(First appeared on January 30, 2021)
A tractor rally by protesting farmers on India’s Republic Day. Now that is a neat little idea. What a statement. What a reminder. That India’s republic (if you can call it a republic now) is nothing without the untiring labour of its growers and farmers. The protesters who had remained peaceful for over 60 days were likely to keep their calm and avoid violence. Then the tractor parade began. The nervousness of the ruling party was quite visible. The Chief Minister of Haryana had ordered his government to dig trenches on roads so that the protestors from the state and beyond could not reach the Delhi border. The Uttar Pradesh government headed by a street thug had already ordered the fuel stations not to sell fuel to the farmers. But the Delhi administration ostensibly had reached an agreement with the protestors to let them take out the procession on a specific route. What could go wrong? But this is South Asia. Here Murphy’s law is a force of physics and history: that which can go wrong will go wrong. And a lot of it did. Some of the protesters allegedly deviated from the route and police unleashed brute force. TV cameras would soon take us to the historic Red Fort in Delhi where some of the protestors hoisted Nishan Sahib, the Sikh flag. For many Modi bhakts on internet it was the proverbial gotcha moment. They would leave no stone unturned to confuse Nishan Sahib with the flag of the Khalistan movement (the two are not the same).
But the reaction in general really intrigued me. While there is a vocal class of Indian citizens that treats every sentence uttered against Modi as sedition, there is another class which is always in a hurry to point out that any toe out of line by the protestors proves the detractors right. But does it really? Let us assume after getting tired of the Modi government’s mind games some protestors lose composure, would they be doing something new? Modi’s own party is well-known for its violent culture. Every time it used violence as a political tool it was rewarded with ever-growing mandate. A common voter, usually a family person, easily comes under pressure at the sight of violence and capitulates. In India’s anarchic political culture this is perhaps the most effective dynamic. Of course, Gandhiji believed in peaceful protests but see what Nathuram Godse did to him. Also see why Godse is such an inspirational figure in Modi’s BJP-RSS lore. Because this group, yes, the one in power, thrives on violence and fear as a principle. If you are not convinced see what the internet says about the RSS. It says it is an Indian right-wing, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organisation. Let us try to compensate for the euphemism here. Let us remove the words Indian and Hindu from this definition and substitute it with another faith: Islam for instance. Tell me what comes to your mind if you read the phrase Muslim right-wing, pan-nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organisation? I will tell you what comes to mine. ISIL or Al Qaeda. And somehow protesting Indians have to prove to this group that they are peaceful?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not for violence. The point is it is the old pot kettle story and in any decent society elements like these cannot be allowed to define what is and what isn’t violence. And if you are wondering why the Indian media sets such a narrative you don’t need to look any further than the recent Arnab Goswami leaks. The ruling BJP’s favourite anchor-editor was found bribing a rating agency’s head to get the desired ratings. When you can do that rantings are most likely to get the highest ratings. When this news broke the rest of pro-Modi media — often pejoratively called Godi (lap) media — turned on Goswami with lightening speed. But it can be said with certainty that the rest also indulge in such shoddy practices. Then there is the matter of media monopolies. Five major Indian news media networks News Nation, India TV, News24, Network18 and NDTV are either indebted to or owned by the businesses that belong to India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, who keeps getting richer under the Modi regime by the day, and his business associates. In short, this lot controls these networks through their boards. Modi’s government is in Ambani’s pocket and there is a discernable symbiotic relationship between the two. Other networks are heavily influenced by other businessmen close to Modi.
India could still call itself a free society if its judiciary functioned independently. But alas that was not to be. Recently India government’s stooges approached the court to seek a ruling against the protesting farmers. The court expressed concern about the wellbeing of the women and children participating in the protest, formed a panel for reconciliation that no one had asked for and filled it with the government and corporate lackeys who are in favour of the controversial farm laws subject of protests. Indian judiciary shows its independence when a liberal, centrist or leftist government is in power. When it comes to the Hindutva extremists it lies back and enjoys. When Ranjan Gogoi, the previous chief justice of India tried to assert himself, a sexual harassment case surfaced against him which waylaid him of all initiative. After becoming totally pliant when he retired the good boy was rewarded with a senate seat as a treat. The incumbent Chief Justice does not need any such heavy-handed tactics. He happily intervened in every other case instinctively in favour of the ruling party. Shortly before his elevation he played a critical role in the judgment which allowed the construction of Ram Mandir at the place where the centuries old Babri structure was demolished decades ago by the ruling party and its cohorts. His activism ends where Kashmir, minority rights and rights of the oppressed masses start.
On the same Republic Day the float that won the accolades was of UP, shaped after the very same Ram Mandir, the metaphor of an India which the ruling party seeks to homogenise through brute force. This poem by American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti is enough to tell you what is going on in India.
“Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except to praise conquerers
And acclaim the bully as hero
And aims to rule the world
With force and by torture
Pity the nation that knows
No other language but its own
And no other culture but its own
Pity the nation whose breath is money
And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed
Pity the nation oh pity the people
who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away
My country, tears of thee
Sweet land of liberty”
(After Khalil Gibran)