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Opinion: If Only #IndiaAgainstPropaganda And #IndiaStandsTogether Were More Than Hashtags

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In a country that aspires to become a “knowledge economy“, it’s unusual that Twitter seems to be the breeding ground for debates. Farm issues remain unresolved after months of protests, crackdowns, negotiations, a gratuitous intervention by the judiciary, and a pejorative attack on Red Fort.

Representational Image

Issues like labour, agriculture, etc need more consultation before laws are passed because of the number of people they affect.

The issue certainly isn’t about farm laws now as nobody is talking about the ‘good‘ or the ‘loopholes‘ in them anymore. It has come down to politics (without which there isn’t any democracy) or what the current political establishment has brought it down to a litmus test for “national unity“.

Those having even a minute difference of opinion about the way government handled farm laws would automatically find themselves pigeonholed as international conspirators or anti-national elements. Intolerance and always feeling sanctimonious comes naturally to many today.

Governance and Objectivity

“Unfortunately, any adverse comment about the management of Farm Laws is seen as opposition to these Laws, little realizing that these beneficial laws wouldn’t have been perceived the way they were but for how the whole process was handled.” ~Anil Swarup

Farm laws, by and large, do have enormous potential but good ideas can’t be forced on anyone. The agricultural framework needs significant reform that major political parties or leaders at successive intervals have vouched for. The objective must be to improve incomes, building supply chains, subsidies on R&D and infrastructure, ensuring a security net for farmers in case of natural disasters, environmentally sustainability, crop diversification, and ensuring that nutritious food is served on everyone’s platter.

Achieving all these objectives is easier said than done. Agriculture or labour or any other reform which employs legions of people can’t be put to work before due consultation as it involves ‘mass politics‘. It was unforeseen that a government that has the most powerful majority than any of its predecessors had in the last 35 years took too long in realizing this.

To put a simpler analogy of how the government has handled farm protest is by encapsulating how a typical Indian family takes the unilateral decision for their child’s marriage, without any due consultation, and then tries to entice them by highlighting the ‘good’ in their choice and dispelling any concern of their child as misguided.

This is all based on the assumption that they know what is best for their child more than what their child knows about himself/herself. This impasse unequivocally brought out one thing that 300+ seats don’t give you a license to circumvent the due process of democracy: Deliberate-Debate-Decide-Deliver.

“In a democracy, all that matters is what people affected by a policy change believe — in this case, the farmers of the northern states. Facts don’t matter if you’ve failed to convince them.” ~Shekhar Gupta

One doesn’t need to be all-in for the radicalistic views a political party holds to support any initiative by the government which it forms. After all, the government isn’t restricted to elected members of one political party but consists of various other portfolios and machinery which might find the way politicians do politics reprehensible but work for the benefit of the people they are employed to serve.

Yes, given this government’s history with ‘trailblazing‘ reforms like GST and demonetization, it might have been difficult for farmers to expect something ‘historic‘ and beneficial at the same time.

But that shouldn’t be an impediment for us to have an objective point of view by weighing the law’s pros and cons. Now, many persons who hold staunch views against the government might disagree with me, when I say that these laws do present good ideas. They also contain loopholes waiting to be exploited.

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It becomes difficult for many to trust the government’s ‘historical’ reforms after issues like demonetization.

Again, many government critics might disagree with me here, but then this government has brought good reforms like Swatch Bharat, Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, PM-KISAN, Jal Jeevan Mission, to name a few.

Yes, they have been going under continuous refining to expand their scope and make corrections, if any loopholes were found in them. But if your hatred for the ideology of the political party would have come in the way of the implementation of the above-mentioned ideas, then maybe you would lack the objectivity to appreciate these wonderful initiatives in the first place.

The Stalemate Continues

On 26th January, the whole nation was indignant by what happened at Red Fort. Many also felt good that since this happened, the farmers’ protest would lose all credibility. Syrian Civil war is a clear example of when Syria’s dictator Bashar al-Assad encouraged extremists groups to stooge the initially peaceful Arab Spring so that it becomes difficult for anyone to back the peaceful protestors fighting for their democratic rights.

Like most of the peaceful protests, in the beginning, the Farm protest too did take a distasteful turn. Going rogue and disrespecting the national flag is not ‘Satyagraha (non-violent resistance)’ but anarchy. It was disheartening to see miscreants discrediting the protest which many TV anchors couldn’t.

Although I do have one genuine question; why would farmers use violence suddenly, when they knew since the beginning, that their protest was legitimate and peaceful? Why would they waste their long struggle in the chilling cold, all in a single moment?

Farmers definitely didn’t gain from the violence, then who did? Journalists and activists were picked up by police. But the alleged ‘masterminds‘ of 26th Jan violence are still at large. Delay in action will only lend more credence to collusion theories.

As predicted in my previous article, the government’s initial response to the protests exasperated the farmers’ all-repeal attitude, and it did determine the direction in which talks would go.

