Modi’s Lok Sabha Speech: Why Congress May Find It Tough to Counter

PM Modi’s Lok Sabha address seems to have left both his opponents & supporters with much food for thought.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Image of PM Modi used for representational purposes.
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(In light of the debate & discussion over PM Modi’s recent speeches in the two houses of Parliament, The Quint reached out to experts across the spectrum, to weigh in. Here is an op-ed analysing PM Modi’s 8 February Rajya Sabha speech, by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay.)

It’s an established parliamentary norm for the prime minister to make the concluding remarks, responding to the debate over the Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address, addressing a joint sitting of both the Houses of Parliament.

The PM’s address usually receives the desired attention. But PM Narendra Modi’s address in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, 10 February, and in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, 8 February, may be assessed a bit differently — not because the situation on the ground, in and around the National Capital, was a bit different (with a large number of farmers from neighbouring states squatting on Delhi borders while the PM spoke at length about the issue) — but because he left both his opponents and supporters with much food for thought. Something that was bound to be scrutinised, analysed and debated, at various public platforms including social media.

Modi’s Distinction Between ‘Andolankari’ & ‘Andolanjeevi’

First, he addressed an aspirational India, about how, during these troubled pandemic times, India had emerged as a confident, solution-seeking nation and was well-positioned to be on the high table of the soon-to-be-changed world order.

It is in this context that he brought up the farmers’ issue, and the apparent misinformation and blatant lies which were being used to mislead and mobilise the farmers. However, Modi was conspicuous in distancing himself from disparaging remarks about the agitation as a whole. He was conscious of the fact that whether genuine or misled or infiltrated by negative and radical elements, it was still an agitation that was largely made up of farmers.

Second, he made a distinction between ‘andolankari’ and ‘andolanjeevi’.

He had coined the term ‘andolanjeevi’ during his speech in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, 8 February, but some in the intelligentsia or ‘buddhijeevi’ class, including some celebrity journalists, chose to interpret it differently — and even brought Mahatma Gandhi’s name into the ‘andolanjeevi’ debate. Modi’s further elaboration was perhaps guided by the thought that if the debate on this issue were to be taken forward, the base line for the debate should be well-settled, and any misrepresentation of it well-challenged.

Why Modi Called Out the ‘Andolanjeevis’

Andolankaris’ are those who genuinely believe that their interests are being hurt and it’s time to fight for their cause. Modi has no problem with them, for it is, according to him, in the spirit of democracy.

In contrast, ‘andolanjeevis’ are like ‘parasites’. They comprise rent-a-cause politicians, self-seeking agitators, and conspirators who neither have the vision nor the wherewithal to wage a battle against the ruling establishment. They are thus, always looking for someone else’s shoulder to fire from. In other words, the PM’s grievance was not against the ‘andolankaris’ (the farmers) but against the ‘andolanjeevis (the masterminds, some so-called farmer leaders and activists).

Since he wished to strike a chord with the protesting farmers, he called the farmers’ agitation ‘pious’ — one that had a sanctity of its own — but was being spoiled by rent-a-cause political leaders and activists.

He knows that overall the people didn’t appreciate the vandalising of public property, national symbols and public-private infrastructure like toll plazas and telecom towers erected by India’s largest corporate group. People also didn’t like that some farmer leaders sought the release of certain ‘urban naxals’ and other extremists lodged in various jails for their ‘anti-national’ acts. Modi thus, aggressively called out these so-called farmer leaders, questioning the relevance of these demands and disruptive actions.

Modi Counters Opposition’s Charges — Why He Called Their Mindset ‘Feudal’

Third, Modi emphatically countered an argument made by self-proclaimed farmer leaders and their protagonists – “humne manga nahi thaa toh diya kyon?(why give when we didn’t ask for it). This argument was made by opposition leaders in Parliament. Over this issue, Modi spoke to his party and supporters. First, it is well within one’s command to take it or refuse it: “Lena ya na lena aapki marzi”.

But Modi didn’t stop here. He linked this argument (by the opposition) with a feudal mindset — wherein the common people are like “yachaks” (beggars) and the rulers are like feudal lords.

But in a democratic state, a government has to be sensitive and responsive to any given situation, to its people’s concerns, and to the nation’s development. It was in that spirit of sensitivity that laws or schemes for the greater good were made without people asking for it — anti-dowry, anti-triple talaq, equal rights for women in property, raising the age of marriage, right to education, payment to farmers through Kisan Samman Nidhi, Ayushman Bharat, Jan Dhan Account, Swachh Bharat, toilets, etc.

Fourth, reform and change are part of the dynamic process of a progressive society, while status quo is considered regressive. Three agricultural laws were reformist and were meant to address the need of the hour.

Those arguing in favour of the status quo revealed a regressive, reactionary mindset. Wealth-creators shouldn’t be hated but admired, for they are also the wealth distributors — through the creation of all kinds of jobs in different parts of the country.

Modi’s Focus on Small Farmers

Fifth, small farmers were at the centre of Modi’s argument as to why agricultural reforms were necessary to make a difference in their life and in their aspirations. He used religio-cultural phrases such as “sarvajan hitai sarvajan sukhai”, linking festivities with farming seasons, to enthuse them.

Since the farmers’ agitation in Western UP and Haryana has of late turned into a Jat pride movement, Modi invoked former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh, a Jat and a leader deeply associated with the farming community, while stressing on the importance of taking care of the interests of small farmers.

When India became independent, farm labour constituted 28 percent of the work force, but as per the last Census (2011), this has grown to 54.6 percent. Shouldn’t the government thus take steps to improve the situation, given the increased percentage of farm labour?

His attempts to directly address them — by making an open challenge of these laws, which were in existence for over six months, which had hurt the interests of many farmers — first through ordinances which were then duly passed by the Parliament, was to make rational elements amidst agitating farmers and in remote parts of the country think and discuss among themselves; it only gave them options to explore more possibilities without closing any of the existing facilities.

The vast organisational structure of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar is sure to pick up on those talking points to take on naysayers.

Can Congress Leadership Effectively Counter Modi?

Modi’s direct attack on the Congress — which had walked out of the Lok Sabha when it was said that the opposition party should talk about “content and intent” rather than only in generalities about the law being “black” — was sharp and punchy.

The Congress leadership will find it hard to respond to Modi’s charge that the Grand Old Party is “confused”.

Its Lok Sabha leadership (Rahul Gandhi) and Rajya Sabha leadership (Ghulam Nabi Azad-Anand Sharma & Co) were not on the same page. PM Modi’s recent emotional farewell to Ghulam Nabi Azad in the Rajya Sabha is an event that will also be remembered for a long time.

(The author is a senior journalist and tweets @sanjays04. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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