The Prime Minister has stuck to his reputation of springing surprises. The announcement of the decision to repeal the three farm laws came as a huge surprise last morning, which, apart from being the pious day of Guru Parab, was also the birthday of Indira Gandhi. The comparison with Indira Gandhi is apt because she also withdrew the Emergency when she realised it had become untenable. Despite all his bravado, the Prime Minister came to the same conclusion, and because he is an ‘election-jivi‘, and elections to five states including the all-important state of UP, are around the corner, and because defeat was staring him in the face, he was left with no option but to withdraw these black laws. In my tweet after the announcement I said, “While I congratulate the Kisans on their victory over the government for the repeal of the farm laws, I attach no noble sentiment to the government for this move. It is a calculated step for the UP elections. For this government, democracy begins and ends with elections.” So this is it: nothing more than an election gimmick.
The passage of these laws in parliament, specially the Rajya Sabha, had raised many issues of constitutional and parliamentary morality and the conduct of the government. Should the centre legislate on a subject which falls within the legislative domain of the states? Should the laws have been promulgated first as ordinances, violating all the norms for promulgating ordinances? After all, the problems of agriculture in India are as old as agriculture itself, so what was the hurry to promulgate ordinances on these subjects? Next, should they have been ramrodded through parliament in such a shoddy fashion without reference to the Standing Committee of parliament? Scrutiny by the Standing Committee would have enabled consultations with all stakeholders, something that has become standard parliamentary practice now. Will someone in the government stand up even now and explain what was the tearing hurry to enact these laws first as ordinances and then rush them through parliament? Does the act of repeal absolve the Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha of indulging in unparliamentary conduct and favouring the government out and out?
The humility the Prime Minister exhibited when he addressed the nation – and even his apology – failed to impress because the intent was not pure but tainted. Why did it take him so long to understand that the farmers of India were opposed to these laws? Why did it take the deaths of hundreds of farmers to convince him that they did not welcome these laws? Why was the Prime Minister not moved by thousands of farmers sitting in the open and suffering under a cruel sun or braving the bitter cold? Why was he so impervious to all that was happening in such close proximity of the national capital? Why did he not send a ministerial colleague to commiserate with the farmers at the site of their sit-in?
The people of India are not responsible for the image the Prime Minister has projected through a pliant media and the ubiquitous social media. It is his bhakts who said he was the greatest Prime Minister India has ever had. They were trying to convince us all along that he was infallible, strong and courageous. Their claim now that he is a statesman will only fall on deaf ears. This one episode of the repeal of the farm laws in which he invested so much of his personal reputation has proved that he is both weak and fallible, that he also makes mistakes like all of us, and lives to regret them. His image has taken a serious dent. Perhaps he has realised that a couple of his corporate friends may be his ATMs, but they will not get him votes in a popular election.
Now the comparison with Indira Gandhi. She had a reputation which was far more formidable than Modi’s. After all, there are few personalities in history who can be credited with creation of a new nation. Yet, within four years of her stunning electoral victory following the creation of Bangladesh, she became so unpopular that she lost her nerve and decided to impose the Emergency. She lost when she decided to go to the people who taught her a lesson nobody should forget in a hurry. My faith in the Indian people was strengthened then; it stands revived today. Democracy in India is alive and kicking. It was JP and the students’ movement then which defeated Indira Gandhi. There is no JP today. Perhaps we do not need one, because the farmers of India have shown that if any group of people has the will and the determination, it can make a difference. The people have tamed autocrats in the past, they have been tamed once more and will continue to be tamed in future.
Long live Indian democracy.
Yashwant Sinha, former BJP leader, was Minister of Finance (1998-2002) and Minister of External Affairs (2002-2004). He is currently vice-president, Trinamool Congress.
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