Weekly Update: Adani Busts Modi’s Claims On Farm Laws; Justice Chandrachud’s Sermon

Prophetically, PM Modiji assured farmers that they had nothing to worry as selling in the open market would fetch higher prices for them than the meagre MSP. Modiji has undergone quite a metamorphosis in his premiership, changing from a savvy fashion icon with multi-lakh suits to a simple Yogi. Perhaps in his new incarnation in office he might have developed talents of a ‘seer’. But even the best Yogis get it wrong at times. This time pesky Adani has done exactly opposite of what Modiji predicted.

In Himachal, farmers decided to give the new deal a chance. Apple growers went to Adani Agrifresh Ltd to sell their stock. Adanis and Ambanis were going to be the new saviours of farmers, able in theory to give them twice the price of those state run Mandis and MSPs.

As it turned out, Adani offered them some ₹12 to ₹72 for a Kg of apples depending on their ‘happy’ colour, meaning quality and how red they were. Quick calculations on their fingers showed farmers that after calculating travel costs, input costs etc, they were in fact subsidising the apple free market. Usually it is the Government that subsidises farmers.

Several turned to the good old state run Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMCs). Not surprisingly they were offered more, between ₹90 to ₹125 per Kg. Even the so called illiterate farmer, as Modi Government had suggested farmers don’t understand economics, worked out that ₹90 offered by APMC for the lowest quality apple is much higher than ₹72 offered by the capitalist Adani for the best quality Apples. It became a bit of no brainer for farmers to work out where to sell their apples, the state sector or the free market.

To rub salt into Modiji’s wounds, Adani’s apples sell for ₹250 per Kg after a bit of shiny plastic or other packing. A hefty 300% profit. It doesn’t seem after this, the farmers protest is going to go away in a hurry as nice old Adani has just proven them right. He just proved their fear that the freemarket will drive down the prices instead of enriching farmers. Perhaps, Modiji’s Yogi stage of life will come handy somewhere else.

Justice Chandrachud Foils Own Truth To Power Sermon

Justice Chandrachud is becoming a bit of a star celebrity among the liberal minded Indians. He has been making the right sounds, giving the impression that he is willing to uphold the law against any Government trying to do a bit of ‘bendy mendy’ with the Constitution. Perhaps he wants to make a name in the historical hallways of Supreme Court to stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Bhagwati and Iyer. However after unravelling his latest speech, it is obvious that there is a bit of a way to go before joining legends like Iyer and Bhagwati.

Justice Chandrachud has boldly advised his fellow countrymen, ‘to speak truth to power’. “Democracy and truth go hand in hand. Democracy needs truth to survive,” Chandrachud spoke with conviction.

He suggested that speaking out has been a privilege of upper castes so far and told all citizens of India to enjoy the freedom to express their opinion. Suggesting “women, Dalits and members of other marginalised communities have an important role to play in this context”, he said. “Since they did not enjoy the freedom to express their opinion, their thoughts were confined, crippled and caged. After abolition of the British Raj, the truth became the belief and opinion of upper-caste men.”

Perhaps he was subtly alluding to the Government when he said at the virtual event totalitarian governments are associated with a “constant reliance on falsehoods” and it is the duty of citizens to strengthen public institutions and expose the “lies of the State”.

Great words, one might say. But when the common man hears of journalists being slapped with ‘sedition’ charges after saying something unflattering about Modiji or the Bhakts and others speaking their version of truths such as Government has failed the people during the pandemic being thrown into jails, the esteemed Judge’s rally cry sounds a bit hollow. Where is the rickshaw-wallah going to get courage to ‘speak truth to power’ is a mystery which Justice Chandrachud might also want to solve.

Of course His Lordship can introduce suo moto cases in the SC and order dropping of all charges against those who ‘spoke truth to power’. But that hasn’t happened so far,

However, he gave an example, where a ‘clever’ citizen might sense the fear even in their Lordships rhetorical posturing. The Justice started, “It can’t be said that State will not indulge in falsehood for political reasons even in democracies”. An original statement of discovery if ever.

