Too Much Democracy?


   Image credits: Jasbir Malhi/ Indian Express

By R. Raj Rao

NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant put his foot in his mouth when he said in an online talk recently that, “Tough reforms are very difficult in the Indian context, for we are too much of a democracy.” He added: “This government has demonstrated political will to carry out hard reforms.”

Kant was obviously speaking in the context of the ongoing farmer protests in Delhi.  If his statements are deconstructed, what they shockingly imply is that India must shed some of its democratic values to opt for a more dictatorial approach, where the word of the government is gospel. Citizens, then, would have to forgo the right to question the government on contentious issues like, say, the Citizenship Amendment Act or the new farm laws. What this means is that once the government decides on something, there is no question of its retracting and bowing to the will of the people who have elected it.

When Amitabh Kant’s statements went viral, he attempted damage control by facetiously arguing that he was speaking of India in comparison to a country like China.  But this did not wash with the government’s critics who felt that Kant was only honestly confessing what the ruling party at the centre has always ideologically believed.

In consonance with this thinking, the Government of India has resorted to every trick in the book to crush the farmers’ protests. Some of their spokespersons have alleged on prime time news channels without proof that the protests are instigated by ‘Khalistanis’, and by China and Pakistan.

This is preposterous. As far as I know, the Sikh community’s demand for an independent homeland known as ‘Khalistan’ has been lying in limbo for the past 36 years, since Operation Blue Star and the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Why would the plea of Indian farmers to repeal contentious farm laws suddenly resuscitate a movement that is in cold storage for so long?  If Sikhs in Canada and Britain have issued statements in support of our farmers, they have done so for reasons of solidarity, and not necessarily as ‘Khalistanis’, a term that has no locus standii.

As for China and Pakistan having a hand in the farmers’ protests, no country, however inimical, is foolish enough to meddle in the internal affairs of a sovereign power. It smacks of a holier-than-thou attitude to assume that while India never interferes in the affairs of other countries; others habitually poke their noses in our matters.

The other baseless charge levelled against the farmers is that Maoists and Naxalites have infiltrated their protests and hijacked them. As evidence, the government cites the example of a lone farmer organization, BKU Ekta, headed by the 75-year-old Joginder Singh Ugrahan. Ugrahan, apparently, has spoken up against the arrest of those who attended the Bhima-Koregaon rally in Pune three years ago. They include Varavara Rao, Sudha Bharadwaj, Stan Swamy, Gautam Navlakha, and even Umar Khalid and Sharjeel Imam, who are pejoratively referred to by the government and its TV channels as members of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Tukde Tukde Gang. This is another term that has no locus standii.

The other farmer organizations, however, have distanced themselves from Ugrahan, and have emphasized that their protests have nothing to do with any Bhima-Koregaon attendees referred to above. It is just as well that activists like Yogendra Yadav and Medha Patkar, who have joined the agitating farmers, haven’t been called Urban Naxals by the government. At any rate, not as yet.

It beats me as to how those arrested for attending the Bhima-Koregaon rally can support the farmers’ protests, even if they wish to, when they have been incarcerated in various jails without trial since January 2018. My co-translations of Varavara Rao’s poems cannot be published as I cannot meet the poet in prison to seek his permission.

At the end of the day, though, ideology is ideology. Foucault, French Philosopher and Historian, speaks of the concern of left-wing intellectuals with universal problems: the fight against multinational corporations; judicial and police apparatuses; property speculators. He describes the writer as a universal intellectual, and locates the university as the site of revolutionary change.

If right-wing governments can demonize intellectually sound left-wing ideologies and their proponents, the tables may be turned on them as well. As such, the ruling dispensation has come in for severe criticism for its partiality towards multinational corporations and the crony capitalists who head them. Two names that have assumed much notoriety in this context are those of Ambani and Adani. In fact, the reason why the farmers’ protests have gained so much traction is because the farmers and their sympathizers are convinced that the government’s ulterior motive in introducing the new farm laws, which it calls farm reforms, is to favour the Ambanis and Adanis. However, this is something that the government does not openly admit.

Does “too much democracy” then, mean validating not all ideologies, but only those that suit the government, and which it subscribes to?

The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

  • Dr. R. Raj Rao is an internationally known Indian English novelist, poet and critic. He was Professor and Head of the Department of English at the University of Pune in Maharashtra. He has also been a Visiting Professor at universities in Canada and Germany

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