On 26th January we saw men in blue turbans, wielding swords on horse back, ride into our Nation’s capital, as if they were the cavalry of an invading army, but they were supposedly farmers and they were protesting! Guess, a 21st century farmers’ protest looks like a 14th century invasion. It makes one wonder, what has expressing ‘dissent’ descended to in our Democracy?
This constant and aggressive protest in the name of peaceful dissent makes one wonder, is the Opposition so frustrated at being unable to defeat the BJP that it wants to take the Emergency route?
As in create enough chaos in the name of dissent, force the Government to declare President’s rule in a few States, then have more protests to push the Government to declare National Emergency, after which they can claim BJP to be an undemocratic party led by Modi the dictator and win the subsequent election? Ah! The 1975 template?
The Congress knows this well, after all it happened to them. But so does the BJP and the Communist Party, after all they were on the other side back then. But again, people also know what happened when the hotch-potch party came to power post-Emergency.
Now the question, how much should one protest in a Democracy and how aggressively? How long? And at the cost of whose inconvenience? Yogendra Yadav, one among the leaders of the farmers protest, speaking of Delhi violence said that it had been two months since the farmers had been protesting and the farmers’ patience was wearing thin and they were tired!
So according to Yogendra Yadav, in a Democracy if you sit for two months blocking Highways, hurting industries, inconveniencing the public, the Government should heed to the protestors’ demand. And if it does not, then it’s only natural to be violent? That’s not Democracy, that’s mobocracy. While many see the pre-Emergency protest with a sense of reverence and romance, it too was mobocracy.
Ramachandra Guha, in his finest book, India After Gandhi, speaking of the JP movement, says this: “A more detailed critique of JP’s movement was offered by R. K. Patil, a former ICS officer who had later become an admired social worker in rural Maharashtra.
At JP’s invitation, Patil spent two weeks in Bihar, travelling through the State and talking to a wide cross-section of people. In a long (and remarkable) letter he wrote to Narayan — dated 4 October 1974 — he conceded that ‘there can be no doubt about the tremendous popular enthusiasm generated by the movement’. He saw ‘unprecedented crowds attending your meetings in pin-drop silence’. However, when they were on their own these crowds were less disciplined, as in the attacks on the State Assembly and the forcible prevention of the Bihar Governor from delivering his annual address.
Patil wondered whether the modes of protest being adopted in Bihar conformed strictly to Gandhian standards. But he went further, asking the question: ‘What is the scope for Satyagraha and direct action in a formal Democracy like ours . . . ?’ By demanding the dismissal of a duly elected Assembly, argued Patil, ‘the Bihar agitation is both unconstitutional and undemocratic’. True, the electoral process had to be reformed, made more transparent and purged of the influence of power and money. Yet once an election was held its verdict had to be honoured. For ‘there is no other way of ascertaining the general opinion of the people in a Nation-State, except through free and fair elections’. Patil wrote, in conclusion, that he was ‘well aware of the patent drawbacks of the Government presided over by Indira Gandhi’. But he still wasn’t certain that it was ‘wise to substitute for the law of “Government by Discussion”, the law of “Government by Public Street Opinion”.’ ‘Today you are a force for good’, wrote Patil to JP, ‘but History records that the crowds can produce a Robespierre also.”
Indeed a lesson for Yogendra Yadav, opposition parties and all those supporting this repeated, aggressive, unrelenting street protests. Also remember, one day BJP will do the same, and they will justify it saying “remember 2020-21.”
Today the Opposition seems hell bent on protesting. Good or Bad. Even when the highly qualified Chief Economist of IMF, Gita Gopinath, the protégé of the highly respected Amartya Sen, a much-loved economist of the Left liberals, says that the farms laws are in the interest of the farmers, the Opposition doesn’t relent.
Even when they are reminded that this law was what they too wanted earlier, they disagree. So what is one to do?
No, wonder NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant said, “Tough reforms are very difficult in the Indian context, we have too much of Democracy…You need political will to carry out these reforms (mining, coal, labour, agriculture) and many more reforms still need to be done. It is not easy to compete against China without hard reforms.”
This reminds me of what someone said about Democracy: “Too much Democracy is not good. It’s like having too much sugar in your coffee. It ruins the coffee.” Yes, dissent is a very important aspect of Democracy, but blind fury, unjustifiable demands and blackmail are not.
There is no doubt that BJP is a party that is short on ideas, there is no doubt they have borrowed generously from Congress party, be it Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana which was National Girl Child Day under Congress, or even the popular Swachh Bharat Abhiyan which was Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan under Congress.
But Congress and the other parties must realise their mistake. The BJP was a party that was lying by the pantry while you were busy in the kitchen cooking up good schemes but not serving them to the people because you were busy discussing which community will benefit from which scheme or which scheme will get you vote banks. Meanwhile, the BJP sneaked in, took the good schemes you had cooked, gave it a bit of garnish, made a show of it and presented it as their own to voters and won an election.
One can understand the frustration, but stop trying to burn down the house because you messed up in the kitchen with your opportunistic liberalism.
For now, let’s recall what Congress party’s iron lady, Indira Gandhi once said: “Not every individual or party is always disposed to use our democratic framework to further constructive purposes. It seems that the exercise of the democratic right sometimes takes the form of freedom even to destroy.”
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