Now he is an Indian Judge extoling his average non elitist fellow citizens to “speak truth to power”. For empathy in the statement, one would think that he would have picked an example in Indian post 1947 history that most could relate to, such as the fabricated reasons on the 1984 attack on Golden Temple, the statements of Congress leaders after 1984 Delhi massacres, or the report after Gujrat riots or numerous other examples of explanations given by Indian politicians after riots, massacres, corruption scandals and a lot more that everyone knew were creative tales. These events are close to home and examples that the citizens can relate with. They are examples that citizens could feel should not have happened.

Their Lordship said this instead, “The role of US in the Vietnam War did not see the daylight until the Pentagon papers were published. In context of Covid, we see that there is an increasing trend of countries across the world trying to manipulate data. Hence, one cannot only rely on the state to determine the truth.”

How many Indians know of the ‘Pentagon’ papers in far off land, the USA! Or was the Justice playing it safe while firing his fellow citizens to stand up to politicians?

The Vietnam example is a bit naff. The politicians responsible for that war are dead and long gone. So no problem in ‘exposing the lies of Vietnam’ and still being invited to top legal tables in America. Even if he wanted to avoid the wrath of his own government and deflect away from home, he could have had cited the CIA report on Russian meddling in American elections when Trump was helped but Trump and Senate denied. Now that would have been the Justice standing by what he is preaching. Otherwise ‘speaking truth to power’ is just another fad and fashionable comment these days and Indians cannot be seen to be left out of what is trending around the world.

But if citizens did take his message to heart and start ‘speaking truth to power’, there will be millions of sedition or related charges. Politicians and lies are synonymous in the mind of most Indians. Currently it takes a few decades to get a hearing at the courts. Then it might take centuries if people take his advice.

Winning A Battle Does Not Win A War

In a civilian protest rally of a million or so, it should not surprise even the most naïve that a few hundred will take matters into their hands, run amok and engage in dramatic acts to gain attention. Governments often like these unplanned breakouts. They exploit the indiscipline of a few to the hilt, squeezing every drop of advantage they can get, even justify sending in the armed forces to crush the dissent. The mass tractor rally in Delhi has given the BJP government at the Centre that opportunity. It is yet to see whether it milks the situation or acts wisely. The media is already on the script.

The narrative of violent elements having hijacked the protest and secessionists hoisting the Sikh flag on Red fort (Lal Qila) are the headlines. There has been little coverage of the other 99% of the peaceful protestors.

But neither Farmers’ leaders not the millions around the world supporting the farmer protest should feel guilt, remorse or surprise. The leaders are not professional sergeant majors trained to manage a battalion of troops in discipline. Nor are the millions of volunteer protestors a well-heeled army of ‘marching’ cadres. The discipline of armed forces was on show a few miles away at Rajpath. The creative indiscipline of ordinary people was evident at the farmer protests.

There is also a long history of agent provocateurs disrupting well-intended peaceful demonstrations. Often state security services deliberately provoke or leave windows open for the aberrant breakaway groups. Yogendra Yadav, one of the farmer leaders, has already made a statement accusing the police of deliberately letting the sideshow happen.

Moreover, fringe groups who rarely get any publicity or support, piggy back on legitimate mass movements with dreams of precipitating a ‘revolution’. It happens everywhere in the world.

This sort of passionate acts and violence happened in the otherwise peaceful Rath Yatras led by Advani but which ended in the demolition of Babri Masjid at Ayodhya. Breakaway violence gave Trump headline excuse in America’s Black Lives Matter. It has happened in most big protests in Britain such as miners’ strike and the poll tax. It happened in the demonstrations in 1982 in Punjab.

ALSO READ: Global Implications Of India’s Farm Laws

It will be highly disingenuous of the Government to exploit the side show in the otherwise very peaceful demonstration to distract from the issues and use it as an excuse to crush the farmers. It will be a punitive win.

The vast majority of farmers concentrated on their intended protest. There were families, elderly and children. Many protests took place in other parts of the country. All the protests were otherwise peaceful except the ones in the Capital.

The Government may take out its old playbook and start the game of distraction tactics, arrests and charges. It will be tempted to make claims that national security is under threat and hope for a anti farmer public opinion wave to crush the protests. The now very compliant Indian media houses will oblige. Yet the Government may wish to make risk assessment of this failed policy.

This has been tried many times before. The exploitation of some indiscipline was exploited in 1984. The legitimate movement for greater state rights was labelled as a secessionist terrorist campaign. But it backfired with two prime ministers assassinated, a fractured country, demoralisation in the Army, rise of a new political fundamentalism and a country on brink of bankruptcy in 1992. It took some 15 years to get back on keel.

This time the farm laws protests are not confined to Punjab but have spread throughout the country. This time there is also a bigger menacing neighbour than Pakistan willing to exploit internal dissent. No number of shiny Rafale jets can control people’s movements as the mighty USA has found in the Middle East.

The grievance of the farmers are real, much as the Government would like to delude itself that it has been hijacked by Communists and secessionists. It is simply about land.

The country fights for every inch of land against its neighbours and invaders. The neighbouring countries want to expand territory and gain access to resources. India, like every country has a huge armed infrastructure in place to protect that every inch of land.

Farmers too fight for every inch of their little patch of land against predatory corporates and big money. Corporates want to take over their land to exploit the resources. Unlike a country, the farmers only have their legs and their will to fend off policies that favour corporate takeovers of small farms. What is so difficult to understand about that?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not been able to convince the farmers that his brand new wonderful laws are really for their (farmers) benefit. He has lost the argument. Pushing it with tyrannical or dictatorial force is neither democratic nor in the best interest of the country.

But Modi is no tyrant. Tyrants destroy those nearest them to consolidate power. Modi is too dependent on the party and the RSS to be a real tyrant. Does BJP want its image to be like the Baath Party of Iraq?

Modi is also not a real dictator. Dictators don’t usually bring in policies that endanger their rule. They are careful. Modi is a victim of his own myth rather than a true dictator

Moreover the Indian democracy does not really let tyrants or dictators last for long. Modi is a man caught in his own mythology. His party has built a persona of Modi the strongman who never does a U-turn. These sort of hyped-up public profiles do not work well in democracies. They end tragically for the person. They usually serve the interest of those who build the myth.

That is what happened to Margaret Thatcher. She fell on her own sword, brought down by her own party and financiers when they needed her no more. That is what happened to Trump in the end. That is what is happening to Boris. That may well be the tragic political end of Modi as those close to him dig in the knife and burst the myth. Democracies are built to oust despots, tyrants and dictators, not to boost their rule. Indian democracy is no different.

Powerful politicians are those who can do U turns without looking weak. PM Modi has left little scope for himself to open his arms and say sorry to farmers and repeal the laws. He and his coterie of myth makers think that will shatter the image of the strong man. It is foolish and its is dangerous. It is not political art. Politics is the field of compromises and sometimes the compromise has to be total for longer survival.

This is now a dangerous impasse for both Modi and the country. A heavy handed response and attempts to malign the farmers could trigger deep resentment and rebellions.

The fact is that both farmers and the government feel there is a need to bring in reforms. But the Government has listened to the wrong economists and policy advisors. Most of them are old retired economists still hooked on GDP rather than comprehensive economics that incorporate aspects such as security, people’s contentment, life opportunities etc.

Exploiting the side show in farmers protest and using the law and armed force may win the battle. But winning a battle does not win a war. That is what the Government should consider seriously. It will be best to treat the aberrant group of protestors just as that and let it be. Concentrate on the issue and the other 99%. Repeal the laws, work with farmers and bring a better set of policies and laws in place. The alternative is not good.