One reason why Prime Minister Modi will continue to win elections is that the massive ego that the Opposition (that is, all of us guys in the drawing-room, and Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi) attributes to him is non-existent when it comes to big political issues.
Contrary to the general impression that Modi gives or even likes to give—the tough guy who will not budge—if the decisions are seen to affect votes, he just goes ahead and drops it.
That is probably the reason why potentially discriminatory NRC (National Register of Citizens) and the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) have been put on the back-burner. Shaheen Bagh on the Delhi-UP border, which was an epicentre of sorts for related protests organized by apolitical groups, pretty much won where political parties could not do much.
Much of that pattern has been repeated in Singhu, on the Delhi-Haryana border, where the three farming laws that the Modi government brought in have now been dismantled subject to parliamentary procedure.
These laws, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Act, the Farmers’ Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, substantially sought to modernize and corporatize the agriculture sector.
Which is another way of saying that the laws facilitated free market forces. The problem is that the free market in India is a group of monopolies, and so neither the producer of the goods—nor the consumer—could fully trust the outcome. This speaks volumes for the quality of trust that the Indian farmer has in the corporate sector.
At the time when Modi announced the laws, he was characteristically hoping for massive development of the agriculture sector. A kind dekulakisation, that Stalin was infamous for in the 1930s when his violent enforcement of removing land and produce from the possession of all classes of peasants in Ukraine. The collectivisation of Ukraine resulted in close to five million deaths.
The farmers are a special breed. Their closeness to the land they till is a source of pride to them. The reason why the agriculture sector in India is relatively stagnant and subsidy-based is that farmers suffer a development-phobia: any attempt at modernization in production and distribution will result in some monopoly group coming between them and their land. That they will eventually lose their land, their property.
The BJP failed to break that traditional notion and imposed a new regime. India’s abiding problem has always been the essentially feudal sensibility of the farmers and the historical and economic need of the city-based administration to industrialize rural India’s supplies and produces. It is the old Indian VS Bharat problem.
To my mind, even this does not matter, as we are a self-destructive race in any case. The larger game always is power, and Modi has once again proven that when it comes right down to it, he is capable of sublimating his ego and doing what must be done to sustain power.
Early next year, UP and Punjab are going in for elections, and there would have been a considerable chance that the BJP would lose, owing to their unpopularity stemming from the laws. The Opposition, which failed to politically or organizationally capitalize on the CAA, NRC, or the three laws, must worry even more.
The repealing of the laws, if anything, proves Modi’s political flexibility on the one hand. On the other, it shows the dangerous side of his politics and personality: a cynical lack of conviction in his government’s administrative values. Nothing matters but power.
It is safe to assume that the government’s promise to repeal the laws would have been based on the strength of intelligence reports on the ground. Losing UP and a poor show even in a politically fluid Punjab would have proved disastrous to the Hindutva project in general and, specifically, the BJP’s future. After Modi’s Friday speech, the BJP would be on the come-back trail in both states.
The leaders of the farming community in UP and Punjab, Rakesh Tikait and Gurnam Singh Chaduni, have said they would not be calling off the protests until a minimum support price is also announced. This will happen, too. But the lesson we must draw from this one-year-old struggle, which claimed many lives, is that Indian agriculture will continue to be a subsidy-nightmare and be immune to modernization attempts. The Indian farmer just does not trust Indian corporates. This is a historical problem, and no political party, either the BJP or the Congress, has an idea how to bring a crucial section of the population into their fold.
Indian politics in this respect has been a spectacular failure. Modi has realized it before it is too late. Which is why he dropped the laws without batting an eyelid. There has not been a wiser leader than him in recent Indian history. Or colder. Rahul Gandhi just has no idea still what he is up against.
(CP Surendran’s novel One Love And The Many Lives of Osip B (Niyogi Books) is out on Amazon and at all leading bookstores)
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