Sunday, February 25, 2024



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By Revathi Siva Kumar


Protests do not really seem to win many victories for any side today. Even though the government agreed to finally hold back farm laws for a year and a half, farmers refused to back off on their demand for repeal. Dissenters were convinced that the state was quietly digging in its heels, though it officially offered to push a ‘pause’ button.


Whatever be the decision, the centre seems to bridle at opponents, which it does not consider to voice anything of value.


Professing to move ‘forward’, the government dislikes just anyone who comes in its way. Amitabh Kant, NitiAayog CEO, through a major Freudian slip – which he considers just a slip of the tongue that was taken out of context – precisely revealed the central line of thought in an exasperated flash on December 8. He said that “tough reforms are very difficult in the Indian context, we have too much of democracy…”


Though he later backtracked and tried to modify his statement, he made the ruling party’s intentions clear. The centre is at best irritated with the republic and at worst is aiming for its very antithesis – more control.


Democracy is defined by the right to raise dust and create conflict, so it is usually a battle between the masses and the government, in which the dice gets loaded against the people. Hence, it is obvious that “too much democracy” would certainly be the healthy and necessary stand to take in larger public interest.


India has slipped in its global ranking and credentials. Dropping 10 ranks below the 51st position, out of 165 independent countries in the 2019 Democracy Index, has clearly been a major downgrade. The main cause of the “democratic regression has been the erosion of civil liberties”.


In the World Press Freedom Index, 2020, India got one pat on the back with the note that there were no murders of journalists in India in 2019, as against six in 2018. So, the security situation for the country’s media might seem, on the face of it, to have improved. However, due to “constant press freedom violations, including police violence against journalists, ambushes by political activists, and reprisals instigated by criminal groups or corrupt local officials…”, India dropped two places in the global press freedom index.


Therefore, if the government finds “too much democracy” in India, it is not even being accurate in its assessment.


Yet, in its doublethink, the government cannot be seen to be dictatorial, so it ironically professes to be democratic and uses legal and apparently liberal levers to actually stifle the republic. This pattern seems to repeat itself in a number of events.


On June 5, ordinances for the farm laws were passed by the government, without talking to the opposition or the stakeholders, yet they were done in Parliament.


Just a fortnight ago, 30 kisan unions rejected a committee of four “experts” who seemed to be mere echo chambers of the official point of view, though it was set up by the Supreme Court to examine the laws.


In the recent agreement to stall the ‘reforms’ and set up an examining body, there is no surety that the Centre would not plant its own spokespersons, exactly parallel to the earlier expert committee to explore the reforms.


While earlier, people would agree to sit across the table and work out some acceptable solutions, these so-called “expert committees” no longer seem to be credible. People immediately smell a rat. No ear is lent for people’s protests, but the state gets its unofficial ‘allies’, including many in the courts and godi media, to drag in “democratic” solutions.


Other events shaking the nation, as well as the government’s reactions, repeat the pattern, giving a bifocal perspective on issue management. The government’s attacks on the environment have been relentless and India has become the “fourth worst country” out of 180 in the last five years, according to the Environmental Performance Index, but PM Modi announces that India is on track to exceed the targets of the Paris Agreement.


‘Arnabgate’ reveals a TV anchor’s leaked WhatsApp chats and shows him admitting in private that Modi had “screwed up” the economy, yet he always gave an inflated perspective in his TV shows. Hence, while it is clear that the ‘Republic’ channel is a glorified government loudspeaker, it has hijacked the media ‘constitutionally’.


Even the Supreme Court supported Arnab Goswami in an abetment of suicide case and ruled, ironically, that criminal law should not become a weapon of “selective harassment of citizens”.


The iron hand in the velvet glove is clear. The government abhors democracy, yet it goes through the motions of democratic processes.


The battle-lines are sharply drawn. Opponents are the most “audible” voices from the pain points setting the nation on fire, but they are also symbolic of the chaos, conflict and confusion that are now dismissed as “too much democracy” by the government, seen more as roadblocks to the ruling party’s motives of ‘growth’.


Whether protestors are creating an ideological revolution or are just voices speaking up from the ground, the state reprises first with charges of ‘anti-nationalism’ and uses – or rather abuses – the framework of democracy.


It puts in place the rules and regulations of its own carefully worked out plan favouring corporates and ideological allies, even though it is equally careful to pull the rug out from under the substance of democracy.


The signs, then, are ominous. Opponents no longer seem to trust that the government would retain anything more than the shell of democracy while discarding the substance. The issue then is not whether there is too much, or too little of it. The question is whether democracy would survive at all.


Given that an institutional head snapped at the idea of ‘democracy’ itself and is ruing that there is an overkill of it, the state’s paranoia and frustration is clear. A dissenter, therefore, feels less like a brave David shaking the gates and more like a frustrated prisoner rattling his chains.(IPA Service)


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