Indian democracy in retreat


Khadijah Saeed

BARRICADES were set, water cannons were sprayed, tear gas was used and even highway was dug to quell thousands of protesters rejecting the three Agricultural Acts passed by the India Parliament. The Modi Government, known for its audacious reforms targeting specific communities, is feeling less bridled in response with brutal use force against the farmers, mostly from the largest agricultural provinces of Punjab and Haryana. In doing so, the BJP Government has undermined the basic values of democracy and freedom of association for the due rights of the farmers not only with its controversial reforms but also with the treatment of the demonstrations itself.
The agricultural reforms are expected to give more autonomy to the corporate sector while deepens farmers exploitation by deregulating the sale prices. Abolishing the guarantee under Minimum Support Prices (MSP), the reforms aggravate the farmers’ insecurity about purchase of their produce, especially the wheat in Haryana and Punjab which was previously procured 65 percent by the government as part of the MSP. Besides this, it strips the farmers of their already declining bargaining power to sell their produce at reasonable prices and privileges the corporate sector to push down the prices.
Therefore, the reforms are slammed as ‘corporate friendly and anti-farmer’ with a draconian nature affecting the small farmers. Despite Modi’s bold claims of his intentions being “as pure as the ganges”, his agricultural reforms enlarge the gap between the rich bourgeoisie corporate sector and proletariat farmers in India with top 10% of the households owns 50 percent of its total cultivable land while leaves only 0.5% for the bottom 50%. Modi’s bold claims are ill-founded in an agrarian structure where 85 percent of the farmers falls either in small or marginal category. By undermining the MSP and APMC, the legislations are expected to exploit the large proportion of the farmers and hence damage the fragile structure of Indian agrarian edifice.
The BJP government and the rightwing propaganda tries to malign the protests by linking them with ‘Khalistan’, and labeling them as ‘misguided’ and ‘anti-nationals’. Modi called the protests a norm in response to any legislation the government comes with, however, what he forgets to mention is the unbridled use of force and labeling of them being anti-nationals, which brings democracy in India to the darkest level found anywhere in history. Shive Sena leaders have even demanded surgical strikes on neighbouring states following the Union Minister Rao Saheb Danve’s accusation of Pakistan and China for backing the protests which, of course, is the strategic mockery of the Indian democracy.
The Canadian Prime Minster Justin Trudeau has reiterated Canada’s commitment to stand behind the Indian farmers in their due ‘right of peaceful protests’, ignoring the warnings issued by the Indian MEA. Also, the British MPs and US lawmakers have voiced their concerns over the ‘misguided and manipulative government regulations’ which threatens the livelihood of the Indian farmers. Like all the previous legislations, the reforms challenge the vision of a democratic India.
Whether it is the NRC-CAA, removal of Article 370 and 35A, or it is the systemic weakening of the farmers in Punjab, the current BJP government continues to threaten the credibility of India as a democratic country. Therefore, India needs a systemic recheck to its constitutional compliance before finding a place in row of respected democracies and its aspired position as the regional power in South Asia.
—The writer is Research scholar at National Defence University, Islamabad.