Mann ki baat is a monologue which the prime minister decides to give from his office when he feels like. In this he tries to talk about the issues that trouble his mind the most, or the ones on which he wants the nation’s attention to come to. Incidentally, the protesting farmers find little or no space in either of these situations.
Senior journalist Tavleen Singh, once a great supporter of Modi, notes that Modi lives in an echo chamber surrounded by people who say what he wants to hear. In this echo chamber there is no space for any outside sound to reach him and this takes him away from the reality.
Thankfully, in the last few days, the PM has finally started accepting the fact that there is a problem at hand for which the farmers of two states are agitating and at least has started responding in his own funny way.
I mention funny because rather than talking to the agitating farmers, he goes about talking to farmers from various parts of the country and tries to explain them the positives of the laws in question ! “Modi bhai, aap ke kanoonon se unhe problem nahin hai… jinhe hai, aap unse baat kariye.”
On the recent kisan diwas, on DD National, we were subjected to interviews of farmers who had absolutely no problem with the laws and were happy with the way the government was functioning. Fair enough !! Some people will be happy and others unhappy with the way the government functions. But, to say that the people who are unhappy are wrong if they feel that way, is outrageous.
The issue at hand is a bit tricky and needs some understanding. The government has made these laws which will alter the way in which a certain system worked. Now this system is different in different states. That is why agriculture, its selling system, is all part of the state list. According to the needs of the region, the state government can formulate laws on it. That is a federal polity.
In this case, when the central government goes ahead and formulates these laws, they affect different regions of the country differently. The states that get adversely affected are Punjab and Haryana because it is in these two states primarily that the MSP system has been dominant. To say that it is only the two states which are holding the government at ransom is wrong because the system was designed to function independent of each other and the laws change this without any consideration for individuality.
Another issue happens to be the politicisation of the farmers’ agitation. Representative politics is about taking up the issue of the people and presenting it to the government in the Parliament. When the government resists the sessions of the Parliament or reduces it to a number game, the people have to find a way to raise there concerns, which happen to be the streets. Once agitations start taking place then the political parties have to step in to take it to the next level. It is not to say that the agitation should be directed at the behest of any party but the voice of the people has to be lent weight. We have seen this in earlier agitations as well, the latest before this government being the Anna Hazare movement which was supported by the BJP. Thus, blaming the opposition that by raising the agitating farmers’ concerns they are playing politics, is wrong.
We can clearly say that this problem is one of Modi’s own making. A guess is that he underestimated the resolve of the agitators and the negative sentiment that it has generated for the government.
BJP’s response to the crisis is another aspect that should be talked about. Initial reaction was to label the farmers as foreign agents, Khalistanis, part of the tukde tukde gang etc. Spokesperson after spokesperson went after them. But as the sentiments around the farmers remained positive, first, the media changed sides or toned down its offensive and then the party mouthpieces changed track, sounding less acerbic and more malleable. BJP realised that this issue requires a different approach than just labelling the sikh farmers as anti national.
What the PM needs to realise is that instead of a confrontational approach, empathy and accommodation will give him greater draw. Instead of communal polarisation, politics of development will fetch him better electoral results. Rather than working to win the next state or national election, the party machinery should put its effort in administration.
The prime minister needs to understand that democracy is not majoritarianism but inclusiveness and representation. He has to come out of his pre 2014 obsession and accept the challenges that his government and country faces based on his governance.
In a nutshell, rather than making us listen to his Mann ki Baat, the PM should try to listen to Desh ke Mann ki Baat. He should not get closed in his echo chamber but try to keep his ears to the ground. Modi should not forget that to label the sikh farmers as anti national would need a much deeper, darker narrative when compared to the labelling of muslim women during the anti-CAA agitation. He got it wrong then, he got it wrong now.