Modi’s turnaround: A season of apologies

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
22 Nov 2021

Among the dry fruits, I like walnuts the most, though they come in hard and convoluted shells. Sometimes, I need a nut-cracker to break the shells. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s apology to the nation on the three farm bills was so convoluted that I needed to read it several times to understand what he apologised for. I do not blame walnuts for the labour involved in breaking the shells. Nor do I blame Modi, for he, too, is like walnuts, difficult to crack.

Did Modi apologise for the three thoughtless agricultural laws that he sought to push down the throats of farmers? Did he apologise for the death of at least 700 farmers who took part in the farmers’ agitation? Did he apologise to the people who also suffered on account of the stir to cross the Delhi borders? Did he apologise for his inability to understand the farmers’ sentiments and withdraw the three Acts?

Then, what was his apology about? He apologised to the nation for his inability to convince a section of the farmers? In fact, he reiterated that the farm laws were good and they were approved by most farmers. However, he could not convince some farmers, obviously those who sat on the Delhi borders and those who protested in places like Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh.

To use a metaphor, it is like Rahul Gandhi apologising to the people for his failure to convince them about defeating the BJP in the 2014 and 2019 elections. The point to be noted is that it is pointless to read too much into his apology. Have we forgotten his promise at the height of the madness called demonetisation that he would set everything right in 50 days and if he failed to do so, the people could burn him.

Probably, he had in his mind what had happened at the Best Bakery at Vadodara where some Muslims were burnt to death. People of India are not like those criminals to attempt anything like that to a leader, let alone the Prime Minister of the country. What was shocking was that Modi stooped so low as to offer himself to be burnt alive. Obfuscation is another great quality he has.

He tried to confuse the people by listing his achievements in the farm sector. His aim was to tell the people indirectly that the farm laws were good but it was the obstinacy of a section of the farmers that forced him to withdraw them. He also promised to work harder for the farmers. What he does not realise is that if his direction is bad, it is pointless how hard he works.

At the time of writing, I have no clue whether the farmers protesting at the borders would vacate the place and leave for their homes. They can either hold on till the laws are repealed during the winter session of Parliament or rely on his words and call off the agitation. Be that as it may, the Prime Minister has a lot to apologise for.

The government has the power to promulgate ordinances. It’s to meet situations of emergency when a Parliament session cannot be held at short notice. The three farm laws were introduced as ordinances in June 2020. He should have apologised for adopting the ordinance route when he should have introduced them as Bills in Parliament. Agriculture and markets are state subjects and he should not have encroached upon the states’ power. That certainly warranted an apology.

A large majority of the people are dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. And nobody can survive without agricultural produce. Given the importance of the subject, Modi should have allowed a full-fledged discussion in the Lok Sabha, after the Bills were vetted by a parliamentary committee. Instead, the Bills were discussed for just two days on September 15 and 18, 2020. It was a dereliction of duty.

In the Rajya Sabha where the BJP did not enjoy majority support, the Bills were passed with voice vote. This was a questionable manner of passing the Bills. He should have apologised for this lapse as well. Modi himself showed readiness to put on hold the three Acts for one and a half years. It showed that there was no urgency for the laws. It disproved what the government’s apologists were claiming that without the laws, Indian agriculture would have gone to dogs.

Initially, the farmers were called for talks, where not even a minister was present. Thereafter, eleven rounds of talks were held between October 14, 2020, and January 22, 2021. Since the talks were going nowhere, the Prime Minister should have himself called them for a meeting, heard them, convinced them and taken a decision in the best interest of the nation. He should have apologised for letting go of such an opportunity.

In his speech, he claimed that only a small section of farmers were opposed to the farm laws. It is not true. State Assemblies like in Delhi, Kerala, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and West Bengal passed resolutions in support of the farmers’ agitation. 

The farmers were forced to protest at the Delhi borders. They are the ones who feed the nation. How did his government treat them? They were greeted with water cannons, batons and teargas. At one point, the police had made elaborate arrangements to use force to disperse the farmers. They even tried to arrest the farmers' leader, Rakesh Tikait.

It was Tikait’s tears that transformed the agitation. For once the government realised that if the police used force against them, it would have dangerous political and law and order implications. Modi should have apologised for the harsh manner in which they were dealt with. It was absolutely shameful when the police supervised erection of spikes on the roads to ensure that the wheels of the tractors of the farmers were punctured if they dared to drive the vehicles.

