Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his reply to the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address in the Rajya Sabha termed protesters as ‘Andolanjivi’ while attacking the West for its interference in the ‘internal matters’ of India.
What is happening in India is nothing new. Big protests have occurred in the past and handled well by preceding governments. The farmer’s protest has posed a humongous challenge in front of the Modi government.
It is a PR challenge for Modi. His barricading of entry points to Delhi in a manner as if enemy tanks are approaching the capital, internet shutdown in areas where farmers’ protests are taking place, jailing of farmers and journalists; all such actions are symptoms of a desperate government unable to handle dissent. Till now, it has only proved more harmful for the government as the number of protesters keeps increasing exponentially.
Yesterday at Rajya Sabha, PM Modi while giving his speech chose his words very carefully. While attacking foreign celebrities and activists, he tried to completely segregate those who are openly protesting against the government from those who are silent or in support of his government. While terming the protesters as ‘Andolanjivi’, the Prime Minister completely ignored the main issues that are behind this growing sea of protesting farmers.
It is not that Modi government is for the first time dealing with any large-scale protests, although the scale of current farmers’ protests is much bigger than any other protests in the past. Earlier, protests against the CAA-NRC Bill also occurred in different parts of the country on a large scale.
However, farmers get a lot of sympathy from common citizens. This importance of farmers in Indian society is ingrained since the days of droughts and famines that made food grains a premium item to have.
On top of that along with Jats, Sikhs have led these protests. Sikhs are too a community that enjoys respect among the Indians for their charitable nature and bravery in the Indian armed forces.
Earlier tags such as ‘Khalistani terrorists’, anti-nationals etc. have not worked. Primarily because those tags are against the general perception of the population.
Facing large-scale protests, criticism from the West, and accused of being an agent of Adani and Ambani, PM Modi this time has tried to for the kill by completely invalidating the protesters, terming them Andolanjivi – rent-a-cause protesters. Doing so, Modi has tried to make farmers’ protests meaningless and without any base.
By ignoring the reasons behind the protests, the Prime Minister has also signalled to do no more compromises with the farmers’ unions.
The protests, however, signal large-scale dissatisfaction with the Modi government, especially among the poor. Foreign intervention or not, a protest generally is a symptom of the failure of the government machinery. The government’s need to frequently shut down the internet, on the other hand, shows the government’s acceptance of its failures and hence use of autocratic measures to deal with dissent.
The ‘Andolanjivi’ remark is an effort to make protesting a taboo. By depicting protesters as a separate community who are good for nothing, PM Modi is trying to make the whole act of protesting a shameful act.
Also, democracy cannot survive without dissent. Dissent shows the areas where the government is going against the will of the people or harming the people in some way. A democracy without dissent is basically an autocracy. Even North Korea’s official name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
In that light PM Modi’s ‘Andolanjivi’ comment is harmful to Indian democracy in the long run. If the government starts taking offensive measures against those who protest openly against the government, by simply terming them as some outcast community; this will signify the official introduction of fascist policies in India. This attempt to draw a line between his followers and protesters is not going to solve the farm crisis, nor will it aid in India’s development which was faltering even before the pandemic.
India’s GDP growth was continuously decreasing since early 2018. While the rich and upper-middle-class have been doing pretty well due to all the tax sops and loan breaks given to corporates, there was a growing dissatisfaction among those in the lower brackets of income. The unorganized sector has been frequently disrupted by government policies, resulting in a decrease in jobs and loss of income. Demonetization, the introduction of a complicated GST regime, lack of job creation in the unorganized sector, all have contributed to the loss of livelihood for the unskilled labour force. Most of the small and marginalised farmers belong to the unorganized sector as they do farming for food while doing other part-time manual jobs to earn money.
There is fear that a free market system will guarantee the destruction of all the small farmers as they will never be able to sell their produce at a profit after having to compete with big supply chain companies and contractors. Without government subsidies buying seeds and fertilizer will become difficult, thus increasing their food costs; ultimately making them poorer.
Instead of addressing this fear, PM Modi now intends to see protesters as a community who protest for no reason. This will only further increase the gap between the government and the people. Constant policy disruptions in the livelihood of the poor have already made the poor more circumspect of Modi government. The resulting distrust has created an environment wherein the poor and marginalized community see no other option but to protest against the policies of the government to protect their livelihood. On top of that Modi government’s iron-fisted policies gives off the message that the government has no solution for the problems faced by the poor and instead focus on squashing protests by hook or by crook. This really depicts the hopelessness among the masses after six years of Modi rule and Modi’s frustration with those masses.
People in India have always protested. Be it against the law & order situation after Nirbhaya gangrape or against religiously motivated government policies after the introduction of CAA-NRC. It is a democratic government which listens to dissenters and makes compromises wherever it deems ‘will of the people’ wants so. A truly democratic government can provide inclusive development as all the sections of the society gets equal say in policy development and implementation. However, Modi’s focus towards coining effective nametags only shows the intent to find a PR driven solution to the problem.