The Supreme Court yesterday observed that the govt could have dealt with the crisis in a much better way. There has been lots of posturing by the government and the court was correct in pointing out the manner in which the laws were passed in the parliament. It also asked the govt to keep these laws on hold till the time the issue is sorted.
The current crisis has brought to the fore two very important tenets on which our polity is based – democracy and federalism.
Democracy provides an environment that respects human rights and fundamental freedoms, and in which the freely expressed will of people is exercised. People have a say in decisions and can hold decision-makers to account. Women and men have equal rights and all people are free from discrimination. It means representation for all and freedom of choice.
Even the UN which does not advocate for a specific model of government, promotes democratic governance as a set of values and principles that should be followed for greater participation, equality, security and human development.
In its essence democracy means representation and will of the people. But in the times of Trumpism, democracy is reduced to majoritarianism based on the insecurities created amongst a larger set of people. This insecurity gives the leader the number support but creates fault lines in the society which in due course of time are exploited for political use. Overall representation goes for a toss and the “will” of the majority gets stamped on all. In India we have seen this earlier and now again in the Modi era with CAA – NRC, subjugation of state of Jammu and Kashmir to a union territory and now the three farm laws. Parliamentarian process has been reduced to just the letter and the spirit is completely ignored.
The other defining feature of our polity is federalism with a unitary bias. In all the debates of the constituent assembly on the topic, it was stressed that the unitary bias was given only because at that time it was important that the centre had all the powers as the unity of the nation had to be established. Had our forefathers wanted a unitary polity, there would not have been any mention of the word federalism. It was their vision that in due course of time, the people of the country would get empowered and the nation tied as one, that in the Union of India we shall have a federal polity.
In the constitution federalism finds its roots in the three lists of schedule 7 – state, centre and the concurrent. The concurrent list empowers the centre to draws laws on the subject as the ones passed by the parliament will overshadow those passed by the state legislatures on the same issue. But the spirit of the law says that the states have to be involved in the discussion and a consensus should be drawn. This again is a practise that has long ago been forsaken. Unitary bias to form a united nation has given way to unitary bias to express power over the constituent states.
Coming back to the issue of the farmers, the above two tenets with their distorted interpretation start finding resonance. Modi government has reduced democracy to majoritarianism and even giving consideration that marketing of agri produce is in concurrent list, the brazen manner of the farm laws being passed will always raise questions as the markets function differently across the country. Consider MSP. Punjab and Haryana have been the major beneficiaries of the MSP price in wheat and paddy. But this is not the states’ fault. So when a law comes which disturbs the system there are bound to be protests. More so when the laws have been passed by the government on the basis of its strength in the houses without giving due space to deliberation.
The government, this time, miscalculated its numerical strength in the parliament against the will of the Sikh farmers from Punjab and others from Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The protest has been said to be driven by a few who get to be on the losing side. There can be some truth in that also but the issue is not that. The issue is the non accommodative nature of the government in the parliament where the issues were raised but the brutal majority of the numbers numbed any dissent. The result is protest on the streets.
The “fringe” tried to tarnish the protestors but the sentiments of the people are attached to the farmers. We still view our farmer as the provider who toils hard amongst all the hardships and grows food for us. Nothing can be a more patriotic image than a turbaned Sikh farmer working in his field. The same image gets further haloed when we put him in an army uniform guarding our borders against the enemy. It Is these images that the trolls have not been able to tarnish and on which the government finds itself on the back foot.
The situation gets further complicated as the PM has thrown his weight behind these laws. Agriculture has been a topic which has been dear to Mr Modi from the start of his governance at the centre. But this time, for the first time, Modi is facing questions to which he doesn’t have straight answers. This is because the problem lies in the process that he follows. Now he can’t find any escape goats on whom to lay the blame. This is a problem which is his own creation. As the Supreme Court pointed out, “ we don’t understand whether the government is the problem or the solution provider “.
The court was scathing in its remarks and has asked the government to hold the laws or it will do it on its own. It also mentioned that the situation is scary as number of people are dead. It has asked the government what’s at stake that it can’t take back the laws or put them on hold.
The answer is the ego of the government and lack of understanding of the two tenets – democracy and federalism. The process is as important as the resultant. It is important to be accommodative in stance and empathetic in understanding. Magnanimity is a virtue that the leaders with big egos lack. Mr Modi needs to understand these points.