A whole winter and summer passed with the agitating farmers braving them. As many as 700 of them died in the process. That means 700 families were devastated. An apology for this would have been hugely welcomed. Nothing is more disgraceful than being called a traitor. That is exactly what many of Modi’s party leaders called them. They were called Khalistanis and anti-nationals. One of the ministers called them “Maoists”. What did they do to warrant such epithets?

As the agitation gained momentum, the police and local administration put enormous pressures on those who prepared food and distributed it among the farmers. In fact, the attempt was to deny them food. Could anyone think of starving to death those who have for generations been growing food to feed the whole population? A word of apology would have been in the fitness of order.

Agent-provocateurs were employed to cause trouble to the agitating farmers. Local ruling party men were encouraged to take the law into their own hands and disperse the farmers. Whose idea was this? Was an apology made for such sinister attempts? 
The Prime Minister says that he has been doing everything possible for the farmers. Then how come that 10,281 farmers committed suicide in 2019 alone? Nobody blames Modi alone for the ills plaguing the farm sector. Between 1995 and 2015, as many as 296,438 farmers committed suicide. Unfortunately, the trend continues.

How can Modi assume that farmers are so foolish that they cannot recognise what is good for them? If the farm laws were good for them, they would have lapped them up. Over the years, they have seen how his government has been trying to placate the corporates. 

They knew for sure that his game plan was to involve the corporates in farming. How else would he have gone to Bhopal to rededicate the Habibganj railway station under a new name? The station is now controlled by a business group. Farmers know how much is the cost of platform tickets at the erstwhile Habiganj station.

Modi has in his ministry a minister whose son is now in jail, accused of driving a convoy of SUVs into the agitating farmers killing some and injuring many. The minister’s son would not have been touched but for the intervention of the Supreme Court. The court has found a former judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to monitor the investigation of the case.

Nobody knows what the investigation would ultimately lead to. What right does he have to keep a minister who went out of the way to defend his errant son? Is this not an affront to the dignity of the farmers? Should he not have apologised for what happened at Lakhimpur Kheri?

The farmers did not resort to the agitation for withdrawal of the farm laws alone? They had raised many demands including a minimum support price for their produce, based on the recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee, withdrawal of the stringent laws against the burning of stubbles, and the increase in the price of diesel.

Farming is no longer economical. Many of the small and marginal farmers continue farming because they do not have any other occupation. Modi’s anti-cow slaughter policy has further drained their resources. 

If the farmers stop cultivation, India will have to import food-grains, whose price would immediately shoot up in the international market. The government owes an apology to the farmers for the manner in which they have been treated so far. The PM should have used the occasion to elaborate on the steps he would take to address their concern rather than giving stale information, available at the click of a button on an Internet-enabled device.

I am sure he purposely chose Friday to make the announcement. It was a sacred day for the Sikhs in particular and Indians in general. It was the day of Guru Nanak Jayanti. However, welcome the occasion was, the farmers’ agitation was not a religious agitation. The Sikh farmers may have played a significant role in the agitation, but it was by no means a religious agitation.

The farmers fought for the rights of the farmers all over the country, not just the farmers of Haryana and Punjab. Modi could have chosen any day to make the announcement and the people would have welcomed it, whole-heartedly.

One of the great traits of Modi is that he never apologises for anything. Recently the fifth anniversary of demonetisation occurred. There was no celebration of the event. Why? Because the whole world knows that it was a disastrous move. The economy is yet to recover from the damages caused by the thoughtless action that originated in a silly mind. Today, universities abroad study demonetisation as an example of how a wonky idea can destroy an economy.

The whole world condemned the riots in Gujarat. The US even refused to grant him a visa because of the human rights violations. Never once did he apologise for his inability to control the pogrom. Even when he was asked to comment on the hapless innocent victims of the riots, all that he was prepared to admit was that he felt sorry even when a puppy came under the wheels of a moving vehicle.

Why did he make a change? I do not think there is any change of heart in Modi. He realised that the Modi magic did not work any longer. That is why after increasing the oil prices by 200 percent, he decreased it recently by 10 percent. Elections are due in states like Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. If the farmers are against the party, it will be nearly impossible for Yogi Adityanath to return to power.

The Yogi’s ambulance services for cows are unlikely to influence the farmers and traders who have been pauperised by his ban on cow-slaughter. It is this realisation that forced Modi to address the nation on Gurpurab. 

How I wish he was motivated by a genuine feeling of guilt. Even so, his decision is welcome, as there are many decisions of its kind like the citizenship laws that need to be rescinded. As I said, once the convoluted walnut shells are broken, the fruit inside is indeed very tasty. Thank you, Shri Narendra Modi Ji!

ajphilip@gmail.com

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