In a recent letter by former civil servants, part of Constitutional Conduct Group, they mentioned that the Centre’s approach towards protest has been “adversarial, confrontationist” from the very beginning. You can’t expect farmers to relent after demonizing their community to the extent that they are branded as terrorists, and barricading democracy, by seeing every critical voice on the street or internet as your adversary.

“Modi govt has lost farm laws battle, now raising Sikh separatist bogey will be a grave error.” ~Shekhar Gupta

Many think that both the government is wrong and the farmer’s position is untenable but since these laws contain glaring loopholes, then why can’t these laws be drafted again and referred to a parliamentary committee (and not an expert committee)?

“In the era of new nationalism: It is not important that real problems in agriculture be solved. It is more important that our Supreme Representative not be seen to bend.” ~Pratap Bhanu Mehta

In a parliamentarian democracy, it is inconsolable to know that on one side we are building sumptuous parliament and expecting the world to give us the title of “mother of democracy” and on the other side, we expect the judiciary to come up with solutions. It goes indisputable to say that institutions and significantly the media, judiciary and parliament have suffered substantial damage in the last few years.

Branding peacefully protesting farmers as terrorists and separatists will only hurt the BJP in the long run.

This crisis requires political sophistication and governance skills. This BJP has neither. It has, instead, political skills and governance by clout, riding an all-conquering election-winning machine. It is the party’s inability to appreciate the limitations of a parliamentary majority that brought it here. ~Shekhar Gupta

The Idea Of India

If only #IndiaAgainstPropoganda and #IndiaStandsTogether weren’t merely Twitter hashtags but something that all Indians truly believed in, then we wouldn’t have elected leaders (with an overwhelming majority) or hailed celebrities who thrive on propaganda, communalism, and polarisation. But instead today, we glorify Godse and the likes of him and demean Gandhi.

Unfortunately, no FIR is issued or Twitter accounts are blocked of people who vilify the Father of Nation but the police are steadfast in issuing FIR on a fictional web series or going ahead with unconstitutional practices.

UP would have been a better place to live if the police would have shown determination in investigating the rape, lynching cases and evidence-testing before time-lapse. But they chose to chase OTT platforms and burn the bodies of victims at night. I wonder why the web series show UP in a bad light?

India’s massive repository of soft power today has been a result of continuous efforts to strengthen our diversity and embracing ideas and people irrespective of their community. However, many in the ruling class aspire to make India a theocratic state today, which would damage our credentials significantly. Theocracies might appear attractive to some for a particular sect but in the long run, it is severely injurious to democratic governance. Middle-East is a testimony to this fact.

From Bolsonaro in Brazil to Erdoğan in Turkey; today, in every continent, you can see elected authoritarianism thriving. This also has been termed as “rise of the right” or Neo-Fascism. In India too, religion is being rapidly used as a tool under the cover of fascism. We too have people who are hell-bent on destroying the very idea of India in the process of laying the groundwork for “New India“.

We must detest bigotry to protect the values that have defined India as a nation for ages: pluralism, unity in diversity and inclusivity which is surreptitiously falling into the trap of becoming a populist, unity in purity and exclusive for a particular sect country. We saw how Britishers were able to gain a stronghold in our country using the “Divide and rule” policy but we couldn’t realize in time how our society had been vitiated, which ultimately led to partition.

These times have confronted us with similar policy but then we rather believe in changing history than learn from it. And history has this astounding phenomenon that if you fail to learn from it, it will rewind the track for you. 

Our country’s long history has inspired many civilizations. The way our nation has preserved its democracy despite all experiments conducted to desecrate it is unprecedented. Look around in South Asia only and you will find countries that were initially democracies but later turned into semi-authoritarian or are being run by military establishments.

J.S. Mill is called a “reluctant democrat” because he thought of democracy as a gift reserved for those who earn it and not to be given as a freebie. His fear that democracies might turn into mobocracies if not handled properly has turned real in almost every 3rd world country with India being an exception. Democracies have to be watered periodically with liberal values to sustain them lest they fail.

A Tweet Is All It Takes?

“If one tweet rattles your unity, one-joke rattles your faith or one show rattles your religious belief then it’s you who has to work on strengthening your value system not become a ‘propaganda teacher’ for others.” ~Taapsee Pannu

Courtesy: Satish Acharya

Tweets from international celebrities perturbed the Indian political establishment. It then emulating a ringmaster by putting either carrot or stick policy to use, asked many actors and cricketers (because who better than them in a country where they are worshipped) to bandwagon with its counter-narrative. Now, this was a startling development since why would a government indulge in social media handling given that it has more important tasks in hand.

India’s sovereignty surely isn’t hollow that it needs crawling celebrities to defend it. India isn’t Middle-East, China, Russia, or Pakistan that its government would get so thin-skinned that it had to get into trivial twitter arguments with some random celebrities. It goes without saying that those who educate themselves about the laws from social media don’t have any credibility.

“When powerful people who never take a stand, all suddenly sing the same tune in an orchestrated effort and just toe the line they are told to like pawns, that’s what propaganda is all about.” ~Siddharth

The police claim that the toolkit shared did contain objectionable content. If true, it must be reprimanded and action must be taken against those mobilizing people for erroneous reasons. Violence or incitement to violence must be condemned without being selective.

The Cacophony Of Internal Matter 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.

As mentioned earlier, farm laws aren’t about agriculture anymore but have become a test of Indian democracy. You don’t have to be against the laws to support a citizen’s constitutional right to peaceful protest and you don’t need to be anti-government to speak against unlawful detentions.

Needless to say, standing for the right cause is more patriotic than supporting something blindly. In its recent past, from CAA to Farm Protest, India seems to have invited intervention from all over the world on its internal matters.

The tweet made by the global pop singer, Rihanna on February 2, 2021.

Viewing it from a myopic lens would land you in the conclusion that this all is just an “international conspiracy” to defame India. However, the issues which India faces today are not confined to itself but a global phenomenon. Democracies around the world are seeing the might of elected authoritarianism.

It’s also true that many people have reservations against the laws not because of what they aim to achieve but how they have been brought. Now certainly one’s opinion on any issue shouldn’t be guided by that. Because someone with millions of followers said it then obviously the farm laws are wrong? First of all, she tweeted saying that why isn’t anyone talking about it, and attached an article that said, “India cuts internet around New Delhi as protesting farmers clash with police“.

In a liberal democracy, you don’t cut internet because you can’t negotiate well; you don’t tell universities to require government’s permission every time they hold virtual conferences; you don’t cut protestors access to sanitation and water; you don’t deny journalist access to protest sites; you don’t threaten people with overzealous policing by denying them passports or bank loans or government jobs by defining their intent for them, while they put out their views on social media – these certainly aren’t badges of honour for the world’s largest democracy.

India, like any other democracy, had issues earlier also, but we didn’t have governments that resorted to such ‘quick fixes‘. Pockets of Kashmir – internet shutdowns, police at every corner, concertina wires being laid out – are surging in our deeply divided India.

Very few people realize this but absolute power has the absolute potential to corrupt absolutely. A glimpse of the emergency era will help you in understanding the precarious situation better, when people equated Indira Gandhi to India forgetting that India has its own identity, which can’t and shouldn’t be debased because of a political party.

“Governments will come and go, parties will make or break, but this country should remain and its democracy should remain.” ~Atal Bihari Vajpayee

If only we could have handled our democracy better and hadn’t created a battle-like situation within our own country then maybe we wouldn’t have to face #TooMuchDemocracy lessons from “outsiders”.

The US couldn’t and thus they summoned intervention from all over the world in their “internal matter“. Celebrating interventions from outsiders is petty as their comments can’t solve our problem. One might have a difference of opinion on should outsiders comment on a nation’s internal affairs but then in a globalized world, you can’t have the cake and eat it too!

“Intervention is part of international life; and the rhetoric on sovereignty in the international discourse tends to be, as one scholar put it, “organized hypocrisy”. ~C. Raja Mohan

Who decides the extent of the matter to which it remains internal? Also, hasn’t every country’s government been accused of interference? We organized rallies and endorsed Presidential candidates in America, we voiced concern over Myanmar’s recent coup, Capitol siege, and have often expressed our views vis-à-vis the developments in our neighbouring countries.

Certain issues traverse beyond the framework of law-making, into the domain of human rights and survival of democracy and international comments shouldn’t always be seen as propaganda designed to malign the country.

And those who are high-headed will call domestic violence or child abuse also an internal matter, shouldn’t there be no intervention then also?  We must not forget that those who call these interventions a conspiracy against India were also calling the bestial gangrape in Hathras an international plot to destabilize the government and we all are witness to how the government acted on it. Therefore, the word “conspiracy” has little value coming from them.

You publicly shame protestors of your own country, you put comedians in jail for jokes they never told, you treat creativity as if its a weapon being used against religion and tell people to boycott it.

You tell people what to eat otherwise they will be lynched, you decide for people in which community they should get married otherwise they will be held in custody and asked to prove why they aren’t guilty of a crime they never committed, you do moral policing and act as the sentinels of religion as if there is no one above you and then define “internal matters” as per your convenience.

We leave no stone unturned when it comes to defending our internal matters as “ill-informed” but when it comes to home, we are not reticent in trespassing into personal liberties. Why such colossal gaps in foreign policy outlook and domestic actions? I sincerely wish that the goodwill which we strive to engender in other continents by emanating the message of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family)” should also be our approach in our homeland.

“What we need right now from our elected representatives is a public servant’s heart. We need public servants that serve something larger than their power or their party.” ~Arnold Schwarzenegger

At this point, as Indians, we must introspect and reflect on what is going wrong with our democracy and who is steering it to its dead end? It would be a failure on our part if we insulate ourselves by remaining driven by our egos and even after reiterations, fail to recognize, that the very ethos of democracy is under attack.

This self-introspection can’t be an outsider’s gift to us but we ourselves have to figure it out before the sovereignty which rests with “We the people” gets taken away by the people we elected.

Featured image source: Photo by Naveen Sharma/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
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  1. Kumud Sharma

    Very well written Amiya. Keep writting.

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