Farmers’ Protest: BJP Must Make a Tough Call; the Stakes Are High
“The outcome of this current phase of confrontation will have a bearing on political equations in the future.”
Indignation can be harnessed by political groups, even bitter rivals locked in a battle, into their respective political narratives. The current regime at the Centre and several states rubbed their hands in glee on Republic Day 2021, by rightly concluding that the reprehensible storming of a few elite and strategically important zones of Delhi, coupled with the highly unacceptable unfurling of the Nishan Sahib on the Red Fort, had handed it an opportunity, to disperse the ongoing farmers' agitation, on a platter.
Aided in no small measure by TV channels and social media warriors, the handiwork of hundreds of purported farmers — whose motivation and inspiration are yet to be investigated, was portrayed as representative of all protestors. It was ignored that tens of thousands played by the Gandhian book of protests for weeks and peacefully stuck to the agreed route for the innovative — yet fraught with risks — tractor parade.
How ‘Camp Ghazipur’ Became The New ‘Singhu Border’ Overnight
These acts of vandalism were depicted as the desecration of the nation and its symbols. It was argued that the 'hidden' hand behind the unruly groups posed an immediate threat to national security from the familiar quartet of religious minorities — ‘urban Naxals-liberals’ and of course, adherents of ‘dynasticism’ (backed by forces across the frontiers).
Display of righteous anger worked, and by evening, as farmer leaders gathered, their shoulders drooped after realising the damage caused and learning that a few comrades had abandoned ship. Enthusiasm of thousands ebbed as they saw many beginning to beat a forlorn retreat.
In that moment of despondency, Rakesh Tikait’s emotional breakdown in public glare, jubilantly publicised on social media platform by Indian trumpeteers who take vicarious pleasure at others’ sufferings, resulted in reverse indignation.
Activists heading home took immediate U-turns, and thousands of peasants in west Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and other neighbouring states decided that it was time for them to hit the streets too. Overnight, 'camp Ghazipur' became the new Singhu Border.
Why Yogi Adityanath Regime Had To Pull Back Additional Troops
The ever-belligerent Yogi Adityanath's administration was forced to beat a hasty retreat, and before the crack of dawn, directives were issued to pull back additional troops deployed on the border. While this was certainly because of numbers rising again at Ghazipur, it could also be due to that the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) deployed there, is numbered by countless constables symbiotically linked to the farming community.
In rural western UP, it is common to spot tens of youngsters running on narrow roads, improving stamina with the aim to clear physical tests required for recruitment in the police forces.
Conversations with them reveal that for these young men, a sarkari naukri is the only escape from their miserable existence.
With little confidence in their 'brains' because of an education system that remains in perpetual neglect over decades in rural India, there is little option but to shore up 'brawn'. So, how could these hands turn the baton on those who had fed them through their travails?
India Remains A Social Mosaic: What This Means
The Bharatiya Janata Party's strength has become its weakness. From being a peripheral party barely three and half decades ago, its leaders became dominant players though the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation, which as LK Advani famously stated, wasn't ‘just for a Ram temple’.
In the course of the three decades-plus Hindutva campaign, the party grew by fostering a sense of oneness among various Hindu social groups who were made to believe that their unity was in pursuit of common good.
The bonding was cemented by attempts to shift to monotheism from polytheism, and by seeing Islam and its adherents as evil, out to destroy the nation or hamper its growth.
President Ram Nath Kovind quoted the Assamese (not surprising given the imminent assembly polls in the state) poet, Ambikagiri Raichaudhuri: “India’s grandeur is the ultimate truth. In one single consciousness, one thought, one devotion, one inspiration, let us unite; let us unite.”
But, as in the Sangh Parivar’s entire political narrative, his address too did not recognise that in a country of vast disparity and diversity, different socio-economic groups have divergent, and at times conflicting, economic interests.
It is dangerous for political parties or leaders to begin believing in their own propaganda. The truth is that India, even the Hindu community, remains a social mosaic, and it is tough to constantly keep rallying them on one platform by raising the fears of the 'other', imaginary or visible.
PM Modi’s ‘Intervention’: Too Little, Too Late?
By imagining that the events on Republic Day provided a chance to turn the screws on the farmers, the regime appears to have kindled dormant anger stemming from multiple grievances, kept in abeyance after believing in the BJP's 'nationalistic' narrative. In UP specifically, where assembly polls will be due in March 2022, the party now possibly faces the threat of the quartet of Jats-Dalits-Muslims and Brahmins acting as a magnet for other disgruntled sections.
Already, several political leaders are flocking to farmers’ platforms more confidently than before.
A couple of BJP allies have either opposed the farm laws, or are maintaining a discreet distance. The revival of the agitation after almost petering out, will add to the pressure on partners like Dushyant Chautala.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's declaration that his government was "just a phone call away," is his first personal intervention after months of agitation.
It is indicative of the realisation that leaders handling the crisis so far, were either over-belligerent or tactless.
Questions remain if the prime minister’s response is too little and too late. But it certainly points to the realisation that the party's wider political constituency has come under stress in the course of this agitation.
Why The Govt’s Ham-Handed Approach May Backfire Again
Modi is not given to backtracking, except when he is certain that it is essential. This is the second time that an initiative for farm reforms jeopardised his applecart. In 2015, he withdrew the contentious Land Acquisition Bill, but it was after the RSS conveyed disagreement with the legislation.
Nagpur was veiled in its disagreement with the three farm laws, partially due to greater cohesion between Modi and its top brass. Despite the sense among sections of the RSS network that farmers' issues require more sensitive handling, it is likely that Modi will be allowed his way.
In statements, farmer leaders continue indicating that theirs is a ‘fight to the finish’ and nothing but repealing the laws would see them do a ‘ghar wapsi.’
But, inflexibility in political agitations often finally provides the government with an opening — like the events on Republic Day — that enables it to have the last word. The government may eventually get another opportunity to turn the tables on the agitators but ham-handed tactics will again backfire.
Why The Stakes For The BJP Are Higher This Time
Strategies of the government as well as the farmer leaders are possibly still in the making. But there is no doubt that both have to be bifocal. The outcome of this current phase of confrontation will have a bearing on political equations in the future.
The stakes for the BJP are higher because ever since the 2019 victory, the political narrative has not been as it would have willed. Besides legislative victories and relatively greater comfort with the judicial verdicts, little has gone as per plan. The ruling party will have to take a tough call in the coming days.
(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. His most recent book is‘The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right’. He can be reached at @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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