kops movie with a superimposed soundtrack echoing with the Emergency-era’s midnight knock on a dissident door.

The situation once again brings to the forefront the all-important question as to how well- or ill-equipped we are to deal with the many differences and divergences which go to make up our heterogenous, achieved-against-all-odds Union.

The Indian polity is often likened to an elephant, a large, lumbering creature not designed by size or predisposition to be a stand-in for a galloping racehorse.

A more apt analogy to illustrate the rights of passage that the disparate stakeholders who make up our totality must navigate would be a crowded thoroughfare on which, at any given time, motorised two-wheelers, three-wheelers, and four-wheelers, cycles, hand- or bullock-drawn carts, stray dogs and cattle, jaywalking pedestrians, and, yes, even an occasional elephant or two, must maneuver with minimal misadventure.

From the lofty perspective of the current dispensation at the Centre, however, this congested, cacophonous melee seems transformed by an optical illusion into a unidirectional expressway designed for the use of budding Formula One drivers.

This could explain why contentious schemes like demonetisation, the precipitate introduction of GST, the Citizenship Amendment Act, the National Register of Citizens, and more recently, the new agri laws, are implemented with a velocity proverbially ascribed to lubricated lightning bolts.

The Newtonian postulate that every action has an equal and opposite reaction gets translated into the dynamics of governance, Indian-style, as the axiom that every acceleration generates an equal and opposite deceleration as exemplified by the sarkar-farmer logjam, with neither side amenable to yielding contested ground to the other.

Streamroller diktats create their own speedbreakers of resistance, resulting in a no-go zone, a barren terrain unsuitable for the cultivation of that most prized, and most vulnerable to blight, of all staples which goes by the name of democracy